Sunday, August 14, 2011

Final Destination (2000)

A slasher in disguise

Apart from some stiffness or misplaced ailment when stepping out of bed in the morning, have you ever had the inkling that there was just something different about that day from others? Not just a fleeting feeling or a sense of change, but a strong emotion that twists and turns your guts because you believe something is going to actually happen of grave consequence? Most die with either a quick surprise or complete numbness when a sudden, freak accident catches them by unawares, though this is a story that swallows up peoples' souls and spits them out on the other side like a revolving assembly line. "Final Destination" involves a young man that takes the premonitions and warning signs seriously and perseveres through paranoia and accepting the unacceptable to not get taken up by cold, dark and incorporeal hands that are just a reach away.

"Live it up Alex, you've got your whole life ahead of you," his dad tells him just before a senior trip with his New York high school pals going to France for the summer. From the night before with an icy chill, to various omens that he picks up on going to the airport for what's supposed to be a fun trip--such as the accident prone, dead-as-a-door-knob John Denver spouting tunes in the restroom--Alex (Devon Sawa) doesn't just pass up on what his anxious nerves tell him. However, if something out there was trying to warn him any more, it might have slapped him in the face because it's everywhere he turns. But then again, most of us are skeptics to the supernatural until we see it with our own eyes and feel it with all of our being, simply because we don't want to look stupid going out on a limb in front of others unless we're positively sure. Alex ends up being right as rain, but dead wrong about the thunder with the forces he's messing with after an accident involving the plane he just got kicked off of with several others from going ballistic from a sweaty nightmare when he dozes off before departing.

Soon enough the safety boards, FBI and media encroach with their questions and speculations. "I got this feeling..this weird feeling," Alex says, because even though he gave a sort of premonition, he still seems just as confused, not to mention lucky as the worried family members arrive to take home their loved ones in one piece. For the seven survivors themselves, the whys and guilt that come with escaping and being that close to death are pouring down, not to mention with anger and confusion directed at the source of rescue. After a supposed accident with someone who survived from the plane, Alex suspects something amiss and that there might be a design or pattern to it all that he feels he can crack. Though after breaking into the funeral home to see if he can rule out foul play he meets the director who gives him a chilling warning, "In death, there are no accidents, no coincidences, no mishaps, and no escapes." So much for the heroic rescue attempt, which instead turns into people desperately running from something that's not entirely in physical form and with the only thing on their side being that the entity plays with a kind of sportsmanship just before its take-them-out-one-by-one game.

Like "X-Files" and "Millennium" that director James Wong and co-writer Glen Morgan were involved on, the lighting is often dark and the camera shots are often panned with dramatic music in the background. Shirley Walker (RIP) provides a score that resembles what she did on "Batman: The Animated Series" with big, bombastic and almost thumping hits, along with higher pitched horns and strings overtop to provide tension. Instead of playing out as a straight horror this also includes some elements of a drama/thriller to lend a hand to the steady but also escalating pacing. There are a lot wink-wink moments here that are going more for the theatrical than the realistic. It gives the audience a knowing-it's-coming point of view that gives this a sadistic sense of humor with a person being completely oblivious themselves. It's a movie that takes the omens over-the-top, but after awhile it makes you start to suspect danger at every little nuance and encroaching path. It makes every movement important and detrimental to the story, which creates a constant red alert atmosphere that can be carried anywhere whether that be night or day or in the safety of your own home: a regular bathroom, an innocent kitchen, just walking down the street. Not many movies are capable of every second being taken up with its concept, not to mention having the audience be an active participant, including Easter eggs throughout.

"Final Destination" isn't without its flaws, as it has some cliches, hit and miss performances to the point of caricature and some of the dialogue isn't perfect. Ali Larter, as Clear, has the most range with a background that gives her strength of character, Seann William Scott overdoes the whole goofy dude thing as Billy, Kerr Smith as Carter performs as a one-note jock and Devon Sawa plays the role of Alex a little spaced out at times. Though the thing this does have down is it provides an engaging cinematic experience and an original concept with a steady tone. This isn't just a straightforward march to the extermination chambers as some unexpected left hooks are thrown to make the fight more interesting. The sequels and spoofs have since capitalized on it to turn it into a recognizable formula but when it was in theaters it was definitely a fresh spin on an old take. This had the last word in a series of teens-on-the-cover-box slashers around 2000. It added a twist to that straightforward convention made infamous in the '80s, as the killer here is practically invisible compared to physical beings that you at least have a combative chance of escaping from like in "Scream," "Halloween" sequels, "Urban Legend" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer." It was more similar to what "Fallen" did but focused on the carnage, and came with less biblical themes and provided a different age demographic.

Rating: 8/10

Director: James Wong (The X-Files writer/producer)
Stars: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Valerie Lewton, Tony Todd
Link: IMDB

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