Have you ever wondered if death is something that simply happens naturally,
at any given moment, in life? Or if it is an occurrence that is predetermined
by some much larger force within the world, or outside of it? These
thought-provoking questions are the subject of "Final Destination," which is
the most riveting horror-drama since 1999's "The Sixth Sense." Stylishly
filmed and tautly directed by "X-Files" alum James Wong, the film deals with
several fairly heavy topics that are discussed truthfully by teenage
characters (in accurately written "teen-speak," rather than overwrought,
highly intellectualized dialogue that even Harvard scholars wouldn't use),
all the while developing into a darkly foreboding, severely eerie thriller
that successfully leaves you uneasy from the horrifyingly real opening twenty
minutes to the less-successful, but still suspenseful epilogue.
At the start of the film, 17-year-old high school senior Alex Browning (Devon
Sawa) is about to leave with his 40-student French class for a field trip to
Paris. Progressively getting a case of preflight jitters, he spots several
mysterious "coincidences," including the departure time being 9:25, the same
as his September 25 birthday, as well as hearing the John Denver song "Rocky
Mountain High" over the sound system in the airport bathroom. "John Denver
died in a plane crash," Alex grudgingly mutters to himself. Once seated, Alex
suddenly gets a horrific premonition about the plane exploding upon takeoff,
and after causing a ruckus onboard, he, as well as six other students and a
teacher, are thrown off. Arguing in the airport lobby, Alex's suspicion comes
true when the plane really does explode in flight, killing all 300+
passengers, including the rest of their classmates.
As two investigators interrogate Alex about how he knew the plane was going
to explode, the fellow survivors, whom he has saved, treat him in varying
manners. Carter (Kerr Smith), the hotshot jock, holds him in contempt because
he believes that it is only he himself who can decide his fate. Alex's best
friend, Tod (Chad E. Donella), wants to stand by him but can't because of his
fearful parents. The teacher, Mrs. Lewton (Kristen Cloke), is frightened by
him, believing that it was he who somehow caused the disaster, as well as in
a state of guilt for giving up her seat on the plane to a fellow coworker.
Only outsider Clear Rivers (Ali Larter), who unboarded the plane due to a
sudden connection to Alex's premonition even though she had never even spoken
to him before, is sympathetic and thankful to him for saving her life.
That is only the setup of "Final Destination," and the less said about what
follows, the better. Suffice to say, the film does, indeed, turn into a
slasher film, albeit one that is more thoughtful than most, and replaces a
knife-wielding maniac for the never-seen granddaddy killer of them all, the
Grim Reaper itself.
The setpieces in any horror movie are the death scenes, and "Final
Destination" surely boosts some of the most inventive ones to grace the
silver screen in years. Graphic and brilliantly orchestrated in a Rube
Goldbergesque manner, they manage to occasionally be so intense you don't
know whether to shrink down in your seat, tap your feet in nervousness, or
Devon Sawa, a rising star who put his physical comedy skills to good use in
1999's underseen slasher-comedy, "Idle Hands," is even more of a charismatic
presence here. The conflicting emotions he feels for his survival, which he
comes to believe he wasn't meant to do, as well as the loss of the other
passengers, is superbly and subtly acted on his part. One scene, in which he
is watching a news report on the crash and slowly begins to break down is
especially realistic and powerful.
Ali Larter (1999's "Varsity Blues"), in the other central role, is also
effective, as a girl whose life was going well until her father died in a
convenience store shooting years before, leaving her stuck with an
increasingly uncaring mother who married a loutish man--the exact opposite of
her now-deceased father.
The other roles are not as fully written, and most remain rather
one-dimensional. The movie is mainly Sawa's, however, and the rest of the
actors equip themselves well in limited roles. Tony Todd (1992's "Candyman"),
as an arcane morgue attendant, pops up for a five-minute cameo, but his
appearance is rather supererogatory. And the aforementioned dialogue
occasionally hits the bullseye, while at other times it hovers over being
just a little too stilted and campy.
Ultimately, what is so good about "Final Destination" is that, within the
confines of the slasher genre, writer-director Wong and screenwriters Glen
Morgan and Jeffrey Reddick have created a premise that has never been seen
before in this manner, and a film that has the ability to both surprise and
frighten--two things that are rarely found in today's horror films. If
anything, it's safe to say you will never ever look at flying in airplanes
the same way again.
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman