Final Destination [retro review]

“In death there are no accidents, no coincidences, no mishaps, and no escapes.”

The Scoop: 2000 R, directed by James Wong and starring Devon Sawa, Ali Larter and Seann William Scott

Tagline: Can You Cheat Death?

Summary Capsule: Survivors of a doomed flight find themselves playing hide-n-go-seek with the Grim Reaper.

Justin’s Rating: Why fly when you can crawl close to the ground?

Justin’s Review: For my money, the first 20 minutes of Final Destination is a collection of about the most gut-wrenching scenes ever committed to film. Since the trailers give it away, I guess it’s no major spoiler to tell you that an airline flight, carrying (among others) 46 members of a high school class on their way to France, explodes on takeoff. Due to a series of premonitions and visions, our hero deboards right before the incident, dragging a few others along with him. I think that actually knowing that this is going to happen in the movie makes it all the more terrifying. It doesn’t matter what you yell at the screen, these people are going to die. Very spooky, and hard not to put yourself in their shoes. When Alex goes screaming from the plane, trying to warn everyone with no one really listening, it personifies every nightmare I’ve ever had of being unable to stop something bad from happening. I personally have a nice fear of both flying and falling, so this would not be in my top 20 ways to die (coming soon to an article near you!).

The rest of this movie is hit-or-miss. It’s a novel idea to have a horror film where the stalker is an always-invisible Death. This works (since it forces the filmmakers to cast aside the normal methods of offing the teen spirit) and doesn’t work. Exactly how do they fight Death, which they can never see? They can’t! They come up with this weird “death by the numbers” routine that makes less sense every time a character brings it up. So, in a way, this whole novel idea makes the movie pointless. They’re going to die, whoopee, there’s a certain level of futility involved in trying to prevent that.

So once you reach that pessimistic conclusion, you’re in a much better position to enjoy what Final Destination has to offer. Namely, a modern morbid version of the game Mouse Trap. You remember that game? You move around on a board that has this elaborate mouse trap set up: the ball knocks over the tub, which hits the hammer, which drops the line, which… well, you know what I’m talking about. Death sets up these human mouse traps involving all manner of water and electrocution and knives and hanging and trains and whatnot. Very fun to see the setup of these scenes, as they get you to think that “Aha! They’re going to die by nose clippers!” and your expectations are demolished as they die by dog poisoning. Or something else, I’m not going to ruin it for you!

But no matter how much Final Destination tries to get away from horror staples, at least the parents are still their typical uncaring, unknowing, totally naive selves when it comes to their kids in trouble. I’d love to see a horror film where the parents would not only instantly believe their children when they come to them for help, but also get armed to the teeth and beat up the antagonist on sight. Hmmm…. coming soon from Mutant Film Studios!

Timmy: Mom! Dad! The killer is right outside the window of my bedroom!
Dad: Okay, son, we’ll take care of this. Dora, fetch me my boomstick!
Mom: Lock ‘n load, Fred. Son, we better place you in the Witness Protection Program, stat.

DnaError’s Rating: Death stalks pretty white kids with problems.

DnaError’s Review: Before this review even starts, I have to take issue with something. The male French teacher and his cruel mockery of the human form. His pillow-top face and odd, discomforting grin, set against a small head and rubber neck, all dangling from a grotesque egg-shaped body. Odd. Eerie.  Okay, back to the movie.

Final Destination is a cross between the “Cute White Kids Get Killed” genre and the “Pot-Induced Concept” genre. The “hero” Alex, with his doe-eyes and wispy body, throws a wrench into Death’s plans for the Cute Kids, and then spends the rest of the movie trying to dodge death at every turn. I’m just trying to see this from Death’s point of view, trying to do his job and ensure the natural order of things and some plucky gang of cute teens confounding him at very turn. Death hasn’t gone through this much stress since Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.

As for the horror aspect of the movie, like Justin wrote, it’s hit and miss. The director stops just short of flashing the words “FORESHADOWING” over every scene in the beginning, and has the mistaken idea that fans are scary (although John Denver is horrifying). The movie also has a very X-Files-ness to it. Nothing obvious, but just in the story structure and plotting. I kept thinking how much cooler it would be to make Mulder and Scully show up and set things right. I think the director has a writer on the X-Files, someone should check that out. Which brings me to way Death decides to knock off the cuddly little survivors. The elaborate death scenes have to be seen to be believed, the Teacher’s death in particular looks like a deadly version of those “Home Alone” sequences. (I have my own vision of how I want to die, involving a regal battle to the death, huge space mechs, and massive worldwide suicides after it. But, that’s another rant.)

In the end the movie is still a teen-horror-flick with al the cliche’s intact. The Bimbo, the Smart Kid, the Dumb Jock (who was in Dude, Where’s My Car? and has no car in this movie, think about it.), The Creepy Girl, the Best Friend, and The Bastard. But it’s a few steps above your normal crap in the intelligence department (but I still have no idea how the actors where able to say the words “go to my dad’s old cabin” without bursting out in laughter) and those death scenes, as loony as they are, have a morbid humor to them. So, if watching pretty teenagers get hacked and mangled in various ways in your thing, Final Destination is for you! I know I do!

When PETA Attacks

Intermission!

  • Gate 46 = 46 students killed on the flight
  • The murals on the airport wall represent ways the characters will die (explosions, buses, train tracks)
  • The airplane explodes and it takes a full second for the sound concussion to reach and blow out the airport windows… cool!
  • The words “Terminal”, “Departed”, and “Final Destination” at the airport
  • Most characters in the film are named after directors or stars from black and white horror movies. For example, Chaney (Lon Chaney), Waggner (director George Waggner), Browning (famous “Dracula” director Tod Browning), Schreck (Max Schreck starred in “Nosferatu”) and Valerie Lewton (Val Lewton produced several famous horror movies).
  • During the opening credits, all of the deaths in the movie are foreshadowed. There is a hanging doll, a guillotine, and a picture of a knife in someone’s chest.
  • The woman at the check-in desk at the airport tells Alex that the plane leaves at 9:25 which is the same as his birthday (25th September).   Then he gets on the plane he sits in seat I (which is the 9th letter of the alphabet) and the seat is in row 25.
  • The shredded piece of magazine that lands in front of Alex bears the word “Tod,” which is both the next victim’s name and the German word for death.
  • John Denver’s music preceeds four death sequences (In the airport restroom before the plane explosion; In Todd’s bathroom; The record Ms. Lewton the teacher puts on is John Denver; In the final scene, there is a French guitarist playing a John Denver song.
  • The falling sign that nearly kills the main character in the final scene is the numbers 180.
  • During the plane crash, a portable boombox hits a guy square in the head.
  • The baggage train visible in the gap between the gangway and the plane is numbered 666.
  • This movie was originally entitled Flight 180, but was changed at last minute due to studio demands. Much of the news footage shown is actual footage from the July 1996 explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800 off East Moriches, Long Island, New York.

Groovy Quotes

Alex: [finding a fish hook] Rusted. Tetanus. Nice one.

Bludworth: In death there are no accidents, no coincidences, no mishaps, and no escapes.

Alex Browning: Ms. Lewton, I…
Val Lewton: [interupts] Don’t talk to me, you scare the Hell outta me.

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9 Comments

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