Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Final Destination 3

Director: James Wong
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman, Alexz Johnson, Kris Lemche, Amanda Crew
Running Time: 93 min.

Rating: R

*** (out of ****)

I always thought the concept behind the Final Destination movies was deeper and not as far fetched as it initially seems. The idea that death could take any one of us at any moment hits a lot closer to home than some are willing to admit. The first Final Destination movie exploited this fear to maximum effect. The second movie did not. It abandoned the concept of strangers being thrown together by fate and attempting to win a poker game with death. Luckily, this second sequel goes back to the original film's roots as director James Wong returns to remind us what brought this franchise to the dance. It's easily the best in the series in addition to being a fairly smart movie that that does the teenage horror genre proud. It also features the best use of a roller coaster ever in a motion picture (excluding of course the late 70's disaster movie Roller Coaster). I'm worried the "3" in the title will stop people from buying or renting this, thinking it'll just be another lame sequel. It's not.

A group of high school kids prepare to ride one of those terrifying rollercoasters that everyone's afraid of going on but few would actually admit to. All except Wendy Christensen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who has a premonition of a horrific accident and freaks out, causing her and a bunch of other classmates to get off the ride. Much like the students in the first FD movie who were meant to die in the airplane crash, death then comes after all of them one by one in the order they were supposed to be seated in the rollercoaster.

Grieving over the death of her boyfriend on the ride, Wendy teams up with Kevin (Ryan Merriman), another survivor, to try to thwart death's plan. One of the clever things about the movie is how they're aware of what happened to the students in the first film and use it as a reference point to figure out what's going to happen to them. There's a great scene (which will no doubt offend many) where Kevin pulls out eery pictures that serve as clues that the assassination of Lincoln and the 9/11 attacks were going to happen, hammering home the point that death has a plan and there's often no escaping it. They look at the pictures taken before they got on the ride for clues to their fates and methods of their demise. They find them, but that's no guarantee they can stop it as the movie goes places you really don't expect it to, especially in it's clever ending, which liberally borrows from 1972's Tales From the Crypt.

The death scenes in this movie are also the most entertaining in the series using a tanning salon, a weight room, and a drive-thru in ways you won't believe. That's not even mentioning the incredible roller coaster disaster at the start of the film. It always bothered me that a roller coaster was never really used to it's full effect in the movies. If you think about it there's really nothing scarier than being suspended that far up in the air and have something go wrong. Finally a movie has taken advantage of that very real terror and complete loss of control.

The characters are all typical teen horror movie caricatures like the jock, the goth chick, the dumb blonde slut, the sceptic, the virginal girl and the sleazy scumbag. What's great is the movie seems to revel it, with the filmmakers even bragging about it on the special features disc. Those descriptions of the characters were actually their's not mine. All the actors have fun with their parts, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who looks like a prettier version of Zooey Deschanel) does about as good a job as the virginal heroin that I've ever seen in a teen horror flick. She actually looks and acts like a real high school girl, which is rare in this genre.

That the movie is populated by nobody actors helps it's cause as everything seems fresh, so much so I started to forget this was a sequel or that there was ever any other Final Destination film. This one sets standard for the series. If the movie made more interesting choices visually, taken the narrative a little more seriously and aimed a little higher it would have taken this thriller into 4 star territory, like the brilliant Saw. That's not a complaint though, because it's not that type of movie and really shouldn't aim to be. The movie is so fun and exciting I can't imagine anyone wouldn't enjoy it for what it is.

This release comes in a 2-disc "Thrill Ride Edition" that's as fully loaded as any recent release you've seen. There's an fascinating documentary on the conventions of the "dead teenager movie" complete with a great interview with Roger Ebert, a documentary on the making of the film, and an animated short about real-life cases of people narrowly avoiding death that's incredible. There's also the full-length audio commentary and a feature that lets you watch the movie while changing the course of events and the character's fates. While there will definitely be better movies than FD3 this year, I doubt they'll be anything better in the teen horror movie genre. Hopefully, there isn't a Final Destination 4. Better that the series go out on top.

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