Final Destination 2 (2003)
Final Destination tried to add something new to the slasher genre, as it had suddenly become a thing again due to the Scream series. In some ways it succeeded, with the invincible stalker becoming the unseen force of Death Itself. Sure, occasionally there was a black cloud in a reflection or something, but mainly it was just some force causing a string of events to happen in order to make sure you died like you were supposed to. Its intended victims were a group of teenagers that avoided an airline disaster due to the sudden vision of one of their classmate Alex (Devon Sawa, who does not appear in this sequel).
The original movie, ambitious in its plotting as it was (not a surprise since X-Files and American Horror Story writers Glen Morgan and James Wong were involved, with the latter directing), the execution left a lot to be desired. Sawa spent most of the time looking like a dreamy-eyed puppy dog, while the entire movie took its plot way too seriously. It also ended with one of the main characters, after the surviving trio of Alex, Clear Rivers (Ali Larter) and their friend Carter, thinking they have avoided death, heading to France - only for a series of coincidences leading to Carter being killed by a falling sign. Seems like Death wasn't done with them yet.
Since Final Destination made a good amount of money, neither was New Line, the company that released it. The ending, rather than driving home the point that Death can never be cheated, instead perfectly set up the excuse to do a sequel.
It is the one-year anniversary of the events of Flight 180. Kimberly Corman (A. J. Cook) is a college freshman looking forward to heading down from New York to Daytona for spring break. With her three friends Shaina (Sarah Carter), Dano (Alejandro Rae) and Frankie (Shaun Sipos), she heads out in the family SUV. Her father, though, notices after she leaves that the truck is leaking transmission fluid, and calls to warn her. She wants to stop, but her friends encourage her to keep going, especially after Frankie notices a cop nearby and panics due to the amount of weed he has on him.
It's not the transmission that causes the problem, but rather a load of logs from a ramshackle lumber truck. The load comes loose, causing a multi-car pile-up that results in multiple deaths, including that of Kimberly and all her friends. However, like with Alex, it turns out that this is all a glimpse of the future. She sees the whole thing occur while she sits at the entrance ramp to the interstate, and begins to freak out once events start happening the way she saw them. Positioning her SUV to block the ramp, she quickly gets the attention of police officer Michael Landes (Thomas Burke) and the ire of the rest of the commuters. While Landes tries to clear up the mess Kimberly has caused, the accident happens as planned, just not without the group that was supposed to die. Landes also manages to save Kimberly just before her vehicle is hit by another, killing her friends instantly.
The survivors this time turn out to be Kimberly, the officer, stressed business woman Kat (Keegan Connor Tracy), teacher Eugene (Terrence "T.C." Carson), drug addict Rory (Jonathan Cherry), recent lottery winner Evan (David Paetku) and mother and son Nora and Tim Carpenter (Lynda Boyd and James Kirk). Because of what happened with the students at Mount Abraham, the question of whether Death will come after them is on some of their minds, but it is too remote of a possibility to consider. That is, until Evan barely escapes a series of events that lead to his apartment catching on fire only to be impaled on the fire escape ladder.
It seems strange enough of a coincidence that both Kimberly and Michael become concerned and try to get the other survivors together to figure out what to do. They also look up the few survivors from Mount Abraham, finding that Alex died from a falling brick, but that Clear is still alive and in a mental institution - a choice she made for herself, as it allows her to live in relative safety and isolation. Initially hostile to to Kimberly's intrusion, Clear leaves the hospital and agrees to help the group, giving Kimberly hints on how she can tell that Death is approaching so she and the others can have a chance at avoiding it.
Despite Clear's help, Kimberly is unable to prevent the death of Tim or his mother, but does start to recognize a pattern: this time Death is working backwards, killing off the survivors in the opposite order in which they died in her vision. Turns out the reason is because each of the survivors narrowly avoided death within the last year, after sudden changes happened in their life due to the people who survived Flight 180. By the original group surviving a ripple effect began, interrupting Death's design, and the pile-up was meant to to set things straight.
To seek help in avoiding Death once and for all Clear, Kimberly and Michael visit Mr. Bludworth (Tony Todd), the mortician that warned Alex and Clear what was coming for them in the first movie. They are told that only a new life that wouldn't have existed if the accident had gone as planned can break the pattern and cause Death to reset. That life may hang on a survivor that is not with them - Isabella Hudson (Justina Machado), a pregnant woman who should have died in the accident. The remaining survivors must band together to make sure Death does not prevent the birth of her baby, which they are sure is already in motion, as Kimberly has been seeing visions of her drowning in a lake.
David R. Ellis is the director this time around, and he seems a much better fit. In all honesty, as shocking as the original plane disaster was the first time seeing Final Destination, the accident scene at the beginning of Final Destination 2 puts it to shame. There is some dodgy CGI (Evan's burning up in his car, for instance), the direction doesn't seem so plodding this time around. It is also allowed to be more of a dark-humored gore film, something that the original could have used more of.
The sequel also doesn't feel as dated. There is such a feeling as place, and this has its place in the 2000s, but it doesn't seem as embarrassingly rooted in that place as its predecessor. It doesn't make the mistake of saddling the movie with a goth-light or nu-metal soundtrack.
While the acting is not spectacular, there is no one as spectacularly bad as Devon Sawa, who originally was supposed to return but, due to a number of circumstances, did not. Ali Larter still gets to be a plot device as the only returning cast member from the original, but she at least is given a mentor role rather than the damsel one.
A. J. Cook had already had some experience in the horror genre, and Kimberly is a much better protagonist than Alex. She does have the benefit of hindsight and knowing what happened to him and his group, but she is also much more proactive in finding a solution. Thomas Burke plays her support and does well himself, but it was nice seeing a strong female lead without the movie feeling like it was patting itself on the back the whole time for it.
There are some flaws as usual. While the CG in most of the accident is pretty good, the cars explode in the usual Hollywood fashion, and some of the effects later on don't hold up. Terrence Carson's Eugene is unfortunately given the stereotypical bad-ass role and dialogue while not given much to do, but at least he isn't the first to die.
Much like Friday the 13th the Final Destination series hits a high with the second film that, despite upping the gore factor as it returned again and again to the well, it was unable to hit with the ongoing sequels. The original movie may have set the framework, but the second film is where the true enjoyment lies.
Final Destination 2 (2003)
Time: 90 minutes
Starring: A. J. Cook, Michael Landes, Ali Larter
Director: David R. Ellis