Movie Review: The Final Project
By Kim Hollis
February 12, 2016
There’s a skeleton of a good idea in director Taylor Ri’chard’s The Final Project. The film is billed as one that captures the atmosphere and emotions behind the folklore of the South (and particularly Louisiana) and then blends those evocative themes into a captivating tale of horror. The intentions behind The Final Project are worthy, but the execution is lacking.
The story itself is simple – six college students are collaborating on a documentary about the haunted Lafitte Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. There’s some discussion of scary, terrible things that have happened at the location in the past. During the Civil War, soldiers were found mutilated; families were apparently murdered in its halls later. Some local residents view the stories with skepticism, while others are true believers. Since The Final Project is a horror film, you can guess where things are going, though. They’re not going to spend an uneventful night in the house.
I think that the primary mistake made in the creation of the film is the decision to use the found-footage format to tell the story. This genre has been so overused in horror movies at this point that it has become cliché, and I would actually even say that in the case of this particular production, it does a real disservice to the intention of the director himself. If he hoped to evoke a sense of the supernatural folklore of the area, it was overshadowed and perhaps even missed altogether because of the poor lighting, shaky camera work and lack of focus on the places the viewer needs to be watching.
With credits, The Final Project clocks in at a brisk 82 minutes, and a full 40 or so minutes of the story are spent on setup. We meet our documentarians in stages, and their backgrounds and connections to each other are revealed over the first half of the film. None of them seem particularly enthusiastic about their project (even though one of them is hoping to go to Hollywood and become a filmmaker), and most of their time is spent snarking at each other and displaying most of the worst stereotypical traits most of society imagines millennials to possess.
And unfortunately, it’s not particularly pleasant to spend even this amount of time with this group of people. Although Genevieve (Arin Jones) is intriguing and it seems as though there is something to her background that might be connected to the Lafitte Plantation, none of this is ever really clarified. Even though she’s the most complete character of the bunch, the viewer is still left wanting to know more about her. Is she related to someone who once lived at the plantation? Why does her mother seem so concerned (off camera) about their safety on this trip?
The other students are bare caricatures, really, so much so that I can barely be bothered to remember their names. There’s a smart girl, an athletic guy, a swaggering frat boy, a slut, and the wannabe filmmaker, who’s part of a love triangle with Genevieve and the aforementioned athletic guy. When things do finally get rolling and things start happening at the plantation, we can’t really be moved to care too much, because there’s just nothing to grasp onto here.
And with regards to those “things that start happening,” the scares mostly come down to loud noises and shadows. As the students begin to realize that they’re not in for a simple overnight lark, their responses are almost incomprehensibly stupid. Did you hear a terrifying noise? By all means, go check it out by yourself. Is there a creepy, unlit basement? Absolutely go down those stairs. And if you have the chance to split up rather than stick together, definitely do that.
I think everyone’s hearts and intentions were in the right place here. The director and his co-writer (Zach Davis) clearly had heard innumerable ghost stories and Southern gothic tales that provided the influence to bring The Final Project to life. They simply fell short of evoking that vibe because they didn’t go far enough in giving us that background. If they’d spent 40 minutes on the folklore instead of sticking us with a bunch of clichéd characters, there might have been something here.