You'll never believe it until it happens to you...
And then in second place was Final Destination.
Conceived by Jeffrey Reddick and written by the dudes who helped shape The X-Files into the mythology it became (Glen Morgan and James Wong, who also directed), this is one hell of a movie. While the theme of partying teenagers being picked off one by one isn't exactly new, there is no fat guy in a hockey mask, no transsexual camp counselor, no fedora-wearing jackass in need of a manicure and face lift, no immortal Captain Kirk impersonator and no Dick Cheney anywhere in sight. Might I say this one's pretty damned original? Might I add... quite right, slick!
On a Junior French Class trip to, uh, well, France for... French stuff, I'm guessin', young Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) witnesses the plane he's on disintegrate around him, while his friends, enemies and girls who'd just as soon kiss a Wookiee than him all die like the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 that couldn't get a long-term contract with ABC Television.
Then, suddenly (and with great relief) he reenacts the ancient, yet honorable upright bolt with a "So it was all just a dream! OR WAS IT???". After he, some friends, teachers, enemies and women he'll never please flee the plane like cartoon roaches from a can of RAID, the damned thing blows up like an Eminem album on the Billboard Charts. Trust me, as jolted as the dudes surrounding him are, Alex is thrice as shocked.
Naturally, since he made such a big deal about the plane exploding before it actually happened, the FBI is more than a little interested in going full on Patriot Act on his ass (fortunately, it wasn't yet drafted). They're even more interested in him when the survivors start dropping like flies soon after the crash and Alex appears at the crime scene each and every time. Is Alex a terrorist, a serial killer suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or every bit as much of a victim as his airbus homeys?
Ali Larter's Clear Rivers trusts him, while Kerr Smith's Carter Horton wants to beat the prophecy out of him before anybody else can die (while his girlfriend, Amanda Detmer's Terry Chaney just wants to look hot). Meanwhile, Seann William Scott's Billy Hitchcock rides his BMX Bike in circles looking confused, wondering why he's not in some American Pie flick (or one of its knockoffs) and occasionally doing his best Billy Paxton freak out impression while screaming "I don't wanna dieeeeeeee!"
Luckily James Wong keeps the whole thing balanced and interesting, giving us a film at once well-paced and exciting. The use of killer visual and audio clues as well as creepy motifs give a tense air of shaky surprise unmatched by the two successors in this successful film franchise. As if haunted by Death the victims barely miss about a thousand things per frame that can pop up and kill them (accidentally, no less) and the audience has no idea which one it's going to be (or if it's only going to be one). It's this tension and nervous hand-wringing that make the horror here work so well. Imagine waiting for the villain to pop out at any moment, only to find that there is no villain, and that the nature of impossible coincidences is all it takes to shove one over that Styx bridge, baby! What a deal.
And that goes double for Tony Todd's thunder-stealing cameo as the only man who knows the score (an area mortician who makes the Addams Family's Lurch look like Ronald McDonald). Adding Todd's creepy voice and commanding presence to an already tight tale of terror is inspired to say the least!
As great as this suspense thriller is, Final Destination isn't perfect. For one thing, the series of unfortunate events that lead to each death rely on coincidence far too much. While this kicks the idea of an unseen grim reaper pulling the proverbial strings all the more real, one must wonder why only one character can see this. I'll admit that the mythology might get a little confusing for many, but I'm a little surprised that this would go for the characters as well. When a character states a fact plainly and openly in one scene, then acts as if they've got no idea what's what within five seconds of screen time, one must simply say "that's wrong, Wong!" Give this kid a script! True, the actors are all pretty damned good and rarely ever fall into the realm of the melodramatic, but it's strange to see their motivations built upon convenience and contrivances.
This is a shame, of course, as Final Destination is otherwise a great, great film. This is the sort of movie the discriminating viewer might count among their favorites, while at the same time recognizing that it "could be better". At its worst, it's still one hell of an original thrill ride, worth repeated viewings, and maybe even a look at its sequels, quite appropriately known as Final Destination 2 and (drumroll) Final Destination 3. Three and One Half Stars out of Five for Final Destination, a strange and inventive horror movie that falls just short of perfection. Now if you'll excuse me, I've had quite the week. I barely missed being hit by a Semi, almost overdosed on Sunny Delight, lost a sword fight against a samurai who decided to be merciful, spilled vodka on my laptop and changed the channel off of Matlock while visiting my Granddad in an Old Folks Home in Louisiana. Dudes, It's safe to say I've been cheating death like you wouldn't believe, and I need a nap. I think I'll answer the door first though. I'll see you soon in the next reel. I hope.
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