The Final Destination franchise isn't so much a series of horror films; it's more of a big-screen teen meat grinder. Every three years around Valentine's Day, we get a sampling of attractive, clueless high schoolers, each one chewed up and spit out at the audience in a new and utterly disgusting way. Like a heart-shaped box of assorted chocolates, some of these grisly death scenes leave a bad taste in the mouth, a few are instantly forgettable and some are shamefully, lip-smackingly good.
So how do you judge a film series that, by design, has the same tired plot, no character development and barely even any characters at all? Add up the body count and see which ones satisfy your requirements for gory, inventive, tasteless carnage. By that standard, this third entry in the series is about a 50-50 split: three of the movie's seven death scenes are spectacularly sick, three are confusing and awkward, and one is so-so. Death, it seems, has a spotty track record.
Things get off to a good start with an elaborate sequence at an amusement park, a cheeky in-joke that underlines the series' bloody thrill-ride quality. Director James Wong returning to the franchise after sitting out the second film does an expert job of introducing the audience to the high school seniors who will meet their maker, one way or another. Every Final Destination movie needs a teenager who has deadly premonitions, and this time it's the alert, promising young actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Sky High) as Wendy, the traumatized girl who watches her friends die in a freak rollercoaster accident that she predicted. She got off the doomed ride along with some of her classmates: two jocks, a few airheads and a sneering goth couple.
Who will die? If you're at all familiar with the series, that's not the question. It's how and when. You can set your watch to Final Destination 3: There's seven shocking minutes of horrific trauma followed by five boring minutes of pseudo-mournful dialogue followed by seven more minutes of horrific trauma, and so forth. If the subtext in most horror films is that premarital sex kills, the lessons in this one are harder to identify: Weightlifters need to watch out for 'roid rage; an engine fan lodged in your brain is difficult to remove; and tanning beds are very, very bad for your skin.
Wong improves on his work in the first film, using classic freak-out tricks and old-fashioned camera angles. But much like its predecessors, the movie ultimately suffers from its more-is-more mentality. When Wong gets around to killing the Home Depot-employed goths, he introduces so many possible ways for them to bite it sulfuric acid, buzz saws, wooden stakes, nail guns, forklift prongs, caulk that you're liable to throw up your hands in frustration. Sure, death is random, but does it have to be so indecisive?
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].