Piss-poor acting and jock-tropey characters cloud this effectively-foreboding detour into fear-of-flying & supernatural omens with religiosity-deliberation, unpredictable death scenes, and an intriguing mystery/grim reaper idea. 7.1/10.
Plot Synopsis: Alex Browning (Devon Sawa), is embarking on a trip to Paris. Alex experiences a premonition — he sees the plane explode moments after leaving the ground. Alex insists that everyone get off the plane and 7 people including Alex, are forced to disembark. All watch as the plane actually explodes in a fireball. He and the other survivors have briefly cheated death, but will not be able to evade their fate for very long. One by one, these fugitives from fate fall victim to the grim reaper.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Review: “Death does not like to be cheated.” From its trailer shots of airport flight schedule-shiftings to windy turbine blades awry to electricity-conducting liquid snares, the aptly-named Final Destination caught the attention of horror fans the world over back at the turn of the century – albeit before my time being only of age six. 5+ films later as a solid (albeit mostly-skippable) franchise of decent pop culture awareness, I had never actually seen the original until now, and it’s yet another example of the brilliance of possibility of ideas in horror – and unfortunately, oftentimes a failure to capitalize fully on it. Piss-poor acting and jock-tropey characters cloud this effectively-foreboding detour into fear-of-flying & supernatural omens with religiosity-deliberation, unpredictable death scenes, and an intriguing mystery/grim reaper idea.
Cleverness in mystery/grim reaper plot and fear of flying opening. Easily Final Destination’s biggest selling-point is its inventive idea of a supernatural cat-and-mouse game with sadistic stakes. Cheating the Grim Reaper (or Death as referred to but synonymous) out of pre-ordained ends for people, only to have him come with a vengeance to collect his bounty later on in the most messed-up ways possible makes for a frightening, brutal horror flick. It’s almost like if God was a slasher villain (or hero depending on how many horror fans view and fuel the genre). The inherent power and unescapable, crushing power dynamic of having a ubitiquous, omniscient being creating traps and snares for people to meet their end with is sublime. For example, the airplane/flight-gone-wrong opening is one of the most ballsy, well-executed takes on the idea since The Twilight Zone’s 1960’s rain-soaked William Shantner/Gremlin episode – not difficult to tell why it started a respectably-lengthed 5-film franchise.
Unpredictability in deaths laying crumbs throughout scenes only to flip them (inventively) later. Building on the infamous franchise-defining flight scene, Final Destination boasts some creative, original deaths trhoughout in wild, fast-paced, wholly-capricious fashion. This is perhaps best illustrated in Ms. Lewton’s death, wherein she is packing to move away from the city and guilt of living on after her friends died in the plane crash, rearranging cutlery in the kitchen, and making tea only to pull out something stronger in vodka to take the edge off her understandably-dark mindset. When the breeze flows in of Death ready to collect, we see the mug she’s sipping out of get a tiny crack leaking alcohol on the floor and into her computer she rests the cup on, the controller rupture from liquid damage splicing her corotid, catch on fire lighting the trail of fuel on the floor as she stumbles to the kitchen, explode at the bunsen-burner, and while she’s on the floor – knock off the cutlery she moved so that she gets stabbed fatally and that’s the end of that. The supernatural slasher scenes are incredibly inventive and surgically-exectued laying all these crumbs throughout the scenes only to capitalize/flip them later for pure sadism in twisted thrills – as well as complete unpredictability wherein you have no idea how the next victim is going to die in brutal ways from shower-hanging to hit by a bus to getting your head chopped off by a stray piece of metal against the train’s path.
Religiosity-deliberation. The final pro Final Destination offers well is its sneaky metaphysical rumination almost-assuredly missed by most viewers and bashers. From lines like “there’s a tiny baby and disabled person on the flight. it’d have to be a f*cked-up God to crash a plane with these types of passengers” to Clear’s backstory, Wong’s film does explore one of the central problems and inexplicable dilemmas of religion: why would a seemingly-benevolent, claimed-all-powerful overwatching ubiquitous deity allow such unspeakable tragedies to occur? Many have tried to tackle the debate, arguing nonsensical ideas like it’s “just his plan” and we’re “not supposed to understand or challenge” (sounds a bit Helsinki-syndrome or abusive relationship to me personally) but failing to 1) understand what it would possibly feel like to have such a crushing tragedy happen to them and 2) answer what possible good would pain and suffering like that would have in some sort of beautiful pleasant masterplan – not trying to come off atheistic or too-critical because I’m not, but it is an unanswerable philosophical question worth exploring and one the film does surprisingly nicely with just the right hint of curiosity and analyses.
Flaws include piss-poor acting by most of its dumb jock-tropey cast and an uninspired pop-y soundtrack. With such a smart idea and philosophical background, it’s truly an unforgiveable wonder why its character cast is pretty.. awful. Besides Alex, who Devon Sawa tries his best and at least mostly-succeeds as a standout, and maybe Ali Larter’s Clear, every single one of the other characters in the film is absolutely grating, dumb, jock-tropey, and undeveloped as classically-slasher husks waiting for the slaughter. Beyond that, there are weird funk, pop, and jarring orchestral themes worked in that do not match up with its thoroughly dark concept, and worst of all – it does not even explain why Alex had the premonitions to begin with and why the entire plan dissected throughout the film seemingly caved-in or reversed itself at the last minute of no apparent reason beyond a cliffhanger (poor decision that simply does not make sense beyond cheap shock value as a musky lingering note on what was otherwise a serviceable horror-twist).
Overall, Final Destination’s stellar idea of a Grim Reaper/Death cheated out of his bounty is enough to warrant a watch of the first film in the series. Although piss-poor in acting with jock-tropey characters and a few sizeable plot holes, this effectively-foreboding detour into fear-of-flying & supernatural omens with religiosity-deliberation, unpredictable death scenes, and an intriguing mystery/pre-destiny plot is one of the most inventive horror/blockbusters in a while. Hopefully the next film in this easily-franchisable series can elevate its intangibles/cast to meet its viscerality in inventive dystopic thrills.
Overall Score: 7.1/10