Friday, January 22, 2010

Movie Review: "The Final Destination"

Note: I did not see "The Final Destination" in 3D. Two dimensions were painful enough.

I should probably state upfront that it took me two viewings to get through "The Final Destination." Initially I threw my hands up in the air because I was so bored, frustrated and depressed with this fourth (!) entry in the popular horror series and I shut the DVD player down. But I figured if I was going to bash it, I owed it to the film to see it to the end. So I did...ah, the things I do for a readership that I'm not sure exists.

I'm sure that many who read this review and enjoyed "The Final Destination" will try to protest that "oh, you're just saying that because you're a critic. The film wasn't made for you." First off, I hope that I don't meet anyone who was a fan of this movie. Second, I saw the film precisely because I had, in the past, been a fan of the "Final Destination" series. I stand by my assertion that the film's first entry is stylish, genuinely creepy and fun. The second and third lost any of the things that made the first film so enjoyable--namely the mood and characters that I actually liked--but had a wonderfully dark sense of humor and fun about the whole affair that made them guilty pleasures. "The Final Destination" lacks even the sense of humor, replaces the series' use of fun practical effects with lame CGI and gives us characters who would be shallow and transparent even on an MTV reality show.

By now the premise is familiar. A group of teens whose names I don't even think I remember five minutes after turning the movie off go to a NASCAR race. One of the teens has a premonition that the race will end with an explosive, violent end and urges his friends to leave...they do, just as the disaster happens. Now, those who survive are stalked by death itself, who prefers to devise elaborate Rube Goldberg devices rather than, you know, simply cause the teens to stop breathing. A tow truck, swimming pool drain, staple gun, lawnmower and 3D movie theater all come into play in killing our (so-called) heroes as they try to figure out a way to cheat death. None of these are shocking, scary, inventive or witty. Even the premise-setting disaster is handled in a rushed manner, without any of the suspense or build-up the other films had. The first "Final Destination" had a plane crash that still ranks as one of the most terrifying things I've seen and it had a sharp sense of humor about how absurd its premise was--I still chuckle when I think about their use of John Denver music in premonitions, Devon Sawa sitting in a padded suit to open a can of peaches or the effective jump scare when the girl got hit by a bus (that particular death is cribbed here again without any of the skill, surprise or wit that made the original incident so effective.) The idea of humor and ingenuity here is to have a lady tell her kids "I've got my eye on you" and then get killed with a rock to the eye.

I'm actually already tired of talking about this movie. It's sad, it's boring and there's no entertainment value to it whatsoever. The acting is capable for this type of movie, but it's bland beyond all belief. David Ellis--who helmed the second entry and the great guilty pleasure "Snakes on a Plane--has no sense of tone, mood or style and directs this film without any sense of how to work an effective scare.

But also, maybe I'm just getting older and wiser. It's simply not fun to watch people die. The deaths in these films are not structured like scares anymore, but like jokes--there's a gigantic buildup and then the punchline of a gory finish. Forget for a moment that Ellis bungles any of the timing and skill that it would take to effectively pull it off. On a deeper level, it's just depressing to watch a movie waiting to see how characters will die. It presents a fatalistic, hopeless view of humanity that is disturbing to see played as entertainment, especially when I can turn off the DVD and see news of real-life calamity in Haiti. I have no problem with a good horror movie and I like to be scared...what I've grown tired of is this subgenre of films that structurally has more in common with pornography than actual storytelling--it strings a flimsy story along as an excuse to give us our "money shots," which here are simply violent and grotesque scenes instead of sexual ones.

Of course, the film was a huge hit, which shows I'm in the minority. Sigh. Maybe that's the scariest thing about the series after all.

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30s, engaged and living in Motown. Wrestling with life, love, faith, art, film, culture and everything in between.