James Wong | 98 mins | Blu-ray | 15 / R
Final Destination is a full decade old this year, which somehow seems too long — it can’t be so old, surely? On the other hand, it fits quite comfortably into that run of teen-centric horror films from the the mid- to late-’90s, like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer and a raft of others that are long since forgotten.
It’s also a franchise that’s now up to its fourth instalment. I remember being surprised when it achieved a sequel, and even more so with each passing film — much like my reaction to The Fast and the Furious, which bears no relation other than this. Now I’d be more surprised if there wasn’t a fifth film before long — and, indeed, shortly after I watched this such a project was announced.
All of this without ever actually seeing the original.
Now, I can see a little better why the series has managed to limp on for so long, because this first entry is actually quite entertaining. It’s very much “high concept” filmmaking — the concept being, in case you’ve somehow missed it, that a bunch of characters manage to dodge Death thanks to a premonition, so now Death’s out to settle the score — so the dodgier aspects, like the mediocre dialogue and performances, slide by because, well, they don’t matter that much. It’s also pleasantly efficient — it races through the plot in not much more than 90 minutes (once you knock off an unwieldy title sequence and the credits, anyway).
The most important part, all things considered, are the ways Death settles the score. No mysterious “natural causes” demises here — Final Destination is all about inventive executions. Even after a decade, in which some of the Great Big Shocks have been revealed in various Top 10s and “OMG do you remember the bit where…” conversations, some bits remain impressive and/or amusing. And it certainly has fun with a few of them, teasing the viewer with various means of dispatching the victim before they ultimately succumb to one. Or, alternatively, just surprising us with a sudden whack. Both are good. Only one bit — a fidgety-armed corpse — is a thoroughly gratuitous jump-scare.
The ending, however, is slightly unsatisfactory — what, this madness is just going to keep going until they’re dead? The original deleted ending is, oddly, more closure-some… but kills the main character, so no wonder it didn’t go down well with test audiences. And, as a surprisingly interesting extra on the DVD/BD explains, this film — and, it seems, New Line in general — is quite reliant on the opinion of test audiences.
As horror movie enemies go, Final Destination’s concept of Death is an odd one. He/she/it is no creeping killer or monster to fear, just A Bit Of A Breeze and A Shadow. It would work better as a ‘supernatural thriller’ than ‘slasher horror’, which it almost is… until 37 minutes in, when the leaking water that aided one victim’s assassination quickly retreats back into the pipes. Um, what? It’s a misstep, as far as I’m concerned: before and after that point there’s ambiguity about whether Death is a being out to get them or just the universe trying to right itself; but that one solitary shot confirms it must be some kind of entity with a very specific motive. And that’s a shame, because it’s not developed further — i.e. no Big Reveal of the nasty Death-thing — and would’ve been more interesting to play with that ambiguity — is Alex right that it’s all planned, or is it just a series of nasty coincidences?
I suppose it goes to show the power that a single shot — one tiny extra idea or image — has to alter the experience and meaning of a film. Bet you didn’t think you’d find an example of that in a mass-market teen quasi-slasher flick, eh.