The idea is to die young as late as possible
Final Destination is directed by James Wong and stars Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, and Tony Todd. It is the first film of the Final Destination film series.
There are a lot of things that Final Destination tries to be, and, for the most part, it largely succeeds, even though it can never shake how nonsensical and over-the-top that a lot of everything is. The clear message at work here is that death is inevitable, and that like taxes, it's gonna get you one way or another. And not only is death inevitable, but it can come and get you in the most unpredictable and unthinkable ways, which is a lot of how Final Destination is a black comedy. It's no one's fault that people throughout history have died in the most bizarre ways imaginable, like death by falling out a window into a pile of manure or death by a falling coconut. Now, such simplistic methods of dying are just not good enough for Final Destination, which goes to the most extreme, absurd lengths to go about attempting to axe off its characters.
Those characters are Alex Browning (Devon Sawa), Clear Rivers (Ali Larter), Carter Horton (Kerr Smith), Valerie Lewton (Kristen Cloke), Tod Wagner (Chad E. Donella), and Billy Hitchcock (Seann William Scott). And before I proceed any further, allow me to point out that a lot of those last names are indeed the same as some famous horror directors: Alfred Hitchcock, Tod Browning, Val Lewton, etc. The movie loses subtlety points right there, although it's not really trying to be subtle with much of anything, so there's really nothing for it to lose there. But anyway, back to the plot, the names mentioned above are those of some of the students and teachers at Mt. Abraham High School in New York. A group of students from the school are about to depart for a ten-day senior trip to Paris, France. Alex Browning has a fear of flying, but he musters up enough courage to tag along and board the flight. Just before the plane is about take off, Alex has a vision in which he sees the plane suffer a massive engine failure and catch fire, killing everyone on board. As a result, Alex suffers a panic attack, resulting in himself, a few other students, and teacher Valerie Lewton (the other names mentioned above) being removed from the plane. The plane explodes shortly after take-off and kills all of the remaining passengers. Alex is suspected with having something to do with the explosion, but things only get further complicated when the other plane survivors begin to die one by one.
It is interesting that the premise of Final Destination began life when screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick put together a speculative script for an episode of The X-Files. He read a story about how a woman changed her flight because her mother called and said she had a bad feeling about the flight. The plane that the woman would have been on crashed, which got Reddick thinking what if the woman was supposed to die on the flight? Reddick, however, never submitted his script to The X-Files when a colleague suggested to him that he turn the idea into a feature length film. James Wong and producer Glen Morgan accepted the script, with the idea that Death would come not as some hooded Grim Reaper figure, but instead as some unseen supernatural entity that has an influence on events that lead to someone's death. Wong further explains how the entertainment value comes from the "ride" that leads to the eventual outcome, and that there is a philosophical component to the premise because of how death is inevitable and what could happen if someone somehow cheats death.
- Final Destination's premise has a lot of promise, because death is undoubtedly a scary thing that no one wants to confront until they're old and gray and have made the most out of what life has given them. The even scarier thing is that no one goes through life having any idea how they will die. You could die the next time you go out for a drive, because that one drunk driver just happens to be driving the same way you are. Or you could die the next time you step into a grocery store, because there just happens to be a crazy lunatic with a gun there who gets fed up and decides to go on a killing rampage. Alex and the other characters are stuck in a hopeless situation, because they can only cheat death for so long. Every human being is doomed to die one day, and it may just sneak up on you when you least expect it. There is some real, genuine horror there.
- While Final Destination is not a slasher film, it is nasty, gore fun that doesn't try to hide the fact that it's kind of hilarious in stretches. One of Alex's classmates asks Alex to go to the bathroom with him, telling him of the importance of taking a shit right before a seven hour flight. This is not only because airplane bathrooms are no better than porta-potties, but it's also because you don't want to be the person who takes a nasty shit on the plane right before a hot female classmate who might be next in line. And if that hot female classmate knows you are the one leaving the pungent odor in the airplane bathroom, you lose any and all hope of getting together with hot female classmate. I mention this because of how such a ridiculous conversation it is and how it shortly follows the tragic disaster that unfolds with the plane exploding. It's hard to be saddened by the deaths of a bunch of high school students when a conversation right beforehand is about how saving your shit for the airplane is a bad idea. The plane crash is followed up with another pointless conversation at the school's memorial service in which another of Alex's classmates tells him of how he barely passed his driving test. And at the same time, that's where the movie finds a lot of its black humor. You also can't help but laugh at how so many ridiculous things happen in succession that lead to a character's death.
- The plot makes less and less sense as you piece everything that's happening together. Alex's premonition on the plane leads to himself and a few others on the plane cheating their supposedly planned death. But the premonition doesn't make sense in the grand scheme of things because Alex and the other survivors aren't able to cheat death again, so why would death allow just a few select people on the plane to survive when they are all going to die anyway not long afterwards? Death is supposedly playing a game with the survivors to prove a point as to how you can't avoid him forever. The problem is how you can't make heads or tails of why death just delayed the inevitable for Alex and a few others, when it's apparently clear that all of them are supposed to die at that stage in their lives. None of them are supposed to grow up and live full lives, because death just happens to hate this particular group of teenagers.
- Oh how over the top and ridiculous the death scenes are after the plane crash! It's not like the characters can just get struck by a stray lightning bolt or get smashed to bits by a falling piece of debris (actually, one character does get killed by a swinging piece of debris, but the chain of events leading to that death is simply absurd), because where is the fun in that? I will admit the movie wouldn't be as darkly humorous if it wasn't for the over the top death scenes. The issue is how the movie doesn't rely enough on its characters' stupidity or having someone like Alex say, "Oh come on! That just doesn't happen!"
It's easy to appreciate Final Destination for being a bloody killing spree that relishes in being as ridiculous as can be. But remember, this is a movie that is attempting to be philosophical in its commentary on death and the horror in how you can't cheat or avoid death. Death being all around us is a neat concept for a horror movie and one that offers a lot of worthwhile potential. The problem is how the movie is ineffective in its execution, confusing in what our exact takeaway is supposed to be in having its characters cheat death, only to have death come and get them in some other form later on. There are laughs to be had, and given the absurd ways in which its plane surviving characters get killed, that's the most you can ask for.
Recommend? It's worth a look if you can stomach some nasty gore.
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