Tuesday, October 11, 2016

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Unintended Final Destination Double Feature

So I watched Final Destination last night, and then this morning realized that it was actually Final Destination 2 that had been recommended to me. SO - unintentional theme nights! I might not be able to watch anything tomorrow - and will almost certainly not be able to post (I'll be spending 6-7 hours on the road), so I figured I'd write them both up tonight.

Final Destination 1 and 2

I saw the first Final Destination a long time ago (it came out in 2000, which is long enough ago to have freaked me out a bit when I realized that). I enjoyed it, but not a lot and not enough for it to make a real dent in my general disdain for the late 90's/early 00's horror desert. It wasn't until 2002 and 28 Days Later and The Ring that I started to feel like what Hollywood was calling horror was worth seeing again, rather than I Know What You Did Last Summer or Scream sequels. (As with anything, there were exceptions: Blair Witch, Event Horizon, and In the Mouth of Madness, to name a few.)

The point is, Final Destination was a blip, a nothing. I was vaguely aware that there were sequels, but I was always generally wary of franchise horror anyway - and nothing in the first film made me think the follow-ups would be worth watching. To be honest - wasn't really looking forward to watching it again.

Me, trying to get up the interest to watch the movie.

The Medium
I watched both films on Amazon. The first is available as part of Amazon Prime. Part three is available on Netflix. The others (there are five in total) aren't on any streaming service I pay for - but are available for rent. This is where I quietly protest that having rando numbers of a series is just wrong and all streaming services should go in a corner and think about what they've done.

The Movies

Final Destination
Alright, let me just get right to it: I enjoyed this movie this time around. In fact, I enjoyed it a lot. There. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right? Yes, the acting is not always (or often) very good. And yes, the plot is basically an excuse to string together some elaborate deaths. And yet there's just something about it...

Alex (Devon Sawa, looking like an adolescent Jeremy Renner) has a dream in which the plane he's on explodes. He freaks out and a number of people - mostly classmates and one teacher - end up being told to leave the plane. Which then takes off and promptly explodes. Alex and his classmates struggle with various degrees of survivor's guilt - and various levels of dislike of/gratitude to Alex - until it becomes clear that they are all dying, one by one. Death, it seems, doesn't like to be cheated.

None of these people end up on the island in Lost.

That's the basic plot. There are more details - Tony Todd even lays down some basic rules as a creepy mortician (listen to the Candyman, kiddies, dude knows what he's talking about) - but they're incidental. What matters is that death is coming for each of them, and it will stack the deck - with lots of ways for each character to die - until it gets them all.

Lot of familiar faces in this movie. Part of that is Glen Morgan and James Wong (writers, as well as Producer and Director respectively) - they've brought a some folks with them from The X-Files and Space, Above and Beyond. Tony Todd. Others like Ali Larter, Kerr Smith and Sean William Scott have gone on to have pretty good careers. I kept thinking "Oh, they were in this?"

Like any good slasher movie - and make no mistake, the Final Destination films are slasher movies in which death has just cut out the middle-man - the kills are the main reason for watching. Yes, it's nice that we actually do come to care - a little - for the characters, particularly Larter's Clear Rivers and Sawa's Alex, but the characters are pretty bare bones. It's pretty hard to get too invested in people you know are going to die - so it's the lead up to their deaths that becomes the primary point of tension.

 That's really the best part for me, in Final Destination. The buildup before the deaths. The gas in the stove top going out, a cup cracking, the camera focusing on knives, and dripping vodka leaving a trail from the kitchen to the living room and back. I sit there, leaning slightly forward, wondering which of these possibly deadly things is it going to be that kills the character? Or will it be all of them?

All of 'em. Yep.

I really do prefer the complicated, Rube Goldberg sort of deaths like that of the teacher, Ms. Lewton (Kristen Cloke). The sudden jump scares like Terry's death by bus just aren't as much... well, fun.

Knowing death has a plan leads one naturally to thinking that you can circumvent it, which the characters proceed to try and do. I'm not always clear on the order of things or who is supposed to be next or why, but honestly - it doesn't really matter. In the words of Death himself (albeit from another movie): 'you might be a king or a lowly street sweeper, but sooner or later you dance with the reaper."

The Bottom Line
Surprisingly entertaining on a second viewing, with a dark sense of humor and care paid to both creating tension and relieving it. Final Destination is not high art, but it is a fun ride.

Final Destination 2
The first rule of slasher sequels is that you always up the body count and Final Destination 2 fails in this, the most basic requirement. It does, however, have a spectacular opening sequence featuring a logging track and a highway full of people driving heavy metal and plastic projectiles full of flammable liquid. It's pretty damn amazing and manages to outdo the original's plane explosion.

Unfortunately, it's all a bit of a letdown after that.

It's not that it's bad, per se - it's a fairly watchable film - it's just that the director (David R. Ellis - who would go on to direct Snakes on a Plane) doesn't have the same deft touch with building tension as James Wong. He's got the same setup - character has premonition, avoids own death and saves others, death itself starts coming for them - but the buildup to each inevitable death is just... I dunno, it almost feels like it's by-the-numbers. The closest he gets to building real tension is the kid in the dentist's office - which doesn't pay off at all. The death comes outside of the office and is basically the bus death from the first movie all over again.

That log truck opening, though... Let's go watch that again.

There's a little more universe building, which is another required aspect of a sequel. There are more rules, more Tony Todd and Ali Larter's Clear returns. The reasons for people dying are a little more convoluted than last time, as is the plan they hatch to save themselves. The deaths are decently done, but in addition to not having much buildup they're also... quick. Except for the death of the cokehead (sliced by flying barbed wire) each death is over in a flash, almost before we register that death has finally caught up with them. I THINK Ellis is trying for misdirection, but it ends up just - pardon me - killing any tension that he does manage to convey.

I can't even remember how she got her head in there in the first place.

There's also very little humor in this film, as opposed to the constant undercurrent of it in the first one. In fact it's so straight for so long that the final scene and it's gory denouement seem discordant. A dick joke at a funeral.

The Bottom Line
I feel like I was maybe a bit harsher on Final Destination 2 than it deserves. It's an okay film with better acting than the first film and some decent jumps and deaths. It's just not as much fun as the first one and watching it so soon after seeing the first made me more aware of the elements I disliked.

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