2000, R, 180 min. Directed by James Wong. Starring Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Derr Smith, Kristen Cloke, Daniel Roebuck, Amanda Detmer.
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., March 24, 2000
As incorrigibly dark-hearted as you'd expect from a brainchild of two veteran X-Files writers, this flawed but often entertaining teen horror flick dishes out more of the long-running show's patented blend of byzantine plotting, E.C. Comics gross-out visuals, and crypto-religious philosophizing. The premise is genuinely intriguing: As members of a high school French club board an airliner to Paris, one of their number, Alex (Sawa) has a ghastly premonition of the plane blowing up in flight. After raising a ruckus that gets him and several of his classmates tossed off the plane, the disaster occurs exactly as he'd foreseen it. Their apparent good fortune is short-lived, and so are they. Fate, obviously unreceptive to improvisational diddling with its grand design, sets straight to work correcting the glitch by subjecting the kids to grisly - and often fiendishly elaborate - deaths. On one level, this cavalcade of snuff is as predictable and mechanistic as anything else in the long history of B-horror cinema. Yet there are a few noteworthy and meaningful differences. For one thing, there's hardly a trace of the genre's characteristic breathless thrill-ride feel as we try to guess which of the generically attractive cast will be the next to get skewered, electrocuted, beheaded, or smashed like a June bug. The story certainly has its share of irony and grim humor, but it's imbued much more with the gleeful sadism of Clive Barker than the breezy wit of Kevin Williamson. Like Williamson's work, though, The Final Destination registers more as a mordant, elaborately sub-referenced commentary on the tradition of horror cinema than the genuine article itself. (Supporting this theory is the motif of characters named after great horror actors and filmmakers such as F. W. Murnau, Lon Chaney, and Val Lewton.) Another interesting quirk is the subtle undercurrent of reflection on life, death, and the impossibility of understanding one without the other. If director-screenwriter Wong and writing partner Glen Morgan had truly gone for the gusto and explored the provocative metaphysical and even spiritual elements of their tale - as The X-Files often does to enjoyable effect - they might've created something groundbreaking here. As it is, they're content to function as the equivalent of snarky fast-food fry cooks, doling out assembly-line food to the accompaniment of wiseass, muttered-under-the-breath japes at the boss and customers. You have to admire the rebellious spirit, if not necessarily the product.