Following in the deep, deep furrow ploughed in the horror genre by the wildly successful, teen-centric Scream movies, Hollywood dutifully continued putting out movies that dumped an endless procession of young adults into numerous life-ending circumstances (usually in a slasher style context). However in the year 2000, X Files alumni Jeffery Reddick, Glen Morgan and James Wong penned a script based off an abandoned episode treatment that would put an entertaining spin on your usual teens-in-peril schtick that would have them tangle with an adversary that’s literally racked up a innumerable body count, is completely unvanquishable (is that even a word?) and is utterly impossible to avoid forever.
That’s right, you can chain Jason to the bottom of a lake, turn Freddy’s energy against him and even outrun Ghostface, but how the frick are you supposed to avoid death itself?
Alex Browning is about to settle down on flight 180 which will be whooshing him and his fellow classmates to a school trip to France when he has an incredibly vivid dream of the plane crashing and everyone on board being rendered extra crispy thanks to an unwanted facial of burning jet fuel. Understandably freaking out he unwittingly get himself, his best friend Tod, class prick Carter and his girlfriend Terry, dweeb Billy, teacher Ms. Lewton and class loner Clear booted off the plane which then (you guessed it) explodes shortly after take off leaving the survivors more shook than a maraca in an earthquake. Alex is initially treated with suspicion, especially from a double of creepy FBI agents who are trying to get their head around this whole deal and Carter, who’s toxic issues with the whole idea of mortality leads him to want to take a swing at Browning every time he’s within thirty feet of him, but eventually things start to die down – right before people start to die off!
After a clutch of “accidents” under highly protracted circumstances start claiming the lives of the survivors of Flight 180, Alex and Clear find out from a highly suspect mortitian that death itself has a design and to screw with that means that death is going to screw with you – hey, if anyone’s going to be an expert on this, it’s a mortitian played by Tony feakin’ Todd. Those who are left realise they now have a massive, metaphorical target on their back and have to figure out what the rules of this high stakes game actually are before they find out first hand what exponentially horrible fate death has in store for them now. Their best best is Alex, who seems to get visions that clue him in to what might occur next, but how can he possibly save them when his obsession with beating death’s design is turning him into a paranoid egomaniac?
From the ominous opening bars of Shirley Walker’s score to it’s “LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!” final shot, Final Destination is a movie that few seem to champion much these days that I have quite a strong connection to thanks to the fact that I had to watch the bastard thing around three times a day back when I worked in a cinema. Luckily, it turned out to be a movie I particularly dug and while the sequels admittedly did some nesscesary work with finessing a baggage-hold full of exposition the characters seem to be endlessly spouting or speeding up the general pace of the thing by upping the body count (it’s admittedly more deliberately paced than your average 00’s teen horror), it has the nervous, sweaty energy of a Back To The Future movie that with it’s outlandishly protracted “accidentally on purpose” deaths that play awfully a lot like The Omen for the Scream generation.
So before we plunge into those fiendishly realised moments when a character’s expiration date violently comes around, let’s give some kudos to the cast who portray a typically photogenic group of young adults whom fate desides to drop a deuce on for actually making them a little more three dimentional than your average protagonists.
Leading the charge is former Casper/future Stan Devon Sawa, who after this and his lead turn in stoner horror comedy Idle Hands a year prior was looking to be quite the alternative genre leading man and he makes Alex nicely down to earth even when having him unload acres of rules, plans and theories onto the audience while amusingly referring to death as a “fuck”. The rest of the cast are also staggeringly 90’s with Kerr (Dawson’s Creek) Smith Ali Larter and Sean William Scott leading the charge – although it’s legitimately strange (and strangely legit) to see Stifler from American Pie catch a fragment of sheet metal right in the pie hole.
This, of course, leads us to the best thing about the movie and that’s it’s genuinely gripping death sequences that starts with the utterly terrifying plane crash that’s admittedly lost some of it’s power in the wake of movies like Flight and Sully: Miracle On The Hudson but still manages to feel primal and real; “It’ll take a fucked up God to take down this flight.” Mutters Tod’s ill-fated brother when he notices a wailing baby and very physically disabled man upon bording; “A real fucked up God.” Following that plane crash – the first of a whole series of disasters the franchise has traumatised us with that went on to include Rollercoasters and Nas Car (?) – we have a whole clutch of juicy screen exits that are proceeded by fascinating scenes of death setting up it’s next hit in minute detail. A trickle of water here, a cracked cup there – Oh fuck! Are they gonna be electrocuted? – no wait… that was a fake out… It’s highly cinematic stuff and has you eating out the palm of it’s hand as it leads you on a winding path to an inevitable demise, but the filmmakers are also savvy enough to just spring shit on you out of nowhere like having one character escape only for another to be taken out or in possibly one of the finest, most impactful deaths of the entire decade, just has someone whacked without any fucking warning whatsoever. I’m obviously referring to the audience-stirring moment where someone plays kissy-face with a speeding bus and while 1998’s Meet Joe Back technically did it first, any of you who witnessed this moment in a cinema knows how influential it was.
It ain’t all gold, the entire opening 20 minutes has so much overblown foreboding (message boards reading “departed”, John Denver music literally playing everywhere) it ends up being unintentionally hilarious and sometimes the film slows down too much when trying to get it’s premise across, but in general, Final Destination is a rousing horror thriller with a neat eye for detail. After all, it’s not every film that low key features a character that actually pisses themselves after a near brush with oblivion…
Ironically giving the dead teens genre a new lease of life, Final Destination is all about the journey.