The Series Project: Final Destination (Part 1)

Final Destination 1

Welcome back to The Series Project, dear readers. This week and next week, we gonna die.

Filmmaker John Waters once cited the five Final Destination films as being perfect examples of modern exploitation movies. The series, which ran from 2000 until 2011, famously eschewed all previous teen horror notions of slashers, monsters, and killer demons, placing the abstract notion of Death in the antagonist’s position. Each film would gleefully kill off its respective cast of young heroes in whatever way it saw fit. They would not be murdered, they would not have mysterious heart attacks, and they would not be confronted directly by a physical being. The heroes would merely die, one after the other, in a long string of increasingly bizarre accidents.

And that’s it. Set ‘em up, then knock ‘em down. There is a purity to the Final Destination films that many slashers – however dunderheadedly simple – often lack. Even when we’re dealing with a mute boogieman like Michael Myers, there have to be several long-winded scenes explaining extensively who the killer is, why he kills, and why he should be feared. As the sequels progress, the myth of the series’ king slasher typically only gets more and more convoluted. The Final Destination films do have a myth of sorts, but the films are never about how one can manipulate the myth to survive (with the exception of one chapter, easily the weakest in the series); the myth is not what’s at the center of these films, because there is no killer. The movies are just about a string of largely nondescript human beings getting repeatedly mauled by the everyday objects around them.

Final Destination Tony Todd

If we go to exploitation movies to see people die in new and creative ways, then the Final Destination movies offer the most direct route.

There is a pattern for all five of the movies, and while it may seem convoluted on the page, it comes across as pretty simple: Each chapter would begin with a psychic vision had by the protagonist, envisioning a group of people dying in a horrible accident of some kind. The protagonist would then prevent himself/herself from being killed – usually by staying away from the car/plane/roller coaster that would have killed them, only to see the disaster befall others. The protagonist (and several peers who were also incidentally saved by the vision) would then spend the bulk of the film being stalked by Death, killed off by messy accidents. And they will all die. No one ever escapes.

There are notions of fatalism lurking around every corner, but they only lend a philosophical edge to a series of film centered on blood and death. This week, we’ll be looking at the first two of these movies, and contemplating what they have to offer. Strap in tight. Or don’t. You’re doomed either way.