Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on August 28, 20079 and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.
The current advances in big-screen 3-D technology have been most often applied to cartoons, and it could be said that such is the case with The Final Destination. The fourth in New Line’s successful string of body-counters strips the formula down to its barest essentials, with the absolute minimum of plot and character required to string together its creative kills.
It also abandons any pretense at being an actual horror movie, pitching its violence, some of its details and several of its characters with such over-the-top goofiness that the filmmakers clearly intended to amuse the audience rather than scare them. The good news is that director David R. Ellis, returning from the second Destination, takes a playful approach that avoids the sadistic undercurrents of James Wong’s third; the bad news is that the script by another Destination 2 returnee, Eric Bress (or, perhaps, what’s left of it after trimming that reduced the movie to 76 minutes plus credits), gives him absolutely nothing new to work with.
The definite article at the beginning of the title would seem to suggest that The Final Destination is intended to close out this series, or perhaps the film simply borrowed it from another recent fourth in a franchise, Fast & Furious. After all, this movie too has a car-centric bent, starting with the disaster that a group of its characters escape thanks to one young man’s premonition, only for Death to come after them to tie up loose ends. This time around, it’s a multi-vehicle conflagration on a NASCAR track that takes out dozens of victims in the stands, but unfortunately is no match for the spectacular highway accident Ellis staged for Destination 2, in part because these casualties, like many of the new movie’s deaths, are too obviously computer-enhanced or -generated.
The most prominent of the for-the-time-being survivors are young couples Nick, who has that fateful vision, and Lori (Bobby Campo and Shantel VanSanten) and Hunt and Janet (Nick Zano and Haley Webb); though you wouldn’t know it from the film itself, on-line sources reveal that their surnames include Milligan and Wynorski, suggesting that the Final Destination brain trust is rapidly running out of veteran genre filmmakers to name its characters after. Once a few of their fellow Death-cheaters meet gruesome ends under Rube Goldberg-esque circumstances, Nick and Lori—who appear to own a house together even though they look barely old enough to be out of high school—start to realize that the Grim Reaper is contriving to claim the victims he was cheated out of, and try to figure out a way to interrupt the cycle to save their skins…
But if you’re interested in seeing this movie, you’ve no doubt seen its predecessors and know this stuff already. What you want to know is, how cool are the 3-D demises? The answer is, some of them are quite cool indeed, and this is one dimensional production that isn’t so proud that it eschews poking you in the eye with a series of onscreen objects. It doesn’t take long for the thrills to wear thin, though—not only because the characters are as stock as the cars in the opening race and don’t generate much rooting interest, but because Nick continues to have video-game-esque flash-forwards to the circumstances of each successive expiration. This certainly helps him and Lori in their attempts to break the chain, but sharing Nick’s ability to see what’s coming in advance undercuts the tension and surprise for the viewer.
On the other hand, as mentioned above, Ellis and co. are aiming more for humor than horror here, and as such might have been advised not to place the funniest setpiece (involving a racist redneck played by The Signal’s Justin Welborn, his tow truck and “Why Can’t We Be Friends” on the radio) so early in the proceedings. Following that, Death’s creativity ebbs (he’s really got a thing for spilled fluids this time around) and the movie seriously sags in the midsection, particularly when it pointlessly tries to suggest that our heroes have managed to avert their fates. It does rally somewhat during a climax that’s as meta as modern genre flicks get, casting knowing winks at the audience while also throwing in one last bait-and-switch that may make them roll their own eyes.
The actors do all that’s required of them, which isn’t much, but you can’t say that the production design/art direction team didn’t earn their salaries. The Final Destination is full of visual signposts of bad stuff to come, including a bunch of jokey ones (a coffee shop called Death by Caffeine, etc.), and so many in-references to the previous films, you get the feeling you’ll win a prize if you spot them all. But the true reward for those who’ve sat through all the films in this saga would instead have been to add an additional dimension to this entry beyond the visual kind.