Review: Why the latest Final Destination should be the last

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

By the fourth Final Destination, Death seems like it's gotten bored; even for an entity responsible for posting big numbers on a daily basis, it's apparently no longer interested in coordinating elaborate demises for boys with perfect bedhead and girls whose cup size and IQ are inversely proportionate.

Instead, Death has figured out a virtually foolproof system that requires minimal effort but still turns out results that look good on quarterly performance evaluations: let kids do whatever they want, and eventually their irresponsibility will result in at least one or two deaths, if not more.

The film stars Bobby Campo as Nick O'Bannon, a possessor of pretty good bedhead, who witnesses a vision of a violent car crash only minutes before it actually unfolds at a local speedway. After he, his girlfriend Lori (Shantel VanSanten) and his friends narrowly avoid dying in the crash, Nick begins to see other visions, and eventually realizes that some mysterious, mystical force is determined to take their lives, in the order in which they were originally meant to die. Enlisting a speedway security guard named George (Mykelti Williamson) to help track down and rescue the other potential victims, Bobby and his friends find themselves in a race against time as events conspire to send them to their deaths in gory, unpredictable ways.

The truth is that if you're expecting a bunch of people to die in crazy ways, then The Final Destination is certainly the best horror movie to see this weekend, if not all year: while I strongly prefer Marcus Nispel's Friday the 13th remake to virtually any of the gorefests released in 2009, even Jason Voorhees can't compete with Death's ability to get an attractive twentysomething into a compromising position and then dismember him or her in some spectacular fashion. But the film is really more clever than smart, evidenced by the fact that the characters mostly shuffle off this mortal coil because of their own bad decisions and basic inattentiveness rather than any sort of conspiratorial inevitability.

Where in earlier installments Death would coordinate a real Rube Goldberg-like sequence of events in which the character inescapably found him- or herself in a deadly scenario, here most of the deaths are a result of people forgetting to do something, or doing something wrong, or doing nothing at all. Notwithstanding the fact that FD4 might contain the most overturned gasoline canisters in any movie in cinema history, almost every death in the film is initiated by behavior that would be irresponsible at best, shamefully negligent at worst.

Further, there is literally no story. The set pieces admittedly are all that's important, but the characters are one-dimensional at best, and they really don't do anything but put themselves obliviously into one dangerous situation after another. Maybe I'm overcautious, but I kind of feel like if a friend claimed to have a premonition about someone dying after several previous premonitions came true, I'd be a little more careful about driving, swimming, or doing anything that might put me in harm's way, especially when my friends are constantly trying to warn me about, uh, everything I'm doing.

But then again, this is not only a film for a current generation of teenagers and twentysomethings, but one that's about them, and in an era in which personal responsibility comes second or third to feelings of invincibility and entitlement, it hardly seems surprising that The Final Destination would construct such vapid, brainless characters as its protagonists. In one scene, Nick and Lori intercept a suicide attempt by George, but literally within the span of a minute, the three of them are raising a toast to their success in breaking the cycle of death; in another, a girl who barely survives her own near-death experience (a day or so after losing her boyfriend) cheerfully joins a pal for an afternoon of mall-hopping and moviewatching as if nothing bad ever happened.

One supposes is that the underlying message of the film, and indeed the series itself, is that young people should embrace and appreciate life, or at the very least respect it, which is why they are tested so thoroughly. But it seems like a problem, even for a film like this one, that these people really kind of deserve to die. Ultimately, however, it's going to be that very crowd that patronizes the film, so it stands to reason that they would be represented as extensively on screen as they are here. In which case, The Final Destination is successful in creating the pretense of characters in the service of sending them off to their deaths, in increasingly unpredictable and superficially inventive ways.

But it's a shame that the filmmakers didn't use a little bit of that creativity and inventiveness to come up with characters that we might actually want to see live, even if we would still be entertained when they didn't.