Saturday, April 15, 2017

Death Hardly Ever Takes a Holiday, or I Watched All 5 Final Destinations, So You Don’t Have To

Less mean spirited than the Saw Franchise but featuring the same elaborately contrived death traps, Final Destination (2000) is perhaps the world’s first and only supernatural disaster movie.  Written and directed by James Wong of The X-Files, the first movie and the 4 subsequent sequels proposes that Death, the Grim Reaper, the Big Sleep, has a pattern or a design; a collusion of seemingly random elements, he teases with close calls before unleashing increasingly elaborate freak accidents reminiscent of The Omen (1976) death scenes or more appropriately, Edward Gorey’s beloved The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963).  
The movie, way more fun than it has any right to be, presents the literally classical plot of fighting/tempting Fate, as if the characters can defeat Death, if only for a moment, by figuring out the pattern and the clues, conveniently laid out by the filmmakers in the form of digital breezes and shadows.  It’s The Seventh Seal (1957) for Generation X  (alternate post title) but without the chess game, because who has time to learn how to play chess?
All of the Final Destinations begin with a disaster premonition; where the central character (and the audience) sees the plane crash/subway crash/roller coaster accident/highway pile up/stadium collapse/bridge collapse before it happens.  This premise allows the audience to have it both ways; you can enjoy the blood and chaos because it didn’t really happen, and the characters have a chance to escape it.
Devon Sawa as Alex Browning has one of those premonitions as he boards a flight to Paris; he gets off along with a group that includes Ali Larter as Clear, an artist with a seriously impressive garage/studio for a high school senior.  Of course the plane explodes, and Death spends the rest of the movie chasing down the kids he missed with a variety of clever mishaps including clothesline strangulation, flattened by a bus, runaway train, car accident shrapnel decapitation and falling neon sign.
Featuring Kurn, Son of Mogh and Candyman (1992) Tony Todd, as a grim and convenient exposition-supplying mortician.  Also with Seann William Scott in an early role (Dude, Where’s My Car? came out the same year) as Billy Hitchcock (huh…), and Kristen Cloke as ValerieLewton (seriously?), as one of the teachers (hard drive explosion glass shard to the neck, falling knife block).
But wait, there’s more: Final Destination 2 (2003, the one with the logs) has a massive highway accident premonition.  Ali Larter returns, now hiding in a looney bin, along with Tony Todd’s mortician who now has a name, William Bludworth.  The deaths include fire escape impalement, pipe impalement, barbed wire fence shrapnel, oxygen tank explosion and faulty barbecue grill.
Final Destination 3 (2006) has Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Wendy predicting a flying roller coaster accident, before watching all her friends die from a runaway truck decapitation, weight machine head crush, nail gun head shots, flagpole impalement, falling cherry picker fly swatter and subway train disaster.  Listen for the Tony Todd cameo as the Subway Announcer
Final Destination 4, or The Final Destination (2009, it was not) has features opening credits that recreate all the Final Destination death scenes so far in X-rays, a clever montage that both celebrates the previous movies and gets the audience up to speed before the inevitable Nascar disaster and stadium collapse premonition.  The digital violence is on the Sharknado (2013) level, that is to say, impressive in ambition and laughable in execution. 
Watch out for flying tire decapitations, an exploding tow truck chain drag, a lawn mower eyeball accident, an exploding 02 tank chain link fence spaghetti strainer, a malfunctioning swimming pool drain disembowelment, a falling bath tub (Breaking Bad?), an ambulance crash, a movie theater explosion, a meat grinding escalator accident, and falling scaffolding that leads to a runaway truck splatter.
Tony Todd, upgraded to coroner, returns for an expositional warning in Final Destination 5 (2011), which follows a new cast and the aforementioned bridge collapse premonition (that's the Lion's Gate Bridge in Vancouver, BC, all of these movies were filmed in Canada).  Watch out for a nifty sailboat mast impalement, the folding body gymnastics accident (easily my favorite), a Buddha statue head crush, an accidental defenestration after laser eye surgery malfunction, a miscellaneous dock hook impalement, a pipe wrench to the face, and finally, recreating the explosion and getting squished from a piece of Flight 180 from the first film, thus creating a recursive movie vortex and forcing you to start over.

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