Isn’t it bizarre what we, as a culture, vote for with our money? Who would have guessed that a movie about the mere CONCEPT of death stalking a bunch of teens that serve as a disturbing screenshot of the year 2000? Final Destination turns twenty this year and last night I watched it for the first time! I’d seen the second, third, and fourth films in the franchise but somehow just never got around to the original one. My understanding of this franchise was that it was all a bunch of weird, silly, self-aware Rube Goldberg machines akin to the intro to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure with that breakfast machine. You know, but with more blood? That’s definitely what those films are, but the first one is mean and legitimately unnerving at points.
A bunch of teens are getting ready to board a flight to France for their senior trip. One of them, Alex Browning (Devon Sawa), has a panic attack after seeing the destruction of the plane in a vision. Security tosses him off the plane along with Carter Horton (Kerr Smith), Terry Chaney (Amanda Detmer), Billy Hitchcock (Sean William Scott), teacher Blake Dreyer (Christine Chatelain), and Alex’s bestie Tod Waggner (Chad E. Donella). Oh, and they’re randomly followed off the plane by a girl that, I kid you not, is named Clear Rivers (Ali Larter). This unloveable group of goofuses survives and, in the origins of the weird mythology for this story, begins dying in strange accidents as death comes for them.
Can we acknowledge for a minute that Sean William Scott is in this? And he just plays a dweeb? This is Stifler! Everyone is pretty bad in this (well…not Ali Larter), but they’re weirdly emblematic of the year this came out. We’re in a pre-9/11 world and can still make movies like this, with shitty people being rude and insulting to each other. Each drop in this ocean makes for some stormy seas and I. Was. Having it! Everything from the music to the fashion just oozes with a weird energy that feels like you dug up your high school time capsule.
And let’s talk about that music! The score was composed by Shirley Walker, who did the first three franchise installments and cemented the tone for the audio in the series. She’s also scored such films as The Black Stallion, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, and the 2006 remake of Black Christmas. She’s proven to be a really fun composer that took to horror in her later life. She passed away in 2006, and I think film music has suffered for it.
It’s a shame some of her brilliant work is tied to another thing – the look. Baggy clothes, childish insults, machismo out the wazoo, the entire film is just…yeesh. There are incredible logic leaps and wild turns that make no sense, but that’s part of the film’s charm. At one point Clear starts calling Alex “baby” and…when did they enter a relationship? Who knows? It doesn’t matter! What we’re here for are the kills, and watching some of these asshats die is kind of the fun. It doesn’t go full-on Rube Goldberg until the film’s final sequence, but it starts inching that way around the halfway mark. The first kill is legitimately disturbing, with a boy accidentally being strangled to death in the shower by a cord. It was brutal, visceral, and extremely cruel and I honestly felt disturbed. This exists in a franchise where a racist hick is drug by his own truck, while he’s on fire, down the street as “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” blasts on the radio. How we went from that point to the other I don’t know, but I’m willing to have my laughs alongside my freakouts.
Brilliant horror this is not, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a franchise that got away with five installments on nothing but bad acting and clever kills. I think it’s openly trying to have as much fun as it can and that’s what led it to being a success. I’m glad I sat down to watch the first one, and I’m going to go ahead and rewatch all the rest that are on Netflix.
Oh, and Final Destination is currently streaming on Netflix.