Watch Out For The Signs
Lets face it, in the last couple of decades the horror genre has gone down the sewer drain. Now don't get me wrong, every now and again we get a decent to very good horror film. I'm a supporter of the Paranormal Activity franchise, I thoroughly enjoyed Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell, and the upcoming Don't Be Afraid of the Dark looks promising. But it seems that, rather than actually attempting to frighten audiences, Hollywood settles for buckets of gore and endless nudity. But one franchise attempted to change that and while it may have experienced a significant drop off with its later installments (what horror franchise hasn't?), I think it deserves some recognition.
Bound for Paris on a senior field trip, seventeen-year-old Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) is haunted by a premonition that his flight will explode moments after takeoff. After a nervous breakdown that gets him and six other passengers thrown off the plane, he is horrified to see his vision become a terrifying reality. The accident is written off as a freak act of nature, until the survivors start to die one by one. Now, it's up to Alex and his newfound friend Clear (Ali Larter) to decipher the clues forged by the Grim Reaper himself if he wants to survive and cheat death once and for all.
Final Destination's concept alone earns the movie a solid recommendation. Yes, at it's surface it's just your standard dead teenager movie. But how many other dead teenager movies have you seen where the killer is a force of nature, rather than a masked psychopath. That simple detail eliminates a many clichés that plague the average slasher flick. Instead of jumping out from behind doors or mindless gutting and chopping of the body (though there is some of that, it's nowhere near over-the-top), it's all in a spin of constant suspense and even genuine terror at times. Plus, with the killer always being unseen, it allows the filmmakers to stage elaborate death scenarios that are actually unpredictable and effective rather than ridiculously gory.
And it only helps that the film boasts a talented cast. Sure, no one stands out exactly, but every actor is given a character with a well-rounded arc and breathes life into them to the best of their abilities, even if Death itself is coming for them. No one in the movie is useless or stereotyped. Director James Wong keeps the film moving at a nice steady pace, never shoving the gore in one's face and ensuring the characters are given room to breathe. However, what he does best is give the film a subtle, yet quietly eerie atmosphere that keeps the tension high and the cheesiness low. The dialogue is natural and never forced (Tony Todd's chilling monologue sticks with you long after the abrupt, yet strangely brilliant ending) and the special effects are all around solid. No it isn't a perfect film, but with its killer suspense, clever death traps, fine cast, and atmospheric direction, Final Destination earns an unapologetic 4.5/5.
FINAL DESTINATION 2
Set one year after the crash of Flight 180, the sequel picks up with young Kimberly Corman (A.J. Cook, Criminal Minds) on a road trip. While merging onto the highway, Kimberly has a premonition that a multi-car pileup will occur resulting in the deaths of her, her friends, and many others. She pulls over, only to see her vision come to life. Realizing it's not over yet, Kimberly enlists the help of a surviving police officer (Michael Landes) and series veteran Clear Rivers (Ali Larter reprising her role) to once again cheat death.
It might seem like an uninspired retread at first glance, but Final Destination 2 is actually the most ambitious of the sequels. For starters, the opening sequence. Not only is it fantastically staged, beautifully shot, and unremittingly intense, it's one of, if not the, most spectacular freeway accidents I've ever seen captured on film. When a sequel decides it wants to go bigger than the original, take notes here. Secondly, Final Destination 2 takes time to actually expand upon the mythology laid out by the first film. Tony Todd returns in a cameo to explain things further and, in a fairly seamless fashion, the cast of the original are tied into the lives of the total strangers introduced here in.
And therein lies the main problem. What made the first film so believable was that the characters, different as they may have been, knew each other well. So even if they wouldn't trust each other for something that could happen on a day-to-day basis, it made sense that they would turn to one another in the event of hopelessness. Here, none of these characters have had any past encounter with one another whatsoever, so it seems a little far-fetched that most seem to simply jump on the band wagon once Kimberly and Clear explain the situation. It doesn't help that half the cast isn't even that likeable. I'm not criticizing the actors, as most of them actually deliver solid performances but, aside from the three leads, the new characters come off as annoying.
Director David R. Ellis (Snakes on a Plane) takes over from James Wong and while he may know how to stage some pretty clever death traps, he doesn't have the flair for suspense that Wong so effortlessly brought to the first film. The result is a film that drags during its downtime and a less coherent narrative with quite a few plot holes that can't be ignored. Ultimately, when the dust settles, Final Destination 2 is still a fun ride, but it pales in comparison to the original. 3.0/5
FINAL DESTINATION 3
Picking up five years after the events of the second film, the third installment finds high school senior Wendy Christensen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) having a vision that the roller coaster she boards with her friends will derail. So she gets everyone off and yadda yadda. You know the rest by now.
Unlike the previous sequel, Final Destination 3 has no connection whatsoever to the first film. Aside from a few mentions of the two disasters in order to determine the severity of the characters situation, the film is a complete stand-alone. That lone factor makes the overall film a bit of a mixed bag. Gone is the expansion of the mythology that the second film brought about and the death scenes can be quite ridiculous at times. There is a subplot involving the pictures Wendy took the night of the accident, but it's never explored quite as fully as it should be.
But Final Destination 3 has something that the second film did not. With director James Wong returning to the helm, that quietly eerie atmosphere and killer suspense that made the first film so good is back. And that, for me anyways, is more important than any new ideas the series could introduce. Also the characters once again are all classmates. They're not as well-rounded this time (a pair of stereotypical blondes especially stand-out), but at least its believable that they could help one another. Plus, the most annoying characters are offed the earliest and thus; the cast gets less irritating as the film goes on.
Unfortunately, the stand-alone premise results in a retread feeling for those fans returning to the series. The death scenes will fill anyone's appetite. As over-the-top as they sometimes are, they're executed beautifully. The opening sequence on the roller coaster is magnificent and the cast delivers fine, if not forgettable, performances. But there's not enough new here to make allow the film to drift above pretty good. While Final Destination 3 won't win the franchise any converts and it certainly doesn't reach the greatness of the first film, it's still a thoroughly entertaining addition and, in my mind, the best of the sequels. 3.5/5
THE FINAL DESTINATION
No plot summary this time. I think you already know. This time the big accident is a racecar arena collapse and once again, the film has no connection whatsoever to the previous films.
Like the third film, The Final Destination (Yeah, stupid title, I know) makes no attempt whatsoever to expand upon the series mythology. It's just another uninspired retread, only this time, there's not much fun about it. Director David R. Ellis returns from the second installment only to work for a paycheck. There's no suspense, no memorable death scenes, and no good performances. The film starts off promising enough. The opening scene at the racetrack, while rather small in scale in comparison to the first three, is pretty well done and the few snippets of humor prior to the crash work well enough. But it's all a ploy to get you to spend time with characters you know nothing about or even remotely care for. Plus, when the single most developed character isn't even the protagonist, but a SECURITY GUARD, you know you've got a problem. Which brings me to my final complaint; What is Bubba doing in this movie?
Now onto a more light-hearted note, I can't deny that The Final Destination is a dull, lifeless piece of garbage horror flick. But viewed in the mindset of a comedy, it's like a classic. Whether it's the ridiculously uninspired death sequences, god-awful dialogue, or overly cartoony CGI, it can become a propulsively entertaining ride film. In that respect, I could easily rate the film pretty high. But the fact that it's meant to be taken seriously prevents me from doing so. So I'm cutting the score in half and deducting an extra .5 for the fact that to enjoy it to it's full potential, it must be viewed in 3D. Believe me, every frame of the movie points towards the extra dimension that most people probably lack proper access to. So, in the end, The Final Destination earns a VERY, VERY generous 2.0/5.
With the fifth installment hitting theaters Friday (and it does look somewhat promising), as long as it delivers the popcorn goods in accordance with the second and third films, I'll be satisfied.