Sep 1, 2009

The Final Destination [15] [3D]

Dir: David R. Ellis
It is my sad duty to report that on Friday the 28th of August 2009, at approximately 3:30pm, the Final Destination franchise died. The cause of death was reported as total creative bankruptcy. It was nine years old.

Okay, so the Final Destination franchise was no artistic milestone, but it had a good central idea. The concept of death stalking a group of people who have escaped an incident in which they were supposed to perish is a strong one. The franchise was never really concerned in exploring that idea in any depth, rather it preferred to use it as the jumping off point for death scenes that even Rube Goldberg might have regarded as needlessly complex. Combined with an awareness of the innate silliness of the series and with capable casts of pretty young things, that was plenty for three enjoyably dumb 90-minute chunks of horror.

The Final Destination is, on the surface, no different to its predecessors. In fact it is practically the same film. Some young adults escape a crash at a Nascar track and then find themselves elaborately picked off by Death. It’s not in the concept this movie fails though; it’s in the execution. It is a surprise that The Final Destination fails so completely, because both director David Ellis and writer Eric Bress worked on the series’ second instalment, which is generally seen as its high watermark. Sadly the wit and invention that made that sequel better than the original has completely deserted Ellis and Bress here. The screenplay may well have been scribbled in crayon on the back of a handful of napkins and filmed from that first draft. Lazy isn’t the word.

The script is so underdeveloped that some characters don’t even have names. Justin Welborn, who has a featured role and about 12 minutes screentime, is credited as ‘racist’.  Krista Allen, in a larger role, has to make do with ‘MILF/Samantha’ as her credit. Names are, of course, given to the main characters like Nick and Lori (Bobby Campo and Shantel VanSanten), but that is all we ever know about them. It’s not as if I’m asking for some deep character study here, but Lori doesn’t have a single discernible trait, let alone a personality. This is a problem because if you don’t know anything about the people in the movie why should you care whether (or how) they live or die? Final Destination 3 was hardly character driven, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character Wendy had at least a modicum of personality, while Winstead’s winning performance allowed you to have some investment in her fate - making that film’s final sequence a real thriller. The Final Destination, by contrast, is just a bunch of stuff happening to people who are all but interchangeable because none of them is anything more than a name.

Still, Ellis should have been able to make a silk purse of this sows ear of a script, particularly given the fact that the 3D process should have thrown up a lot of interesting new ways to show the death scenes. Sadly this is perhaps the film that makes it most obvious that, technically improved though it may be now, 3D remains no more than a gimmick. Stuff pops out of the screen at us with a regularity that borders on tedious. Ellis flings cars at us, pushes body parts out of the screen at us and attempts to convince us we’re about to be impaled by spikes. The only problem with this is that it is all so patently fake, the clearly cut rate CGI so appallingly bad that not one single shot is even a bit scary. In 85 minutes, with things popping out of the screen at roughly five-minute intervals, my audience didn’t jump once. Jump? They barely reacted to anything. Much as CGI has been these last 20 years 3D seems, to date, to be a stylistic crutch that filmmakers are leaning on to allow them to avoid effort in other aspects of their work. It’s 3D, so who cares about the script?

The Final Destination franchise has had its breakout stars. The first had Ali Larter and Seann William Scott, and the third film brought Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Amanda Crew to Hollywood’s attention. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone here who you’d expect, or want, to see again. It’s perhaps not nice to pick on a girl, but still, Shantel VanSanten is the worst actress I’ve seen in a very long time. She’s pretty as a picture, but there’s nothing behind it. There’s a total vacancy to her performance, a sense of watching a completely empty vessel whose attempts at expressing emotion are so off that you wonder if she’s ever felt one. Terrible as VanSanten is she’s hardly alone in her awfulness. Bobby Campo has fewer expressions than the teddy bear I had as baby, while all Mykelti Williamson does is speak his lines and look absolutely mortified that he’s ended up here.

The Final Destination is staggeringly bad. It’s a film that makes me question whether anyone involved in the movie business gives a shit about anything beyond an opening weekend anymore. It exists purely because of and in service of a gimmick (a gimmick that doesn’t work), and it makes me scared for the future of cinema.

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