With its cheesy franchise status and conveyor belt sequels that while not entirely terrible are the very definition of diminishing returns, it’s easy to forget what a good film the original Final Destination was. A smart, slick nasty little thriller that married primal fears with elaborate death scenes knitted together by an unbearable slow-burning tension leaving a genuinely nasty taste in your mouth that was hard to rinse. Sadly, by the time we arrive at this forth installment, the idea has devolved into gimmick and we appear to be hurtling along on autopilot at a breakneck pace that never allows you to savor the macabre morsels tossed your way.
We know the formula by now of course; a group of fresh faced, socially diverse, and oh-so killable folk narrowly avoid a spectacularly bloody fate thanks to a bizarre premonition had by one of them. But, having cheated Death’s grand design, they are gradually picked off in ever more fun and inventive ways for our, um, enjoyment. But even knowing exactly what to expect there is still something wholly arbitrary about this latest round of summary executions that come thick and fast – too fast, really – and subsequently fail to generate even the vague hint of a chill. Anyone who buys a ticket for the fourth movie in a franchise knows what he or she is getting and is happy to get it. What’s the rush? Director David R. Ellis skipped out on the previous installment to direct Snakes on a Plane, but he did give us Final Destination 2, so he really should know how better to handle this.
Previously the big spectacular catastrophe that kicks things off was fashioned out of an achingly simple, routine occurrence (a plane crash, a highway pile-up). These sequences cleverly tap into collective, almost Jungian, fears about mortality and our own fragility. We would hazard a guess though that not many folk have ever woken up in a cold sweat from a nightmare about an accident at the Nascar track. It’s here that our unfortunate harbinger of death, Nick (Bobby Campo), receives his warning, and his subsequent freak-out ensures that he, his girlfriend, their best friends, and a handful of random strangers are spared the falling concrete and flaming wreckage that crashes down atop of everyone else. But it’s just so quick, so loud, and so devoid of menace that it carries no weight. We also have absolutely no idea who these people are having been spared introductions, formal or otherwise, in favor of some casual racism and a tampon gag.
Yes, the death sequences have always been very Tom & Jerry, and while they pissed all over the laws of probability, they at least had the decency to stick to the laws of physics. Here, concrete blocks go from load bearing to dust in a matter of seconds, while three-inch metal screws unscrew themselves. Worse than that the 3D is shoddy, badly thought out and used as a crutch far too often. After watching the DVD version of his quite magnificent Coraline earlier this year, original story author Neil Gaiman went on record as believing that 3D for the home system is far from ready at this time. He's not wrong, and we highly recommend the standard 2D version. As for the plot, there is nothing but the barest lip service. This time there is no Tony Todd, or Ali Larter type herald, and the death game being revealed to Nick through Google (!) There are also several death scenes where the line between gruesome and flat out gross has by this point completely evaporated.
It’s all such a crying shame because there are some great ideas buried underneath the wreckage here. A beautifully played out sequence in a hair salon, one of the few times we’re actually permitted to pause for breath, delivers a quite ingenious red-herring, and there is something quite fiendish about blowing up a theater full of movie-goers enjoying some vacuous 3D blockbuster. If only they would ease up off the throttle and let us appreciate it. Instead Ellis almost shoots himself in the foot as the hour mark looms and we’ve killed off so many of the survivors already we need another premonition to enable us to take a mulligan, which given that the film clocks in at 82 minutes total is just shoddy workmanship.
We’ll certainly agree that watching a despicable redneck racist attempt to plant a burning cross in a black guy’s lawn and instead end up dragged down the street on fire by his own tow truck that then explodes is very funny. But the fact that we didn’t even know the dude’s name means it couldn’t ever be anything else and when you should be enjoying yourself you only end up pondering what might have been had a more measured approach won out.
Blu-ray Extra Features
Along with your complementary set of 3D specs (two sets actually) and a digital copy, Blu-ray extras include a few brief but detailed production featurettes. Body Count takes you behind the scenes on seven different death scenes for a few minutes each, which is neat for the how-do-they-do-that-crowd. Race Car Crash lays out the big Nascar sequence that kick-starts the movie from concept through completion, first with black & white storyboards, then with animatics, and finally with original film juxtaposed with finished VFX footage. Mall Explosion does likewise for the finale. Also included are twelve throwaway deleted scenes and an alternative ending that just rubs salt into the wounds, so to speak, for our defacto hero. Finally there is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it glimpse at the forthcoming Nightmare on Elm Street in which director and star wax poetic on how awesome it will be, ironically while showing us footage that only confirms out worst fears.
Starring: Bobby Campo, Shantel VanSanten, Nick Zano, Haley Webb, Mykelti Williamson, Justin Welborn, Krista Allen
Director: David R. Ellis
Runtime: 82 Minutes
Distributor: New Line Cinema