There’s no excuse for it at this point beyond a pathetic combination of sadism and addiction : when new(-ish) “found footage” horror flicks show up in the Amazon Prime streaming queue, I’m in. Particularly if they’re of the “micro-budget” variety. 90-plus percent of these things are absolute turkeys, and of the less-than- ten percent that aren’t, only a small handful rise above the level of “merely competent,” but in my admittedly very tepid defense, there are still a few gems to be found while sifting through all the wretched, nigh-unwatchable dross. Unfortunately, the one I chose to subject myself to last night, 2016’s The Final Project, isn’t one of them.
The brainchild of director/co-writer (along with one Zachary Davis) Taylor Ri’chard, this rancid and rankly amateur effort follows the exploits of six university students who are collaborating on a — you guessed it — final project for their filmmaking class that sees them make the trek to Vacherie, Louisiana to explore the infamous Lafitte Plantation, a purported hotbed of supernatural activity ever since a slave who was a (probably less-than-willing) mistress of the joynt’s owner, along with four union soldiers, lost their lives there during a Civil War battle. Their restless spirits are said, wouldn’t ya know, to still be shuffling around the property, and lots of other poor saps have met mysterious ends there in the ensuing years, but while you or I would probably figure that was as good an excuse as any to stay the fuck away, that’s just not how things work in the world of “mockumentary” horror, and so nominal group “leader” Genevieve (played by Arin Jones), her boyfriend Gavin (Sergio Suave — who I genuinely feel sorry for if that’s the name on his birth certificate), her ex, Jonah (Leonardo Santaiti), the level-headed and responsible Anna (Teal Haddock), whiny spoiled brat Missy (Amber Erwin), and the generally useless Ky (Evan McLean) decide to roll the dice against fate and hope that they have better luck than, it would seem, anyone else who’s ever set foot on the grounds. Good luck with that.
You needn’t worry about whether or not they survive, of course — their demise is telegraphed from the outset when a silhouetted narrator/presenter says flat-out that he “will never understand why they would go to a place that was known to be haunted. The Lafitte Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana is a place you don’t play with. They knew that.” So, the first thing we know about these kids is that they’re stupid. The second thing we know is that they’re dead. And soon enough you will be, as well — dead bored, that is.
GoPro head-cams are the filming apparatus of choice here, but curiously enough, only some of the scenes appear to have been shot with them, with a number of others resorting to standard-issue (for this sort of thing, at any rate) “shaky cam” stuff, so don’t ask me how that works. Maybe Ri’chard hopes you’ll be so distracted by the bog-standard bumps, crashes, shrieks, and one-by-one disappearances of characters that are peppered throughout at the absolute most predictable times to notice the logical inconsistency inherent in his basic premise, but that would require said by-the-numbers “scares” to be interesting, and trust me when I say they’re anything but. When you pair up this wretched dullness with the film’s substandard acting — which ranges from simply incompetent on the high end to cringe-worthy and dreadful on the low end — the final result is a finished product that has absolutely nothing going for it. And since when does “raw footage” feature incidental music, anyway? Chalk that up to being one more head-scratcher in a flick that’s packed to the gills with them.
Look, I’m trying my best not to be a complete asshole here, but it’s really tough. This film has lame dialogue, poorly-staged “jump scares,” a generic “mow ’em down until we get to the final girl” plot structure, ineffective scene staging, up-and-down (mostly down) sound quality, subplots that are as uninvolving as the main one — look, it’s just no damn good. I give Ri’chard points for assembling a diverse cast that flies in the face of this subgenre’s depressing history (and present) of all-white ensembles, but if none of ’em can actually act, well — what’s the point?
And that’s really the big question all the way across the board here. If The Final Project turns out to be exactly that for Ri’chard, Davis, and their actors, I don’t think any tears will be shed.