Monday, August 31, 2009


David Ellis has been on my radar forever. I have been vocal for years that I am his biggest fan. He is one of the busiest men in Hollywood and has been for some time with a career that goes back to old-school Disney/Kurt Russell THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD territory. From there he did stunts in SCARFACE, he was an opponent in ROCKY III, he did stunts for LETHAL WEAPON, and was a stunt coordinator for FATAL ATTRACTION. The list is formidable. For keeners, his name caught a lot of attention for his second unit director work for THE MARTIX RELOADED. This means that he was involved with that fantastic highway scene. Ellis then did his own highway scene for FINAL DESTINATION 2 which I personally cite as one of my all-time favorite sequences of cinematic mayhem. Ellis also got a lot of attention for his direction of SNAKES ON A PLANE. The movie was a commercial failure, but everyone sure talked about it online, creating a powerful buzz for it. Next was another teen fright-film that absolutely no one saw called ASYLUM (“Once you are in you can never get out.”). Now Ellis is back in control of the Final Destination series with THE FINAL DESTINATION. This is supposedly the last film in the franchise, though with horror franchises, they tend to die rather hard.

The Final Destination series is simple and corny. The framework has been the same in every one of the films. A teenager gets a premonition that everyone around them is going to die in some particularly violent fashion, but when the foreseen catastrophe actually strikes, it tends to be muted compared to the vision. The teenager is able to “save” a few of those marked for death, and then the majority of the film involves the unseen force known as Death picking the survivors off one by one. This has been the pattern, and this latest installment follows through with it.

The most interesting thing about this series is the various methods used to kill the teenagers. The Final Destination series is no more than a creative twist on the classic slasher movie concept. There is no angry goalie or finger bladed pedophile though; everything is a potential killer in a Final Destination movie, and usually the deaths are extremely creative.

The rules of standard horror films apply to the Final Destination deaths as well. Jerkier characters get uglier deaths than the decent characters. A lucky character might survive one film, but they will be killed in the next. The point, however, is that ultimately, everyone will die…violently.

The violence continues in THE FINAL DESTINATION. The protagonist, Nick O’Bannon (Bobby Campo) has his death premonition at a race track. The ensuing deaths, while painful and vicious, are downright goofy. How does an engine block from a race car fly into the stands and land in someone’s lap? If there is one thing that Ellis has done in these films, it is a rewriting of the explosive nature of cars on impact. FINAL DESTINATION 2 had cars exploding and shooting flames in the air for any type of impact. Ellis follows a similar route in THE FINAL DESTINATION, but it seems like he held back a bit this time around. Cars do flip and throw their tires and other parts at the innocents, but the intimacy of the experience just isn’t there.

When Ellis was at the helm of FINAL DESTINATION 2, he showed us what was happening in each of the vehicles before he blew them all to hell. We understood the people who were driving and we understood the passengers. We were put in the eye of a completely unfair maelstrom and then detonated. THE FINAL DESTINATION keeps the mayhem in the race track stands, thereby generating a visceral detachment between ground zero and impact. This isn’t a problem with the plot, but it is a problem with the experience. Nick O’Bannon is able to save a few lives, a fact which unravels Death’s master plan of executing them all at once. This is the formula that has worked with the three previous films, but by this time around, we all know the drill, and it is getting tired.

Halfheartedly, there is an attempt to introduce new factors to the Final Destination plot framework. Nick has coded, symbolic death premonitions throughout the film (versus the standard one at the beginning), but this only gives us red herring after red herring and is more tedious than entertaining. The teenagers in this film are all relative newcomers to the Hollywood grind. The guys are model-quality handsome, and the girls are there to look good and maybe stand around in their boyfriend’s underwear. The key non-teens in this film are represented by Mykelti Williamson who plays George Lanter the security guard and Krista Allen who plays the MILF (serious, read the credits) named Samantha. Williamson and Allen both attempt to work with what they are given, but their roles are so basic and stereotypical that two nobodies could have been hired for less to round out this cast.

The actors all suffer and die violently as the pattern dictates. There is an obligatory sex scene which means a solid breast shot or two for the kids who snuck in. There is also a good portion of profanity. Unfortunately, this movie is lacking in the death department. Viewers of this series of films are expecting new twists and turns in the destruction of human bodies. But these deaths are mostly forgettable. Splatter is present, and we see hunks of flesh and lots of spray, but nothing fantastic or really noteworthy except a death at the bottom of a swimming pool that is reminiscent of Chuck Palahniuk’s short story “GUTS.”

THE FINAL DESTINATION offers nothing new. It has been done better before by the same director. David Ellis is capable of more. He knows how to choreograph mayhem, and his professional eye has brought some of the most beautifully exquisite moments of all-out chaos to the big screen. I went into this film hoping to see some more of the wonderfully cacophonous destruction that he has trained me to love. It isn’t in THE FINAL DESTINATION. My disappointment in this installment of the series, and in the director is paramount. Death has obviously come for this franchise, and frankly, he can have it.

-Mediasaurus Rex

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