Title: Final Destination 3
Director: James Wong
Screenwriters: Glen Morgan, James Wong
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman, Kris Lemche
I think I’ve had about enough of this franchise, which is becoming more invidiously nonsensical with each sequel. Final Destination 3 is a step-by-step retread of its predecessors plus an extra twist that is ripped off wholesale from The Omen. Given the films’ slavish dependence on its gimmick — director James Wong spends precisely no time on mood or atmosphere — the series has gotten to the point where there is now effectively Nothing to See Here.
The sole point of variation among the films seems to be the nature of the initial catastrophe that sets Death’s grand design in motion. In Final Destination it was a (spectacularly realized) plane crash; in Final Destination 2 it was a massive highway pile-up; here, it’s a gruesome roller coaster accident. As a major roller coaster enthusiast, I was intrigued — this should have hit an nerve. But, after a virtuoso shot where the camera ominously spins around as the cars reach the top of the first peak, the disaster turns out to be murky and unimaginative, preceded by the predictable shots of something — God knows what — leaking, stretching, snapping, breaking, and followed by the requisite carnage.
But it’s not terribly shocking anymore — not transgressive, not new, and not, as it is filmed here, scary. The opening sequences of the first films managed to attain a grisly believability that made them frightening: they were chaotic, random and visualized in a way that made them seem very real, despite the fanciful nonsense that inevitably followed. Final Destination 3, by contrast, starts with something that’s genuinely scary — people falling out of a roller coaster — and neuters it with sub-par effects work, an overabundance of close-ups, and an unwillingness to cross the line. It’s disappointing.
And then… And then… Well, if you’ve seen the first two films, you already know. One of the people who was to be on the fateful ride has a premonition of disaster, panics, and gets a number of her companions off the coaster before it can depart. After everyone on board meets a brutal end, Death, irked at the deviation from its “design,” starts killing off those who got off the roller coaster via freak accidents — and this time, it helpfully tells the victims how they will be dispatched via clues contained in the last photograph taken of them before the accident. (Sound familiar? It should.) Helpfully, the protagonist was shooting photos for the yearbook on the theme park field trip! Yes!
Why do people have these premonitions? What is this “design” that Death has, and does every accident avoided lead to summary execution? And what’s the deal with the photo clues — what’s in it for Death? These are not questions I would ordinarily ask, but by the third iteration of the same story, I might just start asking. The conceit is clever enough that it takes a while to realize that it is not remotely substantive, but when one does, the hollow ring is deafening.
I gave Final Destination 2 a pass because I grooved on the outrageously gruesome ways it found to dispatch its victims, and because it found ways to tap into some common phobias to answer the question of what it would be like to sit in a dentist’s chair when an otherworldly force has it in for you. But this version lacks even that — that tanning bed scene, for instance, is lifted from, of all things, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. The only thing that remains is the series’ oddly compelling nihilism — death is amoral, dispatching indiscriminately — and the ending suggests that there’s just no escape, not now, not ever. The refreshingly abrupt conclusion aside, Final Destination 3 is an exhausted concept wheezing its way to an ironically meek demise.