Final Destination (2000)
The early 2000s, thanks to Scream, saw a brief resurgence in slasher films. Like their heyday in the 1980s, they largely followed the same formula over and over again, and most (including the reboots of the '80s films) were horrible. I'm not talking about laughably horrible, but just plain unwatchable. They were cheap, there was nostalgia, and that was about it.
The worst thing, and this was also because of Scream (which is actually a good slasher flick, in case you are wondering why I may be ragging on it), was many of the films became self-aware. While there may be a fair amount of gore, the emphasis was on the genre rather than trying to actually make a good film within said genre.
Perhaps that is why, in the end, the Final Destination movies still stand out after many of the others have been forgotten, and after the genre has been put to bed once again over a decade previous.
Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) is in his senior year at Mt. Abraham High School in New York. He and a bunch of other suburban white kids are heading off on a field trip to France along with two of their teachers - this, despite it sounding like most of the class never bothered to study French at any point. Alex is traveling with his best friend Tod (Chad Donella), who is looking forward to being seated next to a girl he likes. The girl isn't too happy to be sitting next to Tod instead of her best friend, so asks Alex to switch with her.
Shortly after the plane takes off it begins to shake and come apart, ending in a firey explosion. Or, so it seems. Turns out Alex fell into a doze for a bit once he got on the plane and dreamed the whole thing. However, when events in real life start playing out exactly as they did in the dream, he panics and tells the whole plane that it is going to blow up. Naturally, the crew of the plane and other passengers aren't too happy about this, and Alex is ejected from the plane, along with his French teacher Larry Murnau (Forbes Angus) and the other chaperone, Valerie Lewton (Kristen Cloke). Tod's brother tells him to look after Alex, while Carter Horton (Kerr Smith) and his girlfriend Terry (Amanda Detmer) find themselves being pushed out simply because they were in the aisle. Another classmate, Clear Rivers (Ali Larter), decides to leave the plane on her own, while Billy Hitchcock (Sean William Scott), who in Alex's dream boarded the plane late due to having to go to the bathroom, never makes it on. Valerie convinces the airport authorities to let Larry back on the plane as the kids need a chaperone and he is the only one that speaks French.
As Flight 180 takes off for France, the group sits in the airport waiting for the consequences of Alex's actions, as well as hoping to be rebooked. Instead, things happen just as they did in Alex's dream: the plane explodes, with everyone on board dead. FBI agents Schreck (Roger Guenveur Smith) and Weine (Daniel Roebuck) are called in to investigate, as Alex is immediately a suspect and his explanation of what happened is too far-fetched, but without evidence they end up letting him go.
Rather than thanking him for saving their lives, things quickly begin to go from bad to worse in Alex's wife. Tod's father blames Alex for his other son's death, while Val is frightened of him and decides to give up teaching and move away due to the incident. Billy, not the brightest bulb to begin with, becomes convinced that Alex can predict the future and starts asking him for dating advice, while Carter, who was always hostile toward Alex and Tod, becomes even more so. The only one that seems grateful is Clear, who is used to being an outcast herself. Things get even worse when Tod dies under mysterious circumstances that initially look like suicide.
Alex is not convinced that it is, since he spoke with Tod at the memorial for the students that died, making plans for what to do when everything blows over. The next to go is Terry, after Carter decides to confront Alex on the street. Alex sees a brief glimpse of a bus in a window, and Terry is in fact killed by a bus minutes later. What Alex and Clear start working out, with some help from an encounter with a strange undertaker (Tony Todd), is that Alex had interrupted Death's plan and, whatever force Death is, it was cleaning up loose ends, killing off the survivors in the order in which they would have died on the plane.
The fact that survivors are dying also gets the FBI's attention, and Alex is once again detained when Val sees him lurking outside her home and calls the cops. They refuse to believe that she is next, but a series of events lead to her death and the remaining survivors gathering together to see if they can defeat Death. It turns out that they can make it skip over to the next person, but that it just keeps coming back around to try and finish its business, and will until it succeeds - unless they can permanently get off of the list.
Final Destination was directed by James Wong, and cowritten by Glen Morgan. If those names sound familiar, it's because you have seen those names pop up on many of the popular X-Files episodes, as well as in a number of other supernatural and sci-fi television series. Initially, this was a planned X-Files episode itself, but for whatever reason was not made, so Wong and Morgan adapted it into a feature film. In that form, it was rather successful, and spawned four sequels.
Despite the names of many of the characters being taken from classic horror actors and directors, largely there is no attempt to be clever in referencing slasher movie rules and such. In fact, it really tries to stick with its in-universe rules (throughout this first movie at least) and take itself as seriously as possible. In some ways, that's the movie's downfall. While Terry's death has some dark humor to it, the rest of the film begs to be taken seriously. In light of how the early 2000s seem to have dated worse at this point than the '80s or '90s, it is rather hard to do so.
Devon Sawa is a major part of the problem. Late '90s and early '00s saw an attempt to make teenage male leads look like they were in a boy band. So, we get a dreamy-eyed, semi-emo, somewhat feminine male lead. No, I'm not going off into MRA territory; I honestly didn't even think about this when I first saw the movie not long after it came out, and I have to say I liked it better back at that time. The hyper-macho, but sensitive, guy with the perfect six-pack that we see in movies now is going to look just as silly two decades from now. If Sawa was a better actor I could possibly ignore this, but there's a reason this is really the only major film in which he was the lead.
It does beg the question why they didn't make Clear Rivers the main character. Ali Larter is the better of the two leads, her character has a truly interesting back story and she is the one that seems to figure out most of what is going on. Instead, she is employed as a manic pixie dream girl, something that films like this definitely do not need - especially after strong female characters making their way into horror films back in the 1980s.
As for the others, Kerr Smith is given nothing to do but be angry, Sean William Scott plays a less vulgar version of Stiffler, and everyone else is just there to pile up the bodies until Clear and Alex have their big final showdown with Death.
Also, the music is a major weak point. No one big, and too much of a corporate attempt to shoehorn in what they think "the kids" were listening to at the time. Saying as I remember most white kids listening to hip hop at that point, it's surprising to hear the whole soundtrack sound like it was done by a Death Cab for Cutie cover band. That is, except for "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver, which seems to appear right before any death. That part, at least, was well done.
There are some other things the movie gets right. The buildup to, and ultimate realization of Alex's dream, is done wonderfully. The aircrash sequence is still tense, and late in the movie there is a sequence on a train track involving the surviving four leads that is well down. Death is quite a bit more hands-on in this film than in the others, and seems less concerned with Rube Goldberg mechanisms and just with putting things back in order.
Still, dated and sub-par performances and a premise that was done better by the movie's immediate sequel make for a rather disappointing time revisiting this particular slasher flick. As for Glen Morgan and James Wong, they continue to come up with quality television scripts (largely with American Horror Story in recent years), but that seems to be where their talents lie, rather than on the big screen.
Final Destination (2000)
Time: 98 minutes
Starring: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Sean William Scott
Director: James Wong