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FINAL DESTINATION

Review by Andrew Manning (4/00)

Release: 2000, New Line
Starring: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Tony Todd
Director: James Wong
MPAA Rating: [R] violence, language
Genre: Horror




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SUMMARY

When Alex Browning (Sawa) and his friends leave a plane before it takes off and subsequently explodes, they end up cheating Death. But the Grim Reaper is a persistent bitch, and immediately sets out to stalk and kill them one by one.

THE SUDDEN RUNDOWN

A sloppy and disappointing resolution ruins one of the best set-ups to be found in modern horror.

WHAT'S GOOD

The opening of this film is good...damned good.

The story begins with a group of high school students boarding a plane to France for their senior trip. But one of them, Alex Browning, has been getting the sneaking suspicion that all is not right. A plethora of symbols, coincidences, and downright creepy feelings are screaming at him to get the hell off the plane: his flight's departure time numerically matches his birthday; a baby is screaming endlessly on the plane; John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" is playing on the airport's speakers (Denver died in a plane crash); and finally, he gets a premonition that the plane will explode in a startlingly clear vision.

Director James Wong does an absolutely fantastic job at giving the audience the creeps. The camera zooms in so tightly and claustrophobically on the visual symbols that you're just about smothered with anxiety in the first fifteen minutes. The movie's very first scene is a stroll through Alex's bedroom, and we see shots of the Inquisition in pamphlets of Europe. Then it's off to the airport, where everything seems eerie and slightly unreal. Before the kids even set foot on the plane, you're absolutely filled with tension and paranoia--so much so that you begin to think that everything is a symbol of doom. You'll nervously look at the most mundane object and wonder, "What the hell does that mean???"

Everything is cut perfectly. When Alex hears "Rocky Mountain High" in the restroom, the scene ends right at the point when Denver sings, "...I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky."

But the tension doesn't end with the explosion of the plane. Death stalking his prey makes for several nail-biting scenes. The first chump to fall victim to the Reaper gets it creeping up on him. It's one of those traditional horror scenes where the audiences sees it coming and is screaming to the character on screen, "Turn around you idiot!" Conversely, the second death scene comes out of nowhere, completely unexpected. It's at this point that you realize Final Destination isn't going to play by the rules and follow any particular pattern. Death can come slinking up slowly or flying in like a bolt of lightning. It's that uncertainty that generates constant tension, and you're continuously kept on your toes.

A cameo by horror veteran Tony Todd (Candyman, Wishmaster, Night of the Living Dead) as a creepy mortician offers a cool aside, and gives the characters some insight into why Death is coming for them.

Surprisingly, this movie has some good character interaction. In particular, we see the emotional effects the plane explosion has not only on the survivors, but the people at their school as well. But the horror is the main thing here, and the first half of Final Destination delivers one of the best scenarios of the genre in years.


WHAT'S BAD

Unfortunately, the second half of this movie is as lame as the first half is good. It's an utter disappointment, because there was some amazing potential here.

The greatest flaw is how the solution to the problem of Death seems to contradict itself. The whole problem begins when Death is cheated. And yet somehow, Alex and his friends conclude that the way to get Death off their ass is to cheat him again. It's sort of like getting drunk. If you have a nasty headache from drinking alcohol, you can offset it by drinking yourself into a deeper stupor. It's a quick fix, but ultimately adds to your problem and doesn't tackle the underlying condition. Playing games with Death doesn't seem like the best way out. Nevermind the fact that it is an absolute law that Death cannot be cheated.

This is a problem that is simply inherent in the basic plot of this movie. There's really no way around it. You're making a movie about cheating Death, but since it's impossible to cheat Death, the movie can really only end in one way to be realistic: everyone dies. But Final Destination does not show everyone dying by the closing credits, so you're really forced to accept the idea that a bunch of kids can tangle with the Reaper and come out on top. Eventually, the story deteriorates into a silly game in which the impossible becomes commonplace.

It's really too bad that this one plot obstacle could not be resolved in a more satisfactory manner. Still, if you can forgive the general nonsense in the second half, Final Destination is engaging, and is more in the vein of real horror than the recent Scream 3.


Rating: 7 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)
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