Final Destination 3 (2006)
Isn’t the title Final Destination 3 itself problematic? How could it be final if it’s the third? It reminds me of 1998’s terrible I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, which wasn’t even correct with the film’s time setting (it must be stated that a 2006 sequel, and I’m not kidding, will be called I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer). Perhaps the best title comes from the worst movie of all time, Manos: The Hands of Fate, notoriously lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. “Manos” is actually Spanish for “hands,” so the title is Hands: The Hands of Fate. Titles are fun. Oh yes. Final Destination 3, on the other hand, isn’t really fun.
A senior class is partying and enjoying the thrill rides of an amusement park. There’s an especially menacing looking roller coaster begging to be ridden by teenagers. There’s even a giant devil in front of the ride’s entrance. The ride fills up with your general high school characters (popular snots, Goth kids, cocky jocks, etc.) and then the safety bars become loose, flinging riders this way and that to splatter against broken rails and track. It’s all so horrifying … but it’s just a vision of Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She goes into hysterics and gets off the coaster before it ships out. Other students follow her, including Kevin (Ryan Merriman), the boyfriend of Wendy’s best friend. Sure enough, the coaster crashes, those on it die, and death has been averted. For now. Just like previous installments, death seeks out the souls that escaped its cold clutches. Now death is taking out the survivors in the order they would have died and Wendy and Kevin must try and figure out a plan before it gets to them.
Let’s not mince words, the true star of the Final Destination franchise is death itself. The appeal rests entirely on the fiendish, outlandishly complicated deaths and the misdirection over what will prove deadly. The audience is holding their breath for the next spectacular death. There’s a certain fatalism linked to this, knowing that the entertainment value is witnessing teens eventually get sliced and diced. But the franchise’s appeal also seems to be its downfall. The Final Destination films are stuck trying to out top themselves, and each film opens with a big centerpiece of disaster that inevitably serves as the film’s best moment. The rest of the movies never seem to match the opening melee, and it’s generally not a good idea for a movie to peek in the first reel.
Admirably, Final Destination 3 doesn’t even waste time with having its batch of characters theorize how to outfox the specter of death. We just watch, one after the other, the bloody, clever deaths like an assembly line of carnage. Final Destination 3 knows what its audience wants. Curiously, there’s no parental or police presence at all, even after the mounting coincidental deaths. Seriously, everywhere that Wendy and Kevin go, death is right beside them. Probably the funniest tidbit in Final Destination 3 is that shortly after another failed attempt to warn a doomed teen, Wendy and Kevin are in different, non-bloody clothes as they walk back to their car. They actually brought a change of clothes just in case. That’s hilarious. Little else seems amusing (the 9/11 reference is overwhelmingly tacky).
I once thought that the Final Destination concept could live forever in the annuls of horror, but the seams are definitely starting to show with this franchise. In 2000 it was fresh and unpredictable, and now it just seems exhausted and old hat. I thought the third film regaining the original writers and director would infuse Final Destination 3 with a bit more imagination. I was wrong. Glen Morgan and James Wong seem to go overboard to sate their blood-hungry audience, creating the most gruesome, torturous deaths yet. Seeing people eviscerated is one thing, but tantalizingly lingering on the sight of a busty teen being cooked alive, her skin boiling and exploding from the heat, is too much. It’s like this time death is really pissed, saying, “I gotta go through all this again!” The movie feels too mean-spirited, too vengeful, and a shade too cynical. I think the concept feels spent and even Morgan and Wong realize this, which is why they ratchet up the gore because the suspense is gone. The “gotcha” ending was pitch-perfect in the first Final Destination, but now it’s just another expectation feebly met.
Of course, all the characters (with the possible exception of Kevin) are nitwits, horn dogs, jerks, and just plain unlikable, which make rooting for their demise easier. There’s no subtlety here either. The two shallow, popular girls are incredibly shallow and ridiculously stupid. The idiot pervert has a one-track mind that never takes a break. They’re all stock, they’re all one-note, and there’s even a moment where the token black character says, “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” No wonder death is the star. At least in the previous Final Destination flicks you felt like the kids deserved a fighting chance.
There is one neat addition to the formula. On the night of the accident, Wendy took several pictures and each photograph predicts that person’s demise. This allows the audience to try to decode the clues they’re given and correctly guess the next horrific death. It’s the most fun aspect of the franchise.
Final Destination 3 knows exactly what its audience wants, which is more of the same preposterously complicated deaths. The concept once felt fresh but now it seems worn out. I doubt new blood could revive this franchise because audience expectation has become too demanding. We already know the rules and know the characters can’t really escape death, so the only lasting suspense is what will kill them, and even that is fleeting. The return of creators Glen Morgan and James Wong still can’t infuse the right touches of imagination. It’s more grisly teenage carnage, nothing more, nothing less, nothing special anymore. Fans of the previous Final Destination flicks will likely find some entertainment, but the movie feels creatively spent. It’s probably time for this sadistic peep show to bow out before things get even uglier.
Nate’s Grade: C