Final Destination (notably not The Final Destination, which is the 4th film in the franchise) Is James Wong’s instant classic from the year 2000. This movie spawned a franchise of at least 4 other movies that have cumulatively made over half a billion dollars. Aside from the movies that came after, this one stands on its own as a phenomenally fun slasher flick. Read the spoiler filled review below to see exactly why (and exactly why not).
Reviewed by: Mark
Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) is a high school senior who is about to embark on a school trip to France. As the plane is about leave he has a premonition that the plane is about to explode and that they’re all going to die. After he, his teacher, and a few of his classmates are pulled from the flight the plane does, in fact, explode.
As the community mourns, and everyone begins to ostracize Alex for his clairvoyance, the other survivors begin die off in needlessly complex ways. Alex gets closer one of the other survivors, Clear (played by Ali Larter), and they start to unravel the mystery of how they are being stalked by death. Tony Todd makes a surprise cameo as a mortician who apparently knows all the ropes on how the grim reaper works. Turns out death doesn’t like being cheated. Who knew?
As the survivors numbers continue to dwindle, the remaining four find out that death can “skip” you if you are somehow able to sidestep the murderous Rube Goldberg machine that is meant for you. We learn this because Billy (Seann William Scott) gets decapitated by an errant piece of scrap metal that gets hit by a train. I hate it when that happens. Using this knowledge, Alex sacrifices himself to save Clear and effectively force death to “skip” her. He gets resuscitated though so it’s totally cool. Apparently it’s pretty easy to cheat death.
What the Movie Does Right
Far and away the number one thing this movie has going for it is the ludicrous spectacle of the deaths. It’s arguably more prevalent in the later films than in this one, but you can definitely see the foundations being laid in this movie. Take Ms. Lewton’s death as an example: she is burnt, has her throat cut by an exploding CRT computer monitor, is stabbed by a falling set of kitchen knives, the knife is then hammered in further by a falling chair, and then her house explodes. That’s the type of Shakespearean level murderings that this movie brings to the table.
That first point dovetails nicely into another item that this movie does well: its pacing. The film as a whole doesn’t ever really falter much (maybe the funeral scene is a bit long), but the real shining endorsement here is how the deaths work. The script treats each death as a sort of joke, and switches up the delivery for each one in a way that keeps the viewer in suspense. In the longer scenes, such as Tod or Ms. Lewton, the movie focuses in on items that could easily be used by the grim reaper. In other deaths, like Billy’s or Terry’s, they’re killed out of nowhere with virtually no lead up. It also ties in well to the running theme that you don’t know when death will come for you.
Lastly, there is an air of silliness to the movie that allows it to do some things that would otherwise be in poor taste. Remember Ms. Lewton’s death? She get’s overkilled for basically no reason, but it’s more of a spectacle than an Eli Roth-esque torture scene. The film’s tongue-in-cheekness allows you to separate yourself enough from the characters that you’re not particularly disappointed when any of them die in terrible and gruesome ways. In fact, most of the time you’re rooting for the reaper to do his worst, and that is exactly what this movie needs in order to succeed.
What the Movie Does Wrong
Not to sound repetitive, but there is an air of silliness to this movie that diminishes it as far as an actual horror experience goes. Although I love the movie for what it is, the tone of it can make it a hard sell for some people. It’s not an outright horror comedy, and it’s certainly not a serious horror movie. So when do you recommend it? When a friend asks for a slightly ironic late-nineties time capsule that isn’t funny, but also isn’t particularly scary? I don’t know about ya’ll but that situation doesn’t present itself to me too frequently.
Another item that the other two guys really harped on during our podcast is the acting. There was a very particular school of acting in the late 90’s and early 00’s that was, well, bad. Not really a whole lot of other ways to describe it. There is a distinct funk of over dramatic acting looming over this entire film. In a not-entirely unrelated item of note, they cast a group of actors in their late 20’s (Amanda Detmer who played Terry was almost 30) to play these high school seniors. Unless you’re really buying the silliness these are pretty significant immersion breakers.
Story: 4 - Yeah… there isn’t a whole lot of story here aside from the basic concept of “death doesn’t like being cheated.” I think in the grand scheme of things that’s fine. You aren’t watching this movie for the story, and a more complicated narrative would just be distracting.
World-Building / Immersion: 8 - I came in way higher in this category then the other guys. The points they focused on were mainly acting and casting based, which are fair criticisms. Ultimately though, I think the schtick of this movie sucks you in in a way that allows you to forgive those transgressions. Further, the way they build up to most of the death scenes and blindside you with others keeps you locking on the screen, watching for hints about what happens next.
Scare-Factor: 6 - Like I’ve already said, this isn’t your traditional “scary” horror movie. That being said, the jumpscares are still effective (particularly the bus scene), and the lead up to each death is still very suspenseful. This might be silly torture porn, but there’s still that ounce of gruesome violence to keep you on edge.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 5 - On the plus side, the majority of the movie uses effect to great effect. There really isn’t a lot happening, but they don’t fuck up the stuff they try. On the negative side there is a CG smoke monster meant to approximate death as a sentient entity. Note to filmmakers: Smoke monsters, no matter how alluring a concept, are always a bad idea.
Overall: 7.5 - This is a substantial upward tilt, and I’m not going to pretend that it’s completely objective. This movie franchise was a huge part of my horror upbringing and I love going back and watching all of them. Yes, they’re pretty stupid, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t extremely entertaining.