I’m not sure when it happens — sometime around drinking age, or when we start using the calendar year instead of the school year, I guess — but, at some point in our lives the word “awesome” loses its majestic powers; it becomes a seldom-used term, or, for the jaded among us, it’s relegated to the pile of superlatives and exclamation points used to denote irony. Back in the day, of course, “awesome” was the word du jour, used to describe everything from a new Def Leppard single (1988 was an awesome year) to your best friend’s sweet new Hypercolor© T-shirt. After 10 to 20 years of pop culture experiences, however, “awesome” loses most of its meaning. Occasionally, stumbling across a new version of Ben Folds’ “Rock this Bitch,” or a Peyton Manning 70-yard TD pass to Marvin Harrison might inspire its intended use but, for the most part, we toss it out with little emphasis and a shrug of the shoulder to describe, for instance, one’s ability to beat traffic on the way home from eight hours of collating documents. True, it’s an oft-used word in Sunday School sermons to express the magnificence of your chosen deity, but really, when’s the last time a pop culture experience elicited an urge so overwhelming that you had to jump out of your seat, pump your first, and yalp with involuntary gusto: “Awesome!”?
For me, it’s a triennial experience that tends to coincide with the release of another Final Destination installment; indeed, nothing else in the horror genre can compare to the pure, unadulterated simplicity of the Destination money shot (there’s your tagline, New Line Cinema). I can imagine absolutely nothing more gratifying than watching some bland, faceless teenager with perfect breasts or massive biceps succumb to the gruesomely violent, head-exploding, torso-goring, nail-gun-piercing shock of Death. One second, he is taunting destiny, giving the proverbial bird to his maker, and the next second: Pink Mist.
In a word: Awesome.
There are those, of course, who would decry Final Destination’s violence, disparage the absence of plot, criticize the lack of character development, or belittle the acting abilities of its largely unknown cast, but when the head of a Paris Hilton lookalike gets popped like a pimple on a mirror, it’s hard to feel anything but adrenaline coursing through your veins. And, unlike the recent strain of horror films that wallow in nihilism and depravity, that aim for the gag reflex instead of the jugular, the Final Destination series is a throwback to a time when onscreen violence was jocular, when it was meant to shock and amuse instead of torture; indeed, there are no prolonged, anguished deaths in the Destination series, just instantaneous goring or split-second decapitations. Save for a head explosion in David Cronenberg’s 1981 Scanners, death has never been as crowd pleasing as it is in any of the Final Destination films.
And the best thing about the Destination movies — what really sets them apart from the rest of the shitty, teenage gore-fests — is their superb use of lighting and cinematography. Most teenage horror flicks rely on heavy amounts of shadow and darkness to set the mood and disguise the low-budget FX; the effect is usually an equal mixture of despondency, boredom, and a sense that you can’t really tell what the hell is going on. Conversely, Destination is well lit and damn near cheerful; if you walked in during a scene that didn’t feature a violent end to one of its characters, you’d no doubt think you’d walked into an episode of “Gilmore Girls,” or “Veronica Mars,” which is what makes the undoing of its characters so flabbergasting. Can you imagine watching Rory and Lorelei Gilmore discuss the finer points of caffeinated beverages only to see an errant chainsaw soar through Luke’s diner and behead Rory mid-sentence? Shocking? You bet. Funny as hell? Absolutely!
As for the merits of Final Destination 3 in particular: Well, the original’s director, James Wong, returns, and he manages to ratchet up the violence a notch. Where the original Destination kicked off with a doomed airline flight, the third installment begins on a damned rollercoaster ride, aborted after Wendy Christenson (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has a gruesome premonition. The cast itself is serviceable, and only slightly less bland than anyone you’d see on your average run through a college campus; the lead character, Winstead, is an odd hybrid of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Amanda Foreman but is otherwise indistinguishable. Indeed, just about everything else in the film besides the means of destruction is perfectly interchangeable with either of its predecessors, but that makes it no less affecting. In fact, if New Line Cinema has enough sense to spread the intervals between the sequels out sufficiently, I don’t see any reason why the series couldn’t extend indefinitely. It’s a one-trick movie to be sure but, my God, it’s a great fucking trick.
Indeed, for sweethearts looking for a Valentine’s Day movie this weekend, Final Destination 3 offers the perfect way to say to a loved one, “Baby, wouldn’t a six-foot long spear look sweet resting in your rib cage?”
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.Final Destination 3 / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()