Monday, October 8, 2012

[Series 31] FINAL DESTINATION

After the whooping kick to my balls that was the BLIND DEAD series, I need to pamper myself with something that's sure to be good.  Don't worry, I'll be taking more excruciating medicine next week, with HALLOWEEN 1-H2O (urg), but for now...

FINAL DESTINATION (2000)


SYNOPSIS: Alex Browning (James Sawa) is part of a French class headed to Paris via large airplane when he has a sudden premonition of impending plane disaster.  Throwing a fit and dragging several classmates and a teacher along with him, he departs the plane, which somewhat later really does go kaboom!  Through empirical observation and their teen powers of deduction, the teens determine that Death is salty about Alex screwing up the order of fatalities it had planned for the flight.  Like your mammaw, Death keeps a to-do list, only it has the names of victims IN ORDER.  When the list is disrupted by someone cheating death, it moves on to the next unfortunate.  It stalks the kids and kills them through inane and complicated "accidents" as they try to find a way to avert their ends.  

WHAT WORKED:
I personally can't remember the first time I saw this, but I envy people who are newcomers.  Unlike practically every other horror film, FINAL DESTINATION doesn't really have a villain that you can pinch or put on a T-shirt or kill in a sewer with toxic waste.  Death is everywhere and nowhere, so the movie has a more mysterious, arcane atmosphere than your typical crap of the era.  Actually, I'd posit FINAL DEST right alongside BLAIR WITCH as one of the indicators that the nineties slump was over for horror!  The concept here is just so fucking good!  Best of all, the script doesn't fall into the horror fallacy of explaining everything away.  We don't know how the premonition thing works, we don't know practically anything about Tony Todd's omniscient mortician, not even sure why death doesn't just opt for heart attacks or aneurysms (Death is very stylish, I assume, a real fop).  THIS IS A GREAT THING!  Golden Rule #1 for Horror: don't explain shit.



The acting and the characters are superb.  Everyone in the cast delivers and these feel like real teens for once, with all the attendant benefits to the story: they're pretty powerless against the world of unbelieving adults and have to work it out on their own, plus they don't have gross wrinkles or neck wattles.  They're also individuals, not an amorphous mob, not John Hughes stereotypes, and the script gives the characters a lot of chances to breathe.  My fave character part is the aftermath of the plane explosion, when all the kids' parents are there hugging them and Ali Landry's character is just standing there in the corner.  Everybody has depth—one of my favorite characters is French teacher Valerie (Val) Lewton (do you get it???), whose scenes between survival and death convey survivor's guilt in the best way any movie ever has.  Cheers, Kristen Cloke, you are some actor.  I also like the directorial choices and the way this is shot, lit, the works.


The deaths! (duh!)  FINAL DEST would get much more ambitious and convoluted, but the death scenes here are pretty choice, my fave being the train.  This first entry isn't as devoted to splatter as its descendants, but still offers plenty of the wet stuff, all the tastier after a baffling series of setups and gotchas.  I fucking love John Denver as a portent of death!  It's not enough that you get brutally massacred, you have to hear "Rocky Mountain High" right before.  That goddamn song, this movie exploits it in all kinds of clever ways and, yes, I am thinking about the final scene.  The makers of INSIDIOUS had better send a box of candy or a blowjob-giving supermodel to the makers of FINAL DESTINATION every year for John Denver's birthday...


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Two scenes of pooping is too much pooping. This is not Rabelais's FINAL DESTINATION and the audience's delicate sensibilities should be considered. Otherwise, I really can't find a lot of fault with this!



FINAL DESTINATION, you were so sexy and wonderful tonight!

RATING: 7

FINAL DESTINATION 2 (2003)


SYNOPSIS: On the first anniversary of the Flight 180 burst, Kimberly Corman is heading out on a road trip with her friends.  En route, she has a vision of a breathtakingly spectacular multi-car accident.  Behold, it's the same sort of premonition that Alex had in the first film, and Death soon comes round to pick off the survivors she saves.  Only Clear Rivers and the mysterious mortician (Tony Todd) can up the odds of survival.  

WHAT WORKED:
The series track record of strong characterizations continues with this sequel.  Only Ali Larter and Tony Todd return from the original and it's kind of enough because Todd is as king-size in his mortician cameo as ever.  And Larter's Clear Rivers starts off as an amplified version of paranoid cabin safety-junkie Alex—spending her days in an asylum and forcing attendants to provide extra safety precautions—but once she's out, she's a cross between a superheroine and your overprotective grandma ("watch out for potholes and puddles!", lol).  I like Final Destination: The New Class, too, especially Linda Boyd as mom Nora.  Even stock characters get flushed out, though, like the stoner character who is basically just Shaggy until he tells Kimberly "if I die, would you go to my house and throw away all my drugs and paraphernalia and anything else that would break my mom's heart?"  Awww~

The deaths, duh.  The formula had been crystalized by the time FINAL DEST 2 was born, so the series doesn't have to worry about subtlety or mystery and it shows in these far more splattery and exuberant deaths.  Being simply impaled isn't enough anymore, impalement has to squat at the end of a chain of near-explosions and dripping liquids and red-herring sparks.  Nora's fate is really the last time the movie gets super-sympathetic about deaths; after that, it's all punk rock tangled/mangled bodies.  Even people who died in the first film aren't spared the indignity!  TBH, I think that's why this series gives some critics the willies, but it's just movies, you guys, stop being judge joe browns.  


The weirdo minor characters!  Can-collector bag lady, biker chick tits, and hair-sniffing elevator guy just show up and don't really contribute in any major way to the plot, but add a lot of color around the edges.  I love that they're just there and their mutant behavior is never explained.  People are just weird, get over it.  Yes.  Also really dug the never-seen lady messages on the answering machine of the recent lottery winner.  "I know I haven't talked to you in five years, but I've been thinking about you ALL THE TIME".  


They expand upon the concepts in the original story, which is usually a mistake, but FINAL DEST is so baffling, anyway, that heaping additional rules onto the whole "cheat death" thing doesn't really do a lot of damage here.  And even the characters are like, "That seems like a real stretch."  Enjoy this expansion of the plot universe while you can, because if memory serves it won't happen/work again until FD 5.

WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Until I watched them back to back, I considered FD2 to be the superior film, primarily because it's louder and more direct with its pursuit of mutilation.  But, after a rewatch, this is just a slight step behind the original.  The formula's been established and sometimes this feels like a retread, although it's still a very fine film in its own right.  I think I prefer some of the original's editing as well, although FD2 exceeds it for large-scale massive death scenes.


I hate/love that a major character from FD the First gets offed off-screen, although I know actors have schedules, blah blah blah, but I had to read about it in a NEWSPAPER ARTICLE like a stranger and you broke my heart, FINAL DESTINATION 2.


RATING: 6

FINAL DESTINATION 3 (2006)


SYNOPSIS: High school class goes a theme park and boards a roller coaster.  Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has a vision of thrill rides becoming kill rides, so she disembarks and takes some classmates with her.  La la la, the vision comes true.  You know what happens from here on out, the only real innovation here being the introduction of a character who uses knowledge of Death's kill list to possibly malevolent ends.

WHAT WORKED:
This entry is a lot less worried about character and plot and much more focused on the gory details, which is a net credit to the splatter side of the ledger.  Blood flows freely, intestines squish and squick, bones howl and bow under pressure.  It all looks good, as it should, because it's the star of FINAL DESTINATION at this point!  My beloved ridiculousness only shows up once in a blue moon, like in the WOLF that crosses a busy highway and in the gym that has real metal scimitars hanging in it for some reason.

Dat ass!
After the first two deaths, I thought that the movie was going to only show people dying at places I hate!  Needless to say, if you're at a fast-food restaurant DRIVE-IN, you probably don't care much about your health anyway, so death taking you now is not that big a deal.  Likewise with tanning salons.  My ex used them religiously (if you are reading this, Eryn, I love you and I'm glad that you are the color you are, but GOD). My point is, why do something that you have to pay money to enjoy when the sun is outside for free?  I am going to start selling designer air to people from the suburbs. Unfortunately, this doesn't last, since I have no problems with big-box stores or bicentennials, really.


There are some cool allusions to the previous entries, like the truck labeled DRINK RESPONSIBLY making a cameo.  As lax as the writing kind of is, the action scenes are well-mounted and the final third is pretty harrowing and sweetly nihilistic.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Okay, first, the 9/11 thing sucks. It just sucks. ESPECIALLY given how the series at this point had become less about horror films and more about bloody spectacle, throwing that in there MULTIPLE TIMES was a horrible decision.  3 is really where the series starts to show the threads loosening.  The concern with character of the previous entries is ditched (probably because Jackson, Kentucky's own Jeffrey Reddick didn't contribute a story for the first time).  So we mostly get stereotypes running around, which is fine if they're topless valley girls (see above), not so fun if they're hardass jocks or hardware-store goths.  This is the point in the franchise where characters exist only so we can get to death scenes.

On that tip, I was really hopeful that the relationship between the protagonista and her sister would be more explored, since it was suggested that there was strain and they would reconnect in the wake of Death trying to kill them and everything, but not much ever happened!  The film boasts some competent actors, they're just not given almost anything to do, really.

Not having a character like Clear Rivers or Tony Todd's mortician return from a previous film means that our new set of victims will have to work out what's happening and the rules and explain it.  And that's great if FD3 is your very first trip, but not so fun if you've been on board since the beginning, PLUS this film doesn't add anything to the mythos beyond the suggestion that, if the last person on the list dies, everybody gets skipped by death and gets to live happily ever after.  And even that doesn't get fully played out.

Ultimately, your love for this is going to depend entirely on the kill scenes because that's really all that there is this time.



RATING: 5


THE FINAL DESTINATION (2009)


SYNOPSIS: Some people almost die at a race track, but they don't, but then they die in a bunch of different other places.

WHAT WORKED:
Even moreso than 3, 4 is all about the gore. Entirely, completely, and the movie comes through with pretty fabu splat FX.  CGI will never be my fave thing (the snake in this one, urg), but it's sometimes done well here.  The death scenes are sometimes memorable, although the "gotcha" almost-deaths are actually a little more impressive.


SOME of the meta stuff and the jokes work. SOME. Like the opening dialogue, in which an asshole who looks like a gym ape wearing the skin of that dick from Sugar Ray, avers that he is at the race track hoping to see a crash. It's meta because that is what we are doing watching this movie! You have taught us all a valuable life lesson, THE FINAL DESTINATION. I liked that the movie tied to 3 by naming the racetrack McKinley Raceway or whatever. Not so pleased to see "Clear Rivers Water", since she is too good a character to be linked to this business.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
I really think it would be better if the movie hadn't even tried to have characters. Like, what the fucking fuck was the Nazi character about?  I thought that he was going to be a long-term antagonist for nobly-suffering black security guard, but no.  And he listens to ANVIL?  Otherwise, these characters have no life, as they exist (again) just as vehicles to get the gore happening.  This one is the worst of the FD lot because it's so obviously clueless about having things both ways.  Like you can make a movie with real characters or make a splattery comedy, but you can't have it both ways.  By taking a middle path, it becomes mediocre and loses the best of either extreme, like capri pants.  Let's put it this way, this film thinks that a mom getting killed in front of her kids should be played for laughs.  Maybe that would work in more capable hands, but not here.

Omg, THE FINAL DESTINATION is why some people hate all 3D films.  Practically every other scene here is something pointing at the screen or flying out at you, like extravagant display can overcome deficiencies in every other aspect of film making.  It was even super-annoying in 3D!  There's a 3D chick flick in this thing and I'm pretty sure that it made better use of 3D tech than FINAL DESTINATION itself.

Ugh, boring and loud are a terrible couple.  This series started so well!  Do you think it can be saved?



RATING: 4


FINAL DESTINATION 5 (2011)


SYNOPSIS: En route to a team-building exercise for work (so 90s, but that evil persists even today), a busload of people avoid dying on a collapsing bridge.  Making one of my recurring nightmares real isn't enough for FINAL DESTINATION 5, as it systematically conjures a plethora of my fears during the scenes of death stalking the survivors.  A new twist is entered into the mix and the end reveals yet more twisting.  

WHAT WORKED:
Everything that had gone wrong with the past two entries has been remedied here!  We've got a tight plot moving at a quick canter, characters that you care about and their relationships driving the plot, an appropriate balance between characters and the sort of punk-rock splatter that the last sequel exulted in, and OH YEAH THE RETURN OF TONY TODD!  I saw this in the theater, grudgingly, since I was ready to write off FINAL DESTINATION by then, but I have never left a movie more happily wrong.  What worked: everything!  But let's get into specifics...


Nobody could have possibly expected FD5 to deliver as much of what was expected while expanding on the mythos. We've got the same scenes of characters working through the "death's list" concept, but they are infinitely less annoying and draggy than what we all suffered during 3 & THE.  At the same time, there's a huge wrench through into the works that repercusses through the entire film and an effort to weave this film into its predecessors that is just unbelievably great.  YOU WILL WANT TO WATCH THIS AGAIN.  Because the film takes it time to let you know the characters, you feel for them, even for their losses, all the while knowing that brutal death is just around the corner and then enjoying it when it comes.  Writer Eric Heisserer, bro.  Just bro.

Nods to previous entries is kind of a tradition at this point and we get another fine truck cameo, but also lots of 180s placed everywhere without characters stopping the film to say, "Hey, look, that restaurant kind of is named 180 backwards!"  Plus we get to relive the deaths of our series forefathers in the credits; also now a tradition.

Damn you, Dagney Tagert!

MANY of the death scenes are squicky as shit. I've been watching gore movies for a coon's age and even I squirmed at some of this stuff.  What I guess you could call the dynamics of the death scenes are masterfully handled, as some are blindingly fast and horrific and some are just agonizingly slow!  I look the gotchas here, too, when the film turns itself into a magician and diverts you with sleight-of-hand only to say, "Nope, sorry, a paper clip killed her" at the end.  (That is an example, not a spoiler)


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
It would be inane in the membrane to pick nits when so much is right, but, after serious consideration, I'd still place this film behind FINAL DESTINATION the first. This is why: there's a character named Isaac who is like a refugee from a sex comedy and his is the only character that feels a little jarring, a little out of place.  The entire cast does a fine job of acting (I liked Emma Bell and Nicholas D'Agosto a lot as the leads, but really everybody is a winner), it's really just the character that grates on me.  Also, one could say that the ending romp massacre is a bit restrained and hemmed-in compared to other entries.  Otherwise, this is all green fields and rainbows.


Has there EVER been a Part 5 of ANYTHING that could arguably be called the best of the series?  Not that I think this is (see rating), but it's close enough to be believable.  FUCK YEAH FINAL DESTINATION!


RATING: 6



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