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FINAL DESTINATION (2000) **** movie review by COOP

Posted on May 14th, 2008
Posted on May 14th, 2008

The problem with most of the films in the teen-horror genre is that most of them are derivative of earlier films. The modern horror film started with “Halloween” in 1978, spawning the slasher franchises of “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” respectively. This genre became increasingly stale until “Scream” became the standard in 1996. Now that the “Blair Witch Project” has made a significant influence, the mold has begun to change and hopefully for the better with this new thriller from James Wong. “Final Destination” uses both old and new elements to create a better than average teen-horror flick.

Devon Sawa stars as Alex, a recent high school grad on his way to Paris for his senior class trip. He boards the jet and experiences a graphic vision of he and his entire class dying in a crash. He panics and tries to warn everyone, getting himself, five other students and a teacher kicked off the flight. As the authorities question them on the ground, the plane explodes in mid takeoff, causing all eyes to turn to Alex.

Soon after, the survivors begin to die from gruesome accidents. It doesn’t take Alex long to realize they’re not accidents, but nature’s way of swiftly getting back at those who have cheated death’s plan. It becomes a puzzle that Alex must solve, a search for a loophole that will allow he and his fellow survivors to dodge their own destiny, in order to continue surviving in a universe that already considers them dead.

Devon Sawa does a believable job of playing the paranoid, fearful Alex. He’s more understated and consequently more effective than most of the pretty faces that usually get these kind of roles. The same goes for Ali Larter as the grungy-but-cute, hippie girl who believes Alex only because she felt a connection to him while on the plane. Most of the supporting actors provide decent performances with one exception… An unneeded scene in which a creepy mortician, played by Tony Todd, flat out tells the main characters the rules that they must abide by in order to continue cheating death. This is a common screenwriting mistake called “Jake the Explainer”, in which a magical (in this case, menacing) character pops up to provide important information that the main character should have figured out on his own. Most likely, Todd was introduced to provide a scary familiar face, due to the fact that he played one of the 20th century’s most frightening slashers in the 1992, horror film “Candyman”.

This material should seem familiar to director James Wong considering he’s one of the creators of the “X-Files”, the new NBC series “The Others” and the recently cancelled “Millenium”. Wong uses these experiences to summon a terrific amount of creepy atmosphere. He even hires Kristen Cloke, an intense character actress from his excellent, 1995 TV series “Space: Above and Beyond” to be victimized in one of the film’s most elaborate death scenes. Since the “X-Files” is on the outs, I hope to see Wong concentrating his talents on creepy motion pictures like this one, instead of the short-lived TV series he’s used to dealing with.

If I were to categorize the effectiveness of a horror film, I would have to break it down into several elements… 1.“Fright”: Basically the BOO factor of the film or how much it jolts you out of your seat. 2.“Gross Outs”: The practice of affecting the audience with gore and excess. 3.“Dread”: How long the suspense makes you squirm before you become very uncomfortable. And finally… 4.“Horror”: How lastingly the film affects you and fills you with a sense of doom even after you’ve left the theater. This film accomplishes a rare feat by incorporating all four of these elements into one remarkable plot. Instead of actually showing a physical manifestation of “Death”, it shows him through subtleties such as the presence of wind and vague reflections seen by the victims. Even the theory behind the story is smart, fascinating and surprisingly mature for a movie focused at a teen audience. If you have a hankering to see a scary movie this year, this is your best bet so far. When I see a better one in 2000, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Although this movie is doing fairly well at the theater, I expect repeat video viewings by teenagers to vault it into success or at least, a cult hit. An excellent date movie for young couples (who like to be scared), but be prepared for a creepy, downbeat conclusion that might disturb your sleep. Although the gore is sparse, the effect is powerful and I would not recommend it for younger, sensitive viewers.

Scale of 1-5: 4

Most refreshing aspect of the movie: The theory behind the plot. Instead of being latently “psychic” (now becoming a cliché in Hollywood), the main character actually develops a formula for the preservation of life and keen awareness that allows him to recognize hidden signs within his environment, warning him that death is approaching. It’s an engaging study in paranoia within society. Just when I thought I had the film figured out, it threw me for a loop and came up with something more original. I think this is largely due to a good, solid script.

Biggest gripe:
The character motivations. The main character does nothing to convince the FBI that he isn’t responsible for all of the deaths. One character can’t help but be an obnoxious jerk despite the tragedies around him. At one point, when a character is killed, no one reacts until the main character cheers in rejoice due to the fact that the death proved his “Theory” correct. Additionally, the two main characters pull a totally unbelievable move and BREAK into a morgue to take a look at one of their dead friend’s bodies. If they had cut that scene, I might have boosted it’s rating up to at least a 4 ½.

Biggest surprise:
The lasting effect of the film. When you come out of the theater, don’t be surprised if you pay a little bit more attention while crossing the street. For a short time at least, the experience of this film might make you a little more proactive about avoiding accidents. After I saw it, I went home and opened my fridge for a “Coke”. Within the colorful, red Coca-Cola 12-pack, I found two strangely misplaced “Mountain Dews”. Deciding not to tempt fate, I decided to heed the sign, give into superstition… and throw them both away. How’s that for a lasting effect?

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