The Final Destination Series
Final Destination (September 28/09)
Approaching Final Destination in the wake of its three sequels is certainly an interesting proposition, as it's obvious virtually from the word go that the film is a much different animal than its followups - as director James Wong (along with cowriters Glen Morgan and Jeffrey Reddick) has infused the movie with a far more deliberate and story-oriented vibe than fans have come to expect. The film - which follows a group of high schoolers (including Devon Sawa's Alex, Ali Larter's Clear, and Kerr Smith's Carter) as they avoid a plane crash yet find themselves pursued by a sinister force - is subsequently rife with expository interludes designed to explain the series' ongoing mythology, and although waiting for the central characters to catch up to what we already know sporadically does become a little tiresome, there's little doubt that Wong's unexpectedly cinematic sensibilities prove instrumental in capturing and sustaining the viewer's interest from start to finish. Wong's old-school modus operandi is superficially reflected in the decision to name the movie's characters after well-known horror filmmakers (ie Hitchcock, Lewton, Browning, etc), yet it's the ease with which the director cultivates an atmosphere of suspense that ultimately sets Final Destination above its slasher brethren - with the surprisingly tense opening fifteen minutes certainly standing as a highlight within the proceedings. Sawa's personable turn as the hero is matched by a uniformly effective supporting cast rife with familiar faces (ie Seann William Scott, Brendan Fehr, Tony Todd, etc), which - when coupled with Wong's thoroughly capable directorial choices - cements Final Destination's place as an innovative (and unexpectedly influential) exercise in horror.
Final Destination 2 (January 30/03)
Like the original, Final Destination 2 delights in tormenting its characters. The film's premise - a bunch of folks cheat death, and find themselves being stalked (and knocked off) by an unseen force - is simple enough that very little setup is required. After an astoundingly exciting opening sequence, the movie essentially gets right to the killin' - bypassing usual stretches of exposition and character development. The film - which follows a young woman (A.J. Cook's Kimberly) as she discovers that you just can't cheat death after a grisly premonition ultimately saves her life and the lives of several strangers - is certainly a worthy follow-up to 2000's Final Destination, as it's one of those all-too-rare sequels that takes what made its predecessor so enjoyable and expands on it. But this one's upped the ante in terms of the sheer amount of deaths; the first film had around five or six survivors to knock off, while this one has a number closer to ten. And though the deaths aren't quite as ingenious as they were in the original, there's still a lot of fun to be had as the various players find themselves killed in increasingly bizarre ways. Having said that, the film does falter a bit towards the end by introducing a needlessly complicated subplot involving Kimberly's recurring visions and how they might be the key in preventing death from finishing the job. It's far too convoluted and requires more exposition than a movie like this requires; in the time it took to explain the reasoning behind the visions (which has something to do with changing Death's plan by creating life), several more people could've been offed. Still, there's no denying that Final Destination 2 is one of the most purely enjoyable films out there right now and it's certainly impossible to resist the call of the movie's unapologetic R rating (ie there are no teen-friendly, watered-down shenanigans here).
Final Destination 3
That Final Destination 3 is essentially a retread of its predecessors isn't necessarily a bad thing, thanks to the ingenuity with which it's been imbued by director James Wong (along with co-screenwriter Glen Morgan). The duo, having accepted the inherent limitations of the series, pepper the film with a variety of increasingly creative and thoroughly gruesome death scenes - with the end result an entertainingly shallow, undeniably mindless horror flick. The exceedingly familiar storyline - which, this time around, revolves around a group of high school students who start dropping like flies after narrowly avoiding certain death aboard a defective rollercoaster - doesn't contain much in the way of innovation, but one would think that that's precisely the point. Wong doesn't hesitate to provide exactly what viewers have come to expect from the series (ie ridiculously complex death sequences and buckets of gore), and on that level, the movie certainly delivers. And although the conclusion smacks of last-minute retooling, there's no denying that Final Destination 3 is - on the whole - an effective installment in this increasingly absurd series. (Having said that, can we please place a moratorium on tanning-bed death sequences?)
The Final Destination
It's clear instantly that The Final Destination has been crafted with an eye towards appealing solely to the ongoing series' most die-hard fans, with the decision to place a consistent emphasis on elaborate kill sequences over plot and character development certainly ensuring that detractors will find exceedingly little worth embracing here. The almost comically thin storyline follows four friends (Bobby Campo's Nick, Shantel VanSanten's Lori, Nick Zano's Hunt, and Haley Webb's Janet) as they narrowly escape death after Nick foresees a calamitous accident at a stock-car race, with - as anticipated - the remainder of the proceedings detailing the carnage that ensues as the myriad of survivors fall prey to a series of fatal (and gleefully) grisly "accidents." Though it boasts a far more low-rent atmosphere than its three predecessors, The Final Destination nevertheless manages to sustain the viewer's interest for the entirety of its appreciatively brisk running time - as the film's lack of substance ensures that there's exceedingly little downtime between the unapologetically brutal interludes that have come to define these movies. The pervasively superficial approach results in a dearth of wholeheartedly compelling and sympathetic characters, with Mykelti Williamson's George Lanter the sole figure within the proceedings that manages to become more than just fodder for death's sadistic design (which isn't terribly surprising given that George is the only figure that receives even a hint of backstory). There's little doubt, however, that The Final Destination ultimately delivers where it counts, as the various cast members meet their gruesome end in a series of creative and impressively mean-spirited set pieces - thus cementing the film's place as a fitting follow-up to its trio of like-minded forebears.
Final Destination 5
Unquestionably the best of the Final Destination sequels, Final Destination 5 once again follows a scrappy protagonist (Nicholas D'Agosto's Sam Lawton) as he saves the lives of himself and several friends after experiencing a grisly vision of their deaths - with the movie subsequently detailing the survivors' ongoing (and increasingly futile) efforts at staying alive. There's little doubt that Final Destination 5 immediately establishes itself as an improvement over 2009's The Final Destination, as the movie boasts a far more cinematic feel than its immediate predecessor that's reflected in everything from the meticulously conceived and executed kill sequences to the surprisingly strong assortment of compelling characters. (The Final Destination, though entertaining, was saddled with one-dimensional figures and a comparatively, pervasively low-rent atmosphere.) Filmmaker Steven Quale does a fantastic job of instantly capturing the viewer's interest, with the expectedly grandiose disaster that kicks off the movie more than living up to the series' reputation of stellar openings. (This may, in fact, be the best and most horrific set piece in the entire franchise.) From there, Final Destination 5 progresses into the characters' individual exploits as they encounter death traps of an expectedly brutal nature - with the familiarity of these scenes alleviated by Quale's stylish directorial choices and the creative maneuverings within Eric Heisserer's screenplay. Heisserer's ongoing efforts at putting his own spin on the Final Destination formula have mixed results, as the film subsequently features innovations that are both intriguing (eg a cop believes Sam has something to do with the deaths) and underwhelming (eg the cat-and-mouse, slasher-movie-like climax) - though there's certainly no denying the effectiveness of the film's captivating full-circle conclusion. The end result is a better-than-average sequel that will surely thrill fans of the Final Destination movies, and it's ultimately difficult to recall a horror franchise that has fared as well (and remained as entertaining) as this seemingly unstoppable series.