Serious About Series: “Final Destination 3”

I really wish I had something clever here to say, but I don’t. They made another one of these, because of course they did. They’re undoubtedly cheap, the run on an endlessly riffable formula, and people go out to see them. Not that that makes them good.

Or … does it?

Final Destination 3 (2006)

Present day, and a bunch of high school students are at an amusement park. We’re introduced to a whole slew of characters (none of who I could pick out of a lineup after just seeing the film) as our Lead Girl, Wendy, takes pictures for the school yearbook. Wendy is played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (more on her later) who has a premonition of everything going down real bad for her and her peers on a roller coaster named Devil’s Flight.

People get off the coaster, it still crashes, and … look, you know the rest.

What’s interesting here after all the plot meanderings of the 2nd film how stripped down the concept is. Gone is Tony motherfuckin’ Todd (though he does do a few lines of cameo voice work for incidentals), gone is the we-are-all-connected bullshit, gone is the new life trade off thing, because that was the worst. The plot of “Death’s Design” is simply explained to Wendy by her not-a-boyfriend jock friend who read about the previous two movies online. Like you do.

The hook on what would basically be a retread of the original movie is that instead of convenient psychic flashbacks, the hints of what are going to happen are all in the pictures Wendy shot that fateful night. Each picture of one of the survivors contains clues as to how they’ll be killed, and it’s up to Wendy and Not-Boyfriend to go around and try to convince people/prevent their deaths.

Pretty standard fare, but it’s laid out surprisingly well. Not-Boyfriend shows Wendy photos of prior disasters that had clues contained within them, a weird conspiracy riff that enters surprisingly touchy territory with a photo of a plane’s shadow on the World Trade Center towers. It’s ballsy, and lends her story of photos-as-proof a tinfoil hat air that makes everyone not believing her seem a little more plausible.

And really, this whole movie hinges on Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She’s a pretty good actress and far better than this kind of movie, and she carries off a thankless otherwise-uninteresting lead girl role with an understated confidence that was sorely missing last time with Psychic Kimmy. She’s a fine replacement for Clear Rivers, who I will continue to mention in every one of these even after she made her unceremonious exit.

Our heroine, the always-great Mary Elizabeth Winstead. I don't really have any other reason for this picture being here.

The usual deaths continue apace, though it’s interesting at this point to release we’re six years past the origin of this series and in the meantime we’ve had the rise of torture porn and the increase in movie gore that came with it. This movie isn’t exceptionally bad on the guts front, but it’s certainly more splatstick than the last two were, with some genuinely surprising gags involving some really terrible things happening to people.

The one major problem I have with the movie (outside of the whole thing being kind of samey, but that comes with the territory and maybe isn’t even a real fault) is that it ends up not committing well enough to its new hook. The picture-clues are neat, and the puzzling out of what they mean and the constant misdirection as they misread clues is great fun, but we never get a scene that sits us down and shows us every single relevant picture. They’re referred to when the story demands, which is a cop out when you could have ratcheted up the macabre mystery aspect if the audience was spending its free time worrying about the possibilities of the pictures the same as we were.

Outside of that, though, it’s a solid movie, especially for a third installment. Better than the 2nd, to be sure, and dialing back the bullshit and including a better hook put it neck and neck with the first one, if not slightly above it. Then again, I’m biased, as I’ve had a crush on Ms. Winstead since Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and that’s a hard thing to kick.

The Best Kill
While Not-Boyfriend and Wendy are trying to puzzle out the pictures early on in the film, they pull into a drive through for incredibly convoluted and plot-convenient reasons. You see, Wendy was weak because she had been so tormented by her friends’ deaths, and Not-Boyfriend was white knighting so he drove her there, and on the way they were talking about the pictures and Not-Boyfriend almost wrecked the truck he was driving once, so they pulled into the drive through so they could look at pictures and talk. Because people do that in drive-throughs?

While they try to determine how the next victim will die, a large dump truck nearly backs into them while they’re in the drivethrough line, pinning the doors shut on both sides with the dump truck gate and the speaker for the drive through. That’s when Wendy notices an out-of-control moving van careening down the hill towards them. With cars behind and ahead of them, they’re going to be crushed!

They eventually kick open the windshield just in time, crawling out as the moving van slams into the car behind them and crushes Not-Boyfriend’s truck. It also sends the motor flying forward into the back seat of the convertible ahead of them in line, the giant spinning fan on the motor neatly sliding the back of the driver’s head into ribbons and grey matter. And that’s when they discover they were sitting in line with the next victim, whose picture they were just puzzling over. What are the odds?

In reality, it’s a great kill for the total misdirection, but also because the fan blade hitting the guy’s skull is just fucking gross in a way that makes you go ‘ew’ and then giggle a bit. It’s messy and there’s a great beat where the fan gives one last fitful spin, taking off the top of his skull with it. It’s a simple timing gag, but it’s damn effective.

The ‘Best’ Kill
The two ‘slutty’ girls are going tanning despite already being orange. The owner, busy on the phone outside, props the back door open with a bottle of bronzer so it doesn’t lock shut behind him. The girls don’t want anybody walking in on them while naked, so they lock the front. Despite the owner’s warning, they bring in a smoothy which they set on a nearby table. Then one of them turns up the heat. Which causes condensation, which runs into the components of the machine that controls the tanning beds.

It’s always a good time when water runs into electricity in Final Destination, because it never does anything remotely realistic. In this instance, it cranks up the beds past the safe level. Wendy, already on the case about this shit, calls one of the girls, which causes her to try to reach out and grab her cellphone. But this knocks over a coat rack, which knocks over a shelf, which lands on the beds and holds them shut. Which is exactly when the tanning lotion holding the door open outside squeezes out, causing the door to lock.

Surprisingly schlocky, this kill makes me nostalgic for my misspent youth watching dumb 80s horror.

You get the movie’s only topless shots, two melting Barbies who then burst into flames, a very preventable appliance accident, and dumb evils-of-tanning message all rolled into one. It’s stupid, it induces eye-rolling, and it’s the worst kill in the entire movie.

The End?!
Several months after the film, Wendy is on a train when she suddenly gets a feeling. She sees Not-Boyfriend who she apparently hasn’t seen (continuing his long tradition of not being a boyfriend, his most identifiable trait) and then suddenly has a premonition of the train derailing and everyone being killed in horrible ways.

She snaps out of the premonition, and her and Not-Boyfriend suddenly rush to pull the emergency breaks, which seem to do nothing. Screaming, cut to black, sounds of crashing. The bleakest ending yet, unless you assume Wendy jumped into Ramona Flowers’ bag of holding and is currently rollerblading through the subspace of my heart.

Well, I’ll assume. You can assume they’re all dead, and we’ll find out next time if they bother to mention it in the sequel. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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About M

Artist, ne'er do well, militant queer.
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