Final Destination Review

by Jamey Hughton (bhughton AT sk DOT sympatico DOT ca)
March 23rd, 2000

*** (out of four stars)
A review by Jamey Hughton

Starring-Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Kristin Cloke, Chad E. Donnella, Seann William Scott and Amanda Detmer Director-James Wong
Canadian Rating-18A
Released by New Line Cinema - 03/00

MOVIE VIEWS by Jamey Hughton

The premise of the new teen-targeted horror film “Final Destination” causes a recollection of a memorable “Simpsons” Halloween episode. After attempting to repair a malfunctioning toaster, lovably ignorant patriarch Homer realizes he has created a portable time-machine. After a trek into the Cretaceous period, Homer observes that any minor alteration made there will erupt into a starling chain of events and seriously modify the present world. Again and again, Homer toys with the master plan and pays dearly for it. The characters of “Final Destination” have also tampered with the blueprint schematics of their existence - their “design”. Someone is after them with the strict intent of correcting the mistake. That someone is Death.

You see, Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) and six others have cheated the Grim Reaper.... but the dude has got some tricks up his sleeve. For a high school excursion, Alex’s French class is traveling to Paris by airline transport. Alex, tense and neurotic, has a shocking premonition after boarding: he sees the plane, and every passenger on it, spontaneously explode in mid-air. In a panic of sheer lunacy, Alex charges his way through the aisle and demands removal from the aircraft. After a handful of others (including one teacher) follow and are denied admittance back onto the plane, the unwitting ‘survivors’ watch in horror as the plane actually explodes in the drizzling night sky. The loony vision Alex experiences does actually materialize. But Death won’t be cheated so easily, and one by one, the survivors of Flight 180 are offed in mysteriously gruesome circumstances. The grisly murder count baffles the local officials and FBI. Before I delve into the meat of the review, I’d just like to confer.... is that one helluva premise, or what?

“Final Destination”, creepy beyond rational comprehension, probably reads more like an unsettling “X-Files” episode than “The Simpsons” - therefore, the surprise is minimal when you discover the mutual creators behind both are Glen Morgan and James Wong. On familiar turf, the task of establishing footing is not difficult for Morgan and Wong, and the opening 20 minutes of “Final Destination” reflects that. Unlike most thrillers, the set-up is crisp and cool. You just deeply, sincerely hope that the momentum won’t unspool, leaving us with a second-string effort with nothing but cheap, derivative shocks. Young viewers have a palpable reason to expect this kind of formula deterioration, what with “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and sequel, “Idle Hands” and -- a movie with a nifty premise that just plunged like an anvil -- “Urban Legend”. After the set-up, when I remained slouched apprehensively in my chair, I started to really have fun with “Final Destination”. Low and behold, a teen thriller that is actually unsettling, actually suspenseful and -- yes -- actually intelligent. Some splotty logic and a heap of characteristic genre flaws aside, this film is among the most refreshing and all-out enjoyable horror movies to submerge since the cutting-edge “Scream” in 1996. “Final Destination” stimulates the nerves and offers a exhilarating retaliation strike against all the blood-spattered slasher crap we’ve endured throughout the past few years.

Not that the characters are that good. Sawa is game as Alex, a connect-the-dots personality that we never fully comprehend. In addition, the survivors are endearing geek Tod (Chad E. Donella), jocky control-freak Carter (Kerr Smith of “Dawson’s Creek”), Carter’s ditzy girlfriend Terry (Amanda Detmer), the none-too-subtly named Billy Hitchcock (Seann William Scott, supplier of lukewarm comic relief) and a lone teacher - the emotionally delicate Ms. Lewton (Kristin Cloke). Aside from Alex, the primary center of interest is intended to be Ali Larter (“Varsity Blues”), playing an abstract character named Clear Rivers (what were her parents thinking?!?). The personality of Clear is written with such a vague, nebulous definition that she resembles a walking flash-card saying “Hello, I am the offbeat character designed to identify with the main character’s plight!” Toss a few stereotypical FBI agents (Daniel Roebuck and Roger Guenveur Smith) and a....ummm... “spiritual” mortician (former “Candyman” Tony Todd) into the mix, and you have what could be another generic teenage frightfest with slicing, dicing and assorted disembowelments.

Not so. “Final Destination” has no slicing and dicing, or at least none dealt by a human killer, and the thought of Death itself as the unseen stalker is unique and frightening. The extra dimension of disconcerting irony rejuvenates the decaying ‘murderer-on-the-loose’ concept, with assistance from a shrewd, intelligently paced screenplay by Morgan, Wong and Jeffrey Reddick. The plot twists are fun and clever without toppling into utter absurdity (listen up, “Reindeer Games”). But I suppose the most satisfying aspect of “Final Destination” is the murder scenes. Creative, resourceful and breathlessly inventive, the death sequences involve an unlikely string of events leading to a character’s demise. What will trigger the accident? Will it be the John Denver record, just put on to play “Rocky Mountain High”? (yeah, sick humor). Will it be the leaking toilet? The falling fishing reel in the corner? The murders are startling and largely unforeseen, including one surprise incident that made the audience jump out of their seats and giggle nervously for roughly a minute afterward. A sense of giddy unpredictability is added with this inventive approach. It gets sorta tasteless and cheap sometimes, but who cares? It’s fun.

In that simple regard, “Final Destination” is my cup of tea. This stylishly executed thriller, although tagged with laughable circumstances and the occasional snippet of lame dialogue, is an immensely entertaining jaunt to the dark side. After the show, it will also have an frightening impact on you. When will your ‘design’ expire? Is Death waiting around the corner? The “Final” effect is a major case of the heebie-jeebies.

© 2000, Jamey Hughton

MOVIE VIEWS by Jamey Hughton
Full Member - Online Film Critics Society

Your Comments Appreciated! [email protected]

More on 'Final Destination'...

Originally posted in the newsgroup. Copyright belongs to original author unless otherwise stated. We take no responsibilities nor do we endorse the contents of this review.