Starring: Devon Sawa
Director: James Wong
Running time: 100 minutes
Rating: 5 out of 10
There's a lunatic-at-the-wheel car sequence in Final Destination that would be suspenseful in any other movie, but isn't here because of the film's premise. These kids aren't going to die from anything as straight forward as being reckless teens.
So what is their fate? Well, only the main character knows, and not even he is sure.
Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Alex can't exactly see the future, but he can sense death's approach. His premonitions send him screaming off an airplane in the beginning of the film and later on frantic missions to save the lives of his schoolmates, always a moment too late.
Unlike other teen thrillers, Final Destination has no villains, aside from destiny and chance. Faced with Alex's gift and their own dwindling numbers, the characters are forced to consider what control, if any, they have over life and death. If Alex can help them escape death now, what then? Will death come back immediately? Or was a close call all that was in the cards to begin with?
Director James Wong (X-files) plays on these questions in creating a unique tone in which death lurks around every mundane corner. Shadows and suspenseful sound effects highlight random details and events - a loose screw, a leaky faucet, a decision to go shave - that later have deadly consequences. We become convinced that chance, more than anything, is our greatest cause for fear. Which is why driving 90 miles per hour down the wrong side of the street doesn't seem so dangerous. By the time that scene comes, turning right instead of left at a stop light is greater cause for alarm.
The cruel hand of fate works mainly in two ways to kill the doomed teenagers in Final Destination; either they die suddenly or suffer through a series of involved mishaps. The former provide some of the film's best and most shocking moments; the latter occasionally comes off like slapstick comedy. It's a slippery slope, relying on chance to kill characters and then having to manipulate chance so that they die.
The film negotiates this slope, in part, by allowing the audience to consider whether death is actively working to claim the lives that Alex saved earlier. "We are all mice caught by the cat," says a mortician, a minor character, in a gravely baritone voice, explaining that if a person escapes death, death only becomes more determined.
It's a shame the mortician only makes one appearance in the film since his presence, both spooky and intelligent, makes for one of the film's best scenes. In that same scene two main characters exhibit the traits that make them most interesting - a curiosity about fate and a pathos in confronting it. Later in the movie they behave more like clichés.
Final Destination is by no means a work of art; nor is it even an outstanding thriller. But it poses interesting questions, is nicely filmed, and creates real fear and suspense, if you like that sort of thing.
5. Oct 2000 at 0:00 | Matthew J. Reynolds