When you mention Fred Vogel’s name in certain circles, you’ll often hear a repeated phrase; “Man, that guy makes some brutal films.” This is not a slur against him. He truly does make brutal films. Films like “Mordum,” “The Redsin Tower” and “Maskhead” to name a few, brutal, violent horror films directed by a man who knows his craft and his audience well. Vogel’s newest film is still brutal but in a much different way.
In his first film since 2009’s “Sella Turcica,” Vogel returns with something that is in some ways, vastly different than what the fans of his previous work are accustomed. “The Final Interview” isn’t drenched in onscreen blood and viscera. This doesn’t make it any less brutal however; Vogel’s other films almost flat out dare you to keep watching uncomfortable scenes.
This time around, it’s almost like he dares you to look away. And you can’t. You don’t look away. It’s that compelling.
“The Final Interview” set up is simple; Washed up, alcoholic reporter Oliver Ross (Grainger Hines) is set to interview murderer Darius Tidman (Damien Maruscak) live on television on the night of his execution. It’s not an ideal situation since the murderer wasn’t his first choice to interview and it’s also a job scored by his ex-wife Rhonda (Diane Franklin.) He’s a very troubled man at war with alcohol, pills and ultimately himself. It’s obvious from the outset, it’s a war he’s been losing; even before the subject of the interview is brought into the film, you already know who Ross is and he’s not someone you can like. He’s miserable and arrogant. By the time Tidman is brought in chains to be seated in front of Ross, you’re ready to see sparks.
The rest of the film becomes a taut, tense dance between Ross and Tidman. The films pivots skillfully as both the “Live” broadcast (complete with a great old Pepperidge Farm cookie commercial) and as the “secret version’ complete with commentary from Rhonda as she desperately tries to keep the interview from veering too far off course. Throughout these scenes, you hear Rhonda giving direction (and occasionally, a verbal shellacking) to Ross via his earpiece. I expected this to get annoying after a while, but Franklin’s off screen voice presence adds a texture to the interview that kept it from becoming trite. There are cuts to Rhonda (who is relegated to directing the live feed from a van) expressively reacting to what she is seeing and hearing and at times becomes the voice of the audience. She becomes the glue that holds Ross together for most of the interview (and frankly, the glue that keeps these scenes from feeling too long.)
That is, until Ross makes that impossible.
As Ross interviews Tidman, there is an entire relationship that forms before our eyes. The ‘getting to know you phase,’ the ‘fun’ phase, etcetera. It develops so subtly, you nearly forget you’re watching a film. Vogel and screenwriter Scott Swan hold a lot of the credit for this; it’s not easy to pretend to build a rapport between two fundamentally unlikable characters, but they had two things on their side.
Namely, Hines and Maruscak.
If there were more furniture in this film, they would both have left teeth marks on nearly everything. Hines delivers a solid, swarthy performance as Ross. Maruscak is eerily convincing as a serial killer without resorting to over acting, or falling back on the millionth Anthony Hopkins impression. This film could be, for the most part, performed as a stage play if it weren’t for the absolutely necessary “Greek Chorus” of Franklin’s Rhonda.
What strikes me most about this film is how subtle it is; Vogel said after the showing at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont PA that he wanted to make a different film. He certainly did. From the music, to the slow, tense build to the actual interview, this film holds your attention tightly. It’s not flashy, it’s not blood and guts, but it is compelling and it remains emotionally brutal.
Fred Vogel has made a tightly wound thriller with a fantastic payoff. He made a smart, gripping yet subtle film that should do well in the independent film circuit with both audiences and critics.
In the post film Q and A, a fan asked him point blank if this film was the end of his violent movie making. His response left no doubt.
“No,” he said simply and directly at which point the audience erupted in applause.
I believe him. But, I also believe that he should also make more films like “The Final Interview.” This is a solid movie made by a solid filmmaker reaching his stride. This movie shows a promise of things to come for Vogel that maybe even he didn’t expect. And I think he’s more than ready for it.