The Final Destination (2009)

2012 #61
David R. Ellis | 82 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

The Final DestinationThe best thing about The Final Destination is its title, because turning the series’ familiar name into a definitive article for the final entry is really quite a neat move. Sadly, it was a hit and they’ve made more. Why it was a hit… God only knows.

For starters, the story (such as it is) is a complete and utter rehash of the plot of every other film in the series. The only thing on its side is efficiency: it races through ‘plot’ scenes in a quest to find the next set piece. For example, the Rules are explained to this all-new cast because they Google “premonitions” and find out what happened in the previous movies. The overriding sense of familiarity makes for kind of depressing viewing. Previous films tried to find new twists on the rules, ways the cycle might genuinely be broken, etc, whereas this seems content to merely move from one death to the next. Aside from creative ways to kill people, literally the only new idea is that the premonition-haver sees two people die at almost exactly the same time and can’t remember who was first, meaning instead of traipsing to warn the next person they have to find two people. And that’s it.

Production values are low too, featuring very cheap CGI and very poor acting. I’d say both are below the standard of US network TV filler, so for the fourth entry in a fairly successful big-screen franchise that seems even more woeful. I know it’s only Final Destination, but still… The cast aren’t helped by the woeful screenplay, but I don’t think they could’ve enlivened a better one either. They’ve clearly been cast just for being Young and Pretty, but surely there are some Young, Pretty people who can act?

How this film will make you feel, 1The focus is clearly on the deaths — at 11 it has the highest of the series, and with its short running time that means there’s a fatality every seven minutes. They’re also very gory, more so than in previous films I’d say, but they’re not commensurately more inventive. There’s a very thorough line in misdirection at times, but the whole enterprise feels painfully lacking in creativity. I’m not sure some of them even make sense. But then do they need to? Similarly, there’s some customary low-rent-horror-movie completely-gratuitous nudity too, which I’m sure delighted teenage boys even more in 3D.

None of the deaths matter because nothing is done to make us care about these characters, or even be broadly interested in them, unlike the best of the earlier entries. So there’s zero tension, zero emotion, just elaborate death after elaborate death. It’s one of the most hollow films I can think of. It may even have been better if they’d ditched the attempts at a plot and gone for a series of vignettes in which, unbeknownst to one another, the survivors were bumped off in order. That’s basically what this film wants to be anyway. At least it would’ve been something different. And shorter. And when you want an under-80-minutes (before credits) film to be shorter… oh dear.

The 3D factor was a large part of the film’s promotion, and it makes full use of stereo visuals in exactly the way you’d expect a schlocky horror to. Problem is, it’s so designed for 3D that some of it doesn’t work in 2D. It’s not just the usual array of stuff flying at the camera for no reason — Woah-oh-oh your steps are on firethat’s a sure sign it was meant for cheap 3D thrills, but otherwise fine — here, stuff pokes straight out. That means in 2D you see, say, the flat end of a pole, with absolutely zero sense of depth. This happened with one trap in Saw 3D, but in The Final Destination it keeps coming up. It might not sound like a serious problem, but again and again it jars as you try to work out exactly what’s where in the very flat straight-on 2D rendering. Maybe it’s good that 3D films are so thoroughly designed for their intended medium, but I’m not convinced.

As mentioned, this was sold as the final Final Destination — hence the definitive-article title — but it was a surprise hit (thanks in no small part to the 3D, back in the Avatar-hype era when it guaranteed anything a significant boost) and so the series has continued. What’s perhaps most odd, however, is that it makes no serious attempt to bring the whole series to a close. Sure, #3 ditched any links to the first two with a brand-new cast as well, but you’d think, knowing this was The Last One, they’d try to bring it full circle somehow. But clearly not.

Then again, I’m not sure anyone involved could have if they wanted too. The evidence for that is on screen: some of it is unbelievably boneheaded. “Where’s Lori?” “I dunno, I’ve been calling and texting all afternoon, she won’t pick up her phone.” Oh, maybe she’s, I dunno, in the film she told you she was going to see in the scene before last! Dear God.

How this film will make you feel, 2Elsewhere, one character starts talking about déjà vu before getting killed in the same way as the first film’s most famous death. I suppose it’s meant to be Meta and Funny, and maybe it kinda is, but again the CG is so cheap that the half-trained eye will spot an effect is about to happen, and the manner of death once again doesn’t really make sense. Later, we learn that shopping mall sprinklers can instantly extinguish all fires — handy!

I could go on. I have half a dozen more examples in my notes. But no. It’s so woeful that it’s kind of frustratingly bad — you want someone with half a brain to come along and make the film work.

There’s a somewhat amusing way to judge the Final Destination series: its posters and/or DVD covers; and, specifically, what they tell us about the decreasing importance of character to the franchise. You see, the first prominently features head shots of the central cast (albeit half turned into skulls). The second offers either blurry head shots or full body shots, reducing their recognisability. In the third, the cast are still there, but reduced to near-facelessness seated on a roller coaster, often upside down. And by the fourth, they’re not even there at all. It’s true that Final Destination has never really been about the characters — it’s about how they die — but it’s also true that the more attached you are to them, however superficially, the better (as it were) their deaths are. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that the characters, deaths and films get weaker at about the same rate, or perhaps each really is connected to the others.

This picture is a metaphorThere’s potential in the concept of the Final Destination films, but clearly it’s either limited or the people in charge don’t know how to exploit it, because after making two quite-good films they’ve turned it into a repetitive, stale, uncreative, formulaic disaster. And there’s now a fifth too, and a sixth hasn’t been ruled out — surely it/they can’t be any worse than this? Based on form, maybe they can…

1 out of 5

The Final Destination is on Film4 and Film4 HD tonight at 11:05pm, and again on Friday 21st at 11:10pm. Because I’m sure you really want to see it now.

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2012. Read more here.

The Final Destination featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2012, which can be read in full here.

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