Written by: Glen Morgan & James Wong and Jeff Reddick
Directed by: James Wong
Starring: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, and Tony Todd
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"In death there are no accidents, no coincidences, no mishaps, and no escapes."
Over the past couple of years here at OTH, I've mentioned a friend of mine that I pretty much grew up in the genre with. We taped various installments of the Friday the 13th saga from TNT Monstervision and USA Up All Night, we rented Critters and Tremors compulsively, we experienced The Blair Witch Project in theaters, and we even dared to rent The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation and attempted to keep a straight face. In the year 2000, he randomly showed up at my house with a new film in tow that we'd missed out on in theaters for whatever reason: Final Destination, a film that has gone on to become one of my favorite horror films of the decade.
Alex Browning is a senior in high school about to embark on a class trip to Paris; indeed, he has his whole life ahead of him...or does he? After his rickety plane takes off, it explodes, killing everyone on board; that is, until Alex wakes up and realizes it was all a dream. That is, until events begin happening just as they occurred, causing him to realize his dream was a premonition. After he panics and claims the plane's going to explode, Alex is kicked off the flight, and a handful of other passengers are left off due to the commotion. Shortly after the plane takes off, it explodes, much to the shock of everyone involved, who have also just been granted a second chance at life. However, these survivors soon begin dying in a horrifying, seemingly accidental fashion, and it soon becomes clear that death itself will not let them off the hook so easily.
After watching it for the first time, Final Destination actually managed to give me the creeps, a feat that hasn't been matched by any film since. The concept of the grim reaper itself stalking its victims taps into the most primal fear of death; indeed, when my friend and I went out riding around that night, I was very wary that death could be around every corner. It's not exactly something that one wants to be reminded of, which makes Final Destination effective from the get-go, as the film's concept alone is unsettling. Furthermore, an sense of gloom pervades the film, as it's full of ominous sights and sounds (the film even manages to make John Denver creepy), and even the look of the film itself is effectively dull and dim. For the most part, it's a fairly humorless affair that plays the concept straight, even to the point of feeling mean-spirited at times.
Despite this, however, Final Destination somehow manages to entertain, perhaps because it's so clever. At the core, it's merely a slasher film with an invisible antagonist. Again, the concept itself is brilliant, as the possibilities are limitless, as the film takes the body count aesthetic to new, gorific heights. With any good body count film, the overriding question is always concerned with the methods of dispatching the meat, and Final Destination revels in this. Several of the death scenes are meticulously sequenced and will have viewers on the edge of their seat wondering just how the deed's going to go down, and, when it finally does, it still manages to be surprising. On the other hand, some deaths occur shockingly and without warning, and any body count enthusiast knows a delicate mix is essential for an entertaining slasher film.
Bringing it all together is the watchful eye of director James Wong, who, along with producer and co-writer Glen Morgan, cut his teeth on The X-Files (in fact, the film originated from an unused script for the series). To be such a grim concept, the film is slickly directed and very stylish, particularly the destruction of the plane in Alex's premonition. The film is also paced well, clocking in at a lean 98 minutes. If there's a weakness, it's the film's climax, as it seems like the writers found some difficulty in staging an appropriate final showdown with death itself, and the ultimate solution feels a bit lackluster. The film's coda, however, does salvage things, and the film is ultimately satisfying.
As was the case with many mainstream horror films during this era, the cast isn't exactly composed of unknowns. Many horror fans cringe at this trend, but I always thought it made sense that producers figured out that decent actors generally give good performances and lend a certain amount of credibility to their characters. Such is the case here, even though the parts are written to be standard slasher cliches: the male and female leads (Devon Sawa and Ali Larter), the likeable best friend (Chad Donella), the jerk and his girlfriend (Kerr Smith and Amanda Detmer, respectively), and the comic relief (in the form of Stiffler himself, Sean William Scott). These characters generally feel real, though Smith's character comes off as overly-obnoxious at times.
The brightest star is Larter, who actually manages to upstage Sawa's performance and carries the film. The actors get help from dialogue that, while not exemplary, is usually solid with the occasional clunker thrown in. At any rate, the characters are generally likeable, which lends some weight to their untimely deaths. Genre fans will also notice that many characters share surnames with famous horror personalities such as Hitchock, Lewton, Schreck, and Chaney, among others. There's also a noticeable cameo in the form of Tony Todd (Candyman), who plays a mysterious mortician that drops hints about death's design and warns Alex that the grim reaper is one "mack daddy" he doesn't want to "fuck with." Though he's only appeared twice for about five total minutes in the series, Todd's wry and sinister portrayal has crafted one of the genre's most memorable characters in recent memory. Also of note is veteran composer Shirley Walker's excellent score, particularly the main theme, which adds a haunting presence to the film.
Nine years later, Final Destination still holds up very well, and it's a film that's garnered a lot of replay value in that time. It seems only appropriate that it also came from New Line Cinema, home to many of my horror favorites throughout the years. The film has only received one DVD release (though it's been repackaged a couple of times), but, like the film itself, it's still a solid release. Released as part of the New Line Platinum Series, the disc contains both full-screen and widescreen transfers that are still sharp and exhibit no noticeable artifacts. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is dynamic and will give your entire system a workout. The release is full of extras, including a commentary track from Morgan, Wong, Reddick, and editor James Coblentz, an actor commentary with Sawa, Smith, Cloke, and Danella, an isolated score soundtrack, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, the film's theatrical trailer, and two documentaries. It's an excellent release that stands as a testament to New Line's habit of generally getting things right the first time, as the only real necessary upgrade is the recently released Blu-ray disc. No matter which poison you pick, the final destination for this one is your shelf. Buy it!
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