Final Destination 3
New Line Cinema
Directed by James Wong
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman, Alexz Johnson, and Kris Lemche
Well, everybody dies.
That’s really not much of a spoiler, since the same thing happened in both previous Final Destinations. But this time, death is almost the least depressing thing facing the game cast; the film’s encyclopedic litany of despair lends ex-X-Files scribe and Destination director/co-writer James Wong’s skilled, panic attack of a movie an unexpected, cumulative gravity.
Following the now-standard Final Destination formula, we get a teen — Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whose mod-ish cuteness suggests a fifth and female member of The Monkees) — who has a premonition of a catastrophe — in this case, a Six Flags-style roller coaster falling apart in mid-velocity. The kids Wendy convinces to evacuate the coaster survive; the others are splattered in an impressively choreographed symphony of malignantly malfunctioning mechanics.
Death, it once again turns out, doesn’t take a holiday, and Wendy scrambles around trying to prevent the annihilation of the surviving teens from Rube Goldberg-style ends by assorted everyday objects.
As a genre vet, Wong is skilled at milking our apprehensions and playing with our filmgoing smarts. We always know who’s going to die, but Wong drives us crazy introducing a plethora of means — by nail gun, poison, front-end loader, or sharp-ended wood-pile — so that by the time the person actually bites it, we’re caught up asking ourselves what’s wrong with us as we realize our relief that the tension has finally ended.
But it’s as a social critic that Wong is far more distressing. By about the fourth teen death, it becomes clear the franchise is going to stay true to formula and nobody is going to get out of here alive — and the film’s tone shifts from sardonic, EC Comics-style leer to increasingly discomfiting death watch. His teens don’t die kewl, Friday the 13th-style gory deaths so much as they’re utterly obliterated, most often by huge pieces of flying metal. This lends an extra level of eeriness to a later scene when Wendy pitifully tries to find clues about death’s design by studying a shot of the World Trade Center moments before it, too, was destroyed. The specter of 9/11 haunts the entire film; one example is the use by assorted teens of “Osama” and “the vice president” as mirror names of death. Another is the final sequence, which slips the movie into the cartoon surreal, and takes place on a soon-to-be devastated NYC subway car whose destination is simply, mordantly labeled “End of the Line.”
There’s a gloomy wit at play in Wong and co-writer Glen Morgan’s screenplay — most remarkably in repeat visual and musical references to The Ramones, who become the film’s signifier of something vital now lost. But most frequently, and to accumulated depressing effect, Wong nags relentlessly at the spiritual emptiness of middle class privilege.
Going against the genre’s conventional grain, there is no supporting love story — no sex, even — and the one teen interested in loving anyone is dispatched in the first 10 minutes. Wendy can’t relate to her sister, and even her ally in the fight against death is a decent guy (Ryan Merriman) with whom she shares nothing but fear.
It just gets more dispiriting, although in the context of the Bush years, it does answer the question of who’s looking out for you. (Answer: nobody.)
The only kid with a mind full of ideas for a better future — significantly, the film’s most fleshed out black character — promptly has that mind, and the entire noggin in which it resides, smashed into red goo. Everyone has new iPods, cars, cells, the coolest clothes, and product-assisted hairstyles, but parents or useful adults of any sort are nearly nonexistent. (The single parent in the film appears in extreme long shot, looking annoyed.) The police are useless and vaguely sinister, the clergy unable to grasp the severity of the situation, while the one hyper-rational teen — an angry voice of reason — is punished with the film’s most utterly devastating death. That he survives long enough to weakly give the world the finger is the movie’s sole victory.