Saturday, 3 September 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 78 - Final Destination

#23 - Final Destination

I’m going to go back to the Scream entry and ask what your favourite scary movie is. Or how about what scary movie was actually scary? I’m not trying to sound like a cocky bastard or anything but I don’t scare that easily. I’m being serious since The Shining, The Exorcist, The Evil Dead and Paranormal Activity didn’t scare me at all, apart from the occasional cheap jump scare. The only horror movie that has actually given me nightmares is The Haunting and I was ten when I first saw it so of course it didn’t have quite the same effect on the re-watch. But a certain film managed to reel me in and create a real sense of dread and fear about what could happen next, purely because it was so new and inventive at the time. Me seeing it when I was a little older sold it as a scary film also.

Alex Browning is a high school senior about to go on a class trip to Paris with his French class. It’s early in the morning and he’s been having weird feelings all day so he’s a little on-edge by the time he actually gets on the plane. Suddenly once the plane has taken off, they go through some turbulence and the right side of the plane blows open, starting a fire that kills everybody. And then...Alex wakes up in his seat. The plane crash was all just a dream...or was it? Certain things that Alex remembers from his dream happen again and he becomes convinced that he saw a premonition of the plane crashing. He causes quite the disturbance on the plane and is escorted off along with his best friend Todd, class dickhead Carter, Carter’s girlfriend Terri, guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time Billy and the teacher Miss Lewton. Also, a loner girl called Clear decides to get off as well. Minutes after they get off, the plane explodes, so Alex was right. It seems like things aren’t over for the survivors as one month later Todd mysteriously dies of natural causes. Alex starts to suspect that perhaps himself and the other survivors could be next.

These days whenever anyone thinks “Final Destination” they will generally associate it with the third and fourth films which pretty much veer into so bad it’s good territory. The thing is that this particular idea was incredibly fresh and innovative at the time, creating a unique horror film where Death itself is the killer. Something the sequels (except for maybe the second one which was also quite well done) missed the point of is that the suspense originally came from all the different possibilities of everyday accidents somehow causing deaths. Some of them were pretty simple but the sequels just upped the gore, nixed any character development and pretty much became quasi-comedies. I mean take that ridiculous mechanic’s death in 4 and the one in the gym in 3 and compare it to all the deaths in the first two. Half the suspense comes from not knowing who could die next but when you do know like in 3 and 4, it’s obvious they’re going to die eventually. That’s not to say some of the deaths in the sequels weren’t impressive. The one in the hairdresser’s in 4 was excellently done, almost as though it belonged in another movie. And the tanning bed deaths deserve some credit too. 

I guess old school horror fans would pick up on this almost right away (I didn’t though, I read the IMDb trivia section) but most of the main characters are named after various big names in the horror franchise. We have Alex Browning (Tod Browning – directed the original Dracula), Todd Waggner (George Waggner – directed The Wolf Man), Terry Chaney (Lon Chaney, does that need an explanation?), Valerie Lewton (Val Lewton, directed Cat People), Billy Hitchcock (Alfred Hitchcock) and a few others as well. We have Devon Sawa as our lead Alex and he does a pretty good performance as an everyday kid suddenly thrust into this role he has no idea what to do. While the other actors are relatively more known than he is, the fact that (to me anyway) he’s an unknown helped sell him as Alex to me and not as Devon, if that makes sense. We have Ali Larter hidden under brown hair as Clear and she and Alex make for a nice on-screen duo. I’m pretty impressed that the romantic overtones weren’t as overdone for the whole token romance deal. A romantic connection is implied but it’s not overbearing. Seann William Scott is awesome as Billy (as he always is) especially with his whole “please tell me I’m gonna live to see the Jets win the Super Bowl” speech and I wish he could have gotten more screen time. Kerr Smith plays Carter and he does sound a bit forced at times but I actually didn’t mind him that much. We also have a cameo from Tony “Candyman” Todd as a mysterious mortician who manages to add that eerie and menacing air to the proceedings without being actually threatening. That’s not an easy feat to do and it certainly wasn’t an easy expression for me to think up either.

Now I could go on about dramatic scenes and nice underrated lines etc but this is Final Destination so of course I’m going to talk about my favourite death scenes. As if you needed any warning there will be spoilers about who dies and all that so look away now if you want to. The best one in this film, in my opinion anyway, has got to be Miss Lewton’s death. It’s so elaborately drawn out and set up with so many red herrings, reminding me of the very well done hairdresser’s scene in 4 and the one in the apartment in 2. To me it definitely draws into some personal fears of accidents in the home considering it’s something as simple as a dripping mug that sets everything off. 
The climactic scene in Clear’s house with the electrical storm is fantastic to watch. On my first viewing of this, it scared the hell out of me. I was afraid for her life and I wasn’t sure if she would survive, even though she was the girl who is most likely to survive a horror movie. It was pretty overwhelming and suspenseful but in the good way. Oh and you just have to love that bus that comes right out of nowhere. The scene on the train tracks was also pretty well done too.

You should know that there is actually an alternative ending. Comparing it to the theatrical ending we get, I definitely prefer that one. I honestly hated the ending and it felt so tacked on and just there to get a cheap scare. It almost ruined what was already a great film. The alternate ending is a nice peaceful finish to the story that would actually put the kibosh on the sequels so that’s another reason to love it. And of course the film that manages to scare the self-aware and genre savvy blogger gets a high spot on my list so for anyone who doesn’t think this film should be this high, there’s your answer. It’s a polished horror piece that is able to create a new type of suspense that 2 was able to replicate but 3 and 4 just fell flat with. I’ve heard good things about 5 so I probably will see it for the hell of it. Remember to follow me on Twitter and, in the words of Mr Bludworth, I’ll see you soon...

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