Serious About Series: “Final Destination”

Coming fresh off of the heels of the Planet of the Apes reboot-thing, we have a fifth entry in one of the few horror franchises I have almost no experience with. I saw the first Final Destination on cable once, but only barely remembered it. So with the looming release of Final Destination 5 (surprisingly not called Final De5tination), I figured I’d settle down to watch some ridiculous murder machinations and report back on whether or not the franchise has any merit at all.

Final Destination (2000)

Alex (Devon Sawa) boards a flight to Paris with his high school French class. Right before the plane takes off, Alex has a premonition that the plane explodes during take off, killing everyone aboard in particularly gruesome manner. Waking up in a panic, he starts shouting about how the flight is doomed in a way that he would never get away with had the movie come out 18 months later, and in the commotion him and several of the other students (and one teacher) get ejected from the plane. Right before the plane, predictably, explodes upon takeoff.

This sets up a series of events where people halfway blame him for the explosion of the plane, including two skeptical FBI agents, but then Alex gets a premonition shortly before one of the survivors mysteriously dies, setting in motion ‘death’s design’, a pseudo-mystical series of increasingly implausible scenarios of accidents created by death to make up for the lives that were supposed to be lost in the explosion.

As far as post-Screamteen horror movies go, the most interesting thing about this is how neatly they excise the slasher from the slasher film. We have no real antagonist other than Reaper vis-a-vis elaborate coincidence, which in many ways is a neat step around the various tired cliches of masked maniacs and killer ghosts to strike right at the heart of the slasher’s basic compelling center—the teenagers sense of immortality. Everyone bites it sometime, even kids.

Ali Larter, with an unfortunate name and the unfortunate gift of being too attractive to play the 'weird girl' convincingly.

The explanation of ‘Death’s Design,’ as it’s called with audible quotations, is delivered by none other than Candyman himself Tony Todd, playing a scenery-chewing mortician that Alex and his potential-girlfriend Clear Rivers (Ali Larter, keeping an incredibly straight face in the face of such a ridiculous moniker) encounter when they break into the mortuary to get a look at their dead friend for no discernible reason other than Alex thinks it’d be a good idea. It’s a weird gimmick, one that the film just rolls over and accepts with the dumb nods of teenagers who should know better in a horror film trying to be this post-modern.

It’s not surprising to learn if you do a little research that this was originally an X-Files spec script that got reworked into a horror movie. The pattern gimmick seems tailor made for the show, and it explains a bit of plot weirdness where post plane explosion we’re time jumped over a month in the story, killing any emotional momentum the characters had in their grief. In that time, you’d likely have Mulder and Scully show up, I imagine. Instead all we get is everyone standing around looking dead-eyed in some approximation of PTSD.

If I make it sound like Final Destination isn’t a good movie that’s because it mostly isn’t. The teenagers are actually pretty harmless (aside from Seann William Scott being his normal unbearable self) but the plot doesn’t really have a lot of places to go and the premise is far better suited to a 40-odd minute episode than a full on movie. Especially when in the final third the idea of saving people from death and thus having them skipped is introduced, turning the finale into a mishmash of threats to Alex and Clear (god what a dumb name) without the plot really outlining which one of them is the person in peril. And if its both, one of them is in regular-ass peril instead of death’s-comin’ peril, and if we can’t tell the difference then who gives a fuck about the contrivances of the core concept?

Which leads to maybe the biggest problem of the movie. It’s not very scary. There’s a good sense of dread in the first 20 minutes or so while we find our footing, mostly carried along by a surprising, horn-heavy score by the late great Shirley Walker. But once we figure out what’s going on there really isn’t the tension there should be, one particular scene excepted. I appreciate the lack of cheap jumps, but the ways people are dispatched quickly becomes more hilarious than anxiety-ridden.

The worst part about every movie he's ever been in.

But then, that’s probably what you came here for anyway, isn’t it? Oh, all right. Since the films are really, at their core, about watching people die in stupid, Rube Goldbergian ways, I might as well give you the goods. With each of these movies, I’ll detail the best kill (the one that induced the most cringing), the ‘best’ kill (usually the one that induced the most giggles), and the stupid stinger at the end that undoubtedly closes all these movies out where whoever survives is killed off before the credits.

Best Kill
Alex’s best friend Tod (German for death, oooooo!) is sitting on the toilet, which begins to leak. The water creeps towards him as he’s standing at the sink. He cuts himself shaving. The water creeps closer as he begins trimming his nose hair. It looks awfully slippery on that tile floor, leading one to believe that he’s going to slip and jam the utensil into his brain. But no! He puts it down, only to suddenly reach towards the radio, plugging it in. Will he be electrocuted? NO! A news report about the crash disturbs him and he jerks the cord out of the wall right before the electricity gets him.

He walks towards the shower, and the water is shown taking a sharp turn to follow him. Standing there, he begins to climb in, but he shifts his weight just as the water gets in his way and he slips and a cord for the shower gets wrapped around his neck. Flailing, spilling shampoo which makes the tub too slippery to get purchase on, he struggles as his eyes begin to hemmorage to a bright red. He reaches for the nose hair scissors, sitting on the sink, but they’re too far and he expires.

What’s great here is the triple fake out, along with just how understated and realistic the strangling is. The movie has some lame CG, but the blood blooming up in his eyes is really subtle and a great touch. Plus, the shot of him reaching towards the scissors that just a minute ago we were dreading the sight of is a great play on the audience.

‘Best’ Kill
The surviving teacher, Ms. Lewton, is making tea. She rinses the tea kettle, draping the towel over a knife rack. As she puts the tea on the gas stove goes out. She lights it in close up, but nothing happens, and the tea steeps. She pours it, takes a sip, and then chucks it out for vodka from the freezer. The switch of hot and cold cracks the cup, which drips all over the floor as she carries it to her computer. She reaches behind the computer to turn it on (remember that?) and drips inside. We see the fluid dripping along circuit boards and when she powers on the monitor it explodes, slicing open her throat and causing the house to burst into flame.

Ms. Lewton, holding her neck together as she bleeds everywhere, slips and stumbles her way into the kitchen, where she collapses on the floor. Looking up, she spies the kitchen towel, which she pulls down only to have the knives come tumbling down on top of her with them. One, a big butcher knife, goes straight into the sternum.

The best part of this scene, however, is when Alex shows up shortly thereafter to try to save her. He tries to look for something to help with the bleeding, but pulling another towel down causes a whole kitchen shelf to collapse. In his rush to keep it from falling on Ms. Lewton, he knocks over a chair, which does fall directly on the protruding knife, driving it completely into her and killing her.

Poor Ms. Lewton, no mere mortal can survive that much slapstick bullshit.

The End?
Our heroes Alex and Clear (no snickering!) and the jock guy Carter all survive and finally make their way to Paris six months later. Sitting in a cafe, they discuss whether or not Death would loop around (a conversation I feel like should have probably happened six months earlier), and Alex suddenly realizes that he’s next. He gets up, only to narrowly dodge a bus, which knocks over a light post, which nearly falls on him, but catches a marquee, which swings down ready to wipe him out when Carter tackles him, narrowly saving his life. Carter, standing up, asks who’s next now that Death has skipped Alex, and the film ends with the giant swinging marquee coming back towards the oblivious Carter. Cut to black. Haha Carter, you jocky jock-guy. Eat it!

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About M

Artist, ne'er do well, militant queer.
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