It took FORTY-FIVE FREAKING MINUTES for The Final Project to even ATTEMPT competent horror spooks, 99% of which ultimately end up being face-planting failures. Guess how long it took for the first shaky Go-Pro death? Fifty-five minutes. And for the first jump scare? OVER. AN. HOUR. You’ve got an hour-and-twenty-minutes worth of film to watch, yet nothing “endearing” happens until minute forty-five. Are you sensing my frustration? The Final Project is the film school assignment from your worst indie horror nightmares, ripping-off every major player along the way. Anyone can make a found footage movie – but that doesn’t mean you should.
Taylor Ri’chard’s film follows six college students as they spend a night instigating ghouls at the Lafitte Plantation, a large estate nestled deep in Vacherie, Louisiana’s marshy backwoods. The damned location boasts a history of Civil War bloodshed, and many believers claim that spirits still wander its vacant, abandon halls. But in order to fear the dead, you have to believe in haunted houses. Characters like Misty (Amber Erwin) and Gavin (Sergio Suave) aren’t threatened by ghost stories, and will do anything to achieve a passing grade. So, despite numerous warnings, the group sets up camp in Vacherie for the night, and agrees not to leave until their paranormal documentary is finished – even if it kills them.
Or, until the boredom kills us first?
Much like the worst, most underfunded film class in America, these amateur cinematographers use only Go-Pros and cheap handheld cameras your mother might break out on holiday mornings. This leads to an array of annoying visual glitches, from fish-eyed distortion to horrendously unappealing audio interferences akin to muffles, snaps, and general caught-in-a-bowl echoing. Night vision filters are indistinguishably dark, cameras turn off when action kicks in, and the frame shrinks when tension mounts – has anyone involved in this production even seen a found footage film? Whatever The Final Project can do to distract from the lack of value on screen, it attempts. Embarrassingly.
Moving on, The Final Project offers a few small “scares” in the way of obvious jumps. Be it a shape dashing by an unmanned camera tripod, or a figure who stands completely still in the darkness, Ri’chard checks off all the generic genre boxes one by one. Exhibit A: character deaths always happen from behind, and are never, ever visible. Essentially, this is a movie about young stereotypes who get tripped and pushed by mean-spirited apparitions (or, you know, we THINK), almost like a satirical Funny Or Die “How Not To Make A Found Footage Horror Movie” sketch. I hate this word, but everything about The Final Project‘s understanding of horror is “problematic.” Inspiration is one thing, but replicated shots from the likes of Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch, and an abundance of famous found footage titles can hardly be ignored, or forgiven.
That said, most won’t even make it far enough to be underwhelmed and frustrated by cheap, unearned jolts, because of a solid 50 minutes of college-grade banter about crusty hair, Coming To America references, and a game of Never Have I Ever. It seems like hours pass as these hopeful directors drone on and on about putting grades above safety, but that’s only when Jonah (Leonardo Santaiti) and Gavin aren’t fighting over Genevieve (Arin Jones) – the film’s inept red-herring-that’s-not.
Early into the chaos, and after she’s seen in a dazed state, Genevieve simply disappears, with no one questioning why. At this point, Genevieve essentially becomes Katie (of Paranormal Activity fame), down to the possessed killing and all. Jonah comes downstairs, in the dark, and is killed by Genevieve, who is waiting for him – sound familiar? Predictability in horror is one thing, but The Final Project never tries to hide its straight-forward, no frills, been-done-before story. Mediocrity alone would have been a godsend.
Moral of the story? The Final Project is ghastly flat, and noticeably unimaginative. A bunch of kids run around a swampy plantation, and one by one their cameras are turned off to indicate death – no tension, no payoffs, and certainly no excitement. Scares only happen because of visual manipulation, marred by the expectation of something jumping from a pitch-black hallway. Even at that, Taylor Ri’chard fails to do anything but reconstruct familiar scares on a shoe-string budget, as the film rushes through a 20-minute conclusion containing all the demonic “action.” And by “action,” I mean “screaming college kids run around an empty building while loud noises allude to cinematic devilishness that never comes.” For, like, ten whole minutes.
I don’t want to dislike The Final Project as strongly as I do, but, unfortunately, here we are. Dealing with a film that doesn’t respect its genre, nor its doomed-from-the-start production.
The Final Project proves that anyone can make a found footage movie, but not everyone should.