The third installment in the crafty Final Destination franchise, once again under the guiding eye of director James Wong (co-writer and director on the first Final Destination), ups the stakes on its trademark Grand Guignol set pieces to give audiences a series of escalating gross-out thrills. In sticking to its well-established formula, the opening sequence—this time on a deadly rollercoaster ride during a grad night celebration—lays out an eye-popping series of fast action deaths that traumatize the teen survivors whose lives will be threatened for the duration of the movie.
Although perhaps not as hair-raising as the highway pile-up intro of the second Final Destination (directed by David Richard Ellis), the carnival-based catastrophe resonates with the sickening fear induced by amusement rides and sets a youthful tone for the subsequent violence to flourish. Death becomes a character with a mean sense of completion in a movie that, like a rollercoaster ride, includes lots of jolting twists and drops into an abyss of imminent destiny.
Each of the three Final Destination movies has emphasized different aspects of death as a lurking hunter, hungry to take the lives of those who escaped his initial assault on their specific domain. The first movie took glee in exposing audiences to the idea of sudden death as a blind-siding menace that could strike with less notice than a bolt of lightening. The device worked as a modern symptom of existential reality that favored surprise over suspense.
The second film concentrated on the potential danger of everyday objects and this time milked the element of suspense for all it was worth. The effect was to leave audiences afraid to flick a light switch or a toaster for fear of the deadly chain reaction that they might unknowingly set into motion.
Final Destination 3 favors a corporeal fascination with young bodies when fast-moving heavy metal objects slice, crush or splatter people to smithereens. There’s also a satirical affinity for the flesh-burning properties of tanning machines that gets sufficiently explored in a death sequence involving two vain nubile girls with double digit IQs.
Whether conscious or not on the part of the filmmakers, the gory logic follows America’s understandable desire to rationalize the effects of such physical violence that its invisible soldiers are suffering in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Bush administration’s blatant censorship of media coverage of the wars has instigated a silent obsession for closure in America’s collective subconscious. A consequence of “embedded journalists” and a refusal to allow showing the flag-draped coffins of deceased American soldiers being returned to their home soil has left the country with a natural curiosity made morbid by censorship.
A cast of relatively unknown actors fulfills the franchise’s tradition of using disposable faces that can be nullified at any moment. The idea of disposability is one that scriptwriters Glen Morgan and James Wong explore with a ruthless satirical tone that directly addresses our collective preoccupation with death and fear. MTW