If people ask me my favourite found footage horror movie, I’ll always respond with The Big Finish and they tend to look at me awkwardly, say they haven’t heard of it then ask what it’s about. It’s kind of difficult to say really. My usual response is that it’s along the lines of ‘Imagine an episode of Beadle’s About that goes horribly wrong’. But that explanation degrades the concept, downplays the horror element and entirely misses the poignant relevance of the piece in light of too many high school shootings. It is the basic gist of the film though. The Big Finish is a video diarty from two best friends, Gary and Tom, who are dropping out of college because of a very naive belief that they can go on to become successful filmmakers. First though, the boys want to film themselves for a day as they settle some old scores with teachers, girls and bullies, via a series of skits and crude practical jokes (their Big Finish to college, if you will). At first it all starts fairly harmless, but with an expert switch the characters go beyond the point of no return and it enters real horror territory.
The leads are a pair of childish jokers at heart, and through the camera we get an insight in to their world. There are moments of awkwardness, immature jest and flights of fantasy ahoy. The characters share it all with a sense of glee that really highlights how out their depth they will become as the day turns to night. It’s all done in that great British way of encouraging us to laugh at a character rather than with them. Ultimately there is something quite endearing about how excitedly they tape their jovial escapades. Sure they are loud, low brow and fairly unfunny. But really, they seem fairly harmless. Particularly when confronted with the school bullies (one of whom is a very young Kevin Bishop) and their mawkish exteriors give way to reveal a deep sense of fear and vulnerability. It’s this side of them that predicts their change from victims to mass murderers within the space of 90 minutes. That the audience will have hopefully warmed to them in the first half is key for when the shit hits the fan in the second. It’s a slow build up, but when it does hit, believe me it gets sprayed widely.
The second half works in stark contrast to the first and is a hell of an emotionally intense horror experience. Note that I’m commenting on the disturbing impact of the violence, rather than bigging up the violence itself. This movie isn’t wall and wall blood and guts. There are no taboos being broken, and most of the nasty bits take place of screen. What is shown is expertly done though. The Big Finish is the all too rare beast of a found footage film that doesn’t have to constantly justify the camera still being on. Even when the bodies stack up the characters never forget that they are being filmed and continue to present their every action as larks and hi-jinks. It’s horrific seeing these initially fairly loveable characters beating, torturing and ultimately scaring the shit out of other people whilst simultaneously winking at the camera. They are not stooping to the bullies’ level as much as it is tunnelling way below. It’s all very unpleasant, difficult to watch and above all realistic; something that is welcome in today’s current horror climate where we still get movies trying to out-gross each other. But even when they bag a helpless and deeply frightened girl, the possibility of salvation for Tom and Gary is never entirely absent. All they have is each other, but their loyalty is what ultimately redeems them as characters. As much as being a movie about geeks turned murderers, this is a film about friendship, and loyalty at its most extreme.
At the beginning of this review I mentioned high school shootings, and with The Big Finish being made a year after Columbine it is difficult not to watch this film through that filter; geeky misfits on the fringe of society and turning to violence. The movie also manages to tackle the weighty subject matter without, for the most part, coming across as being in the least preachy. That is save for a very misjudged, and all too literal, moment when one of the characters reflects on his actions (you’ll know it when you see it). It’s the kind of bit that maybe tries too hard to make you feel sympathy when the little empathy you have left is enough. A needlessly Hollywood inclusion in an otherwise very un-Hollywood film.
The Big Finish is currently out of circulation, but you should easily be able to track down a second hand copy online. Buy it, watch it and spread the word. Maybe we can make the awkward looks a thing of the past.