Final Destination manages to make the mundane enthralling. That speaks to the quality of thriller that it is, doesn’t it? To say that it manages to make someone lighting a candle must-see material tells you just how captivated I was. Sure, a lot of the film features a bunch of red herrings, but when you’re having this much fun watching and waiting for people to die, being tricked from time to time isn’t a negative.
The hook: A class trip to Paris is planned. On the trip, one character sees the plane explode, and thinks he’s a goner. But he wakes up, unaware that he had just fallen asleep while waiting for takeoff. He causes a stir, gets a few people kicked off the plane with him, and low and behold, he was right: The plan explodes shortly after getting off the ground. The characters still at the airport should be ecstatic: They just cheated Death! They’re alive, and it’s all thanks to this premonition. Instead, they’re saddened because their friends and classmates just died. Way to keep a somber tone, Final Destination.
Anyway, the main character, Alex (Devon Sawa) soon becomes the prime suspect of the FBI. Why? Well, since he had this vision of the future, and managed to get off the plane, they think that he managed to blow it up. They become even more suspicious when his friend, Tod (Chad Donella) commits suicide via hanging himself in the bathroom. Or, at least, that’s what the FBI thinks. We saw the truth: A leaky toilet caused water to get on the floor, which in turn lead to Tod slipping, falling toward the bathtub, and getting a wire wrapped around his neck. He struggled but was unable to get free. The water later retreated. We know it wasn’t suicide, and we know Alex wasn’t involved, but nobody else does.
Soon enough, another one of the survivors is killed, once again in an “accident” that Alex can be linked to. The FBI are now thinking he very well could be a serial killer. Meanwhile, the one person who believes him, a woman named Clear (Ali Larter), is trying to help Alex make sense of all of the events that are going on. Essentially, they determine that Death is angry that he didn’t take all of the people he planned to, and is now going to get even by killing them later on.
So, yes, this elaborate set-up was a way to give director James Wong and writers Glen Morgan and Jeffery Reddick a reason to kill a bunch of teenagers without creating a serial killer to do it. Well, Death can be called a serial killer, I suppose, given the fact that he kind of kills everyone ever alive, but he isn’t your traditional knife-to-the-chest killer. Instead, can strike at any time, in any place, using anything. He’s possibly the worst entity to make angry.
Because of the “any place, any time, anything” problem, absolutely anything the characters do could kill them — usually in the most complex and Rube Goldberg-esque way possible. For instance, lighting a candle could somehow make fishing hook become stuck in your mouth, pulling you onto an electrocution trap set because your faucet was leaking and you never noticed it. That doesn’t actually happen in the film, but it’s the best I can come up with at the moment. The logic doesn’t always make sense, but the thrill of the kill is never not enjoyable.
Since any action taken could trigger an overly complex death sequence, the entire film is intense. For some reason, there isn’t any difference between the before-explosion and after-explosion scenes in terms of style. Before the vision is even had, and before we (presumably) know that this is a horror film, mundane actions are still made to seem scary. This doesn’t work at the start, and it would have been nice to see a style shift in the before and after shots in order to fully capture just how tense life would be with Death awaiting your every move.
I’m not sure if one is supposed to enjoy a film like Final Destination. I wondered throughout if I was supposed to like seeing teenagers getting killed in ways that I can’t even describe. Surely this isn’t supposed to be fun. But it is. I’m not sure why, but it just is. I wasn’t ever scared, but I was engaged. I laughed at some of the kills, as the special effects left a lot to be desired, but because Death could appear at any time to end one of their lives, I had a good time. Maybe that speaks to the viewer’s nature — if you like this kind of film you’re a bad person or something — but I can’t deny that the creative kills were fun to watch.
This is a film that does get very silly at times, especially later on when the characters think they figure out a way to cheat Death for good. The eventual explanation comes across as both pointless and stupid, even if it does give the characters something to do. It didn’t seem necessary, though, as the plot is basically just an excuse to massacre teenagers. If you’re enjoying the earlier part of the film, you’re not going to want to see these kids live anyway. If you’re not, then a “we might be able to avoid Death by doing X” won’t save this movie for you.
Final Destination is ultimately a very enjoyable film — if you enjoy watching teenagers die in random, complex and fascinating ways. If you have, I don’t know, a shred of empathy for human beings, this might not be for you. But I had a really fun time with it and would recommend it for fans of the teen slasher genre. Death makes a pretty good murderer, when you think about it.