We are finally in the midst of October, and at some point, you might need a laugh to break up the amalgamation of terrifying and unsettling films you’ll absorb this month. If you’re like me, and want to keep it in the genre, you might reach for one of the Final Destination films. And while you’re right to recognize the fun of the franchise, beneath the surface of these films lies a horrifying proposition.
The Final Destination franchise follows various groups of teenagers, one of which has an awful premonition of a wild disaster that depicts their impending deaths. When the individual reacts, leading their friends out of danger, they narrowly escape their doom. But Death doesn’t like to be cheated, and it fervently returns the teens to their fate.
There is an unofficial hierarchy of horror movies, where artful films or 80s classics tend to reign supreme. The films of the early 2000s typically fall to the bottom of the barrel, and with a 2000 release date, Final Destination served as an introduction to this millennium. As a result of its cartoony violence, mediocre acting, and repetitive structure, the franchise is often regarded as low tier horror in terms of cinematic quality and scare ability. But, through its manipulation of the themes of death, helplessness, and self-preservation, Final Destination is a hilariously amusing and hyperbolic franchise that’s fatalistic principles make it absolutely horrifying at its core.
The foundation of all horror films is the fear of death and the drive of self-preservation. For this motivation to be rendered wholly futile is terrifying, and Final Destination opens up this petrifying discourse about the philosophy of death. Death is no longer an idea or event, it is personified. It feels cheated, and we all know nothing enthuses a more ardent pursuit of retribution than a betrayal. The films are shrouded with a very present, looming omniscience. The cinematography constantly reminds the viewer that the characters are never left unwatched. Intensely determined, edge-blurring tracking shots, sequences captured through windows or door frames, and winding point-of-view maneuvers through the environment, impose an intimidating sense of voyeurism that mirrors the all-encompassing presence depicted in Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead.
The franchise is built upon the concept of “Death’s Design,” flipping the idea of the inevitability of life’s master plan on its darker, much more eerie head. The idea of their demises having a sovereign authority, that has already been decided for them, is indisputable in the fact that their deaths are executed by means of the most lethal series of Rube-Goldberg machines conceivable. Every character’s slaying is the result of the most hapless puzzle in existence. The complexity of each death is absolutely ludicrous, but also contains an underlying sinister quality, as it feels like Death is reveling in it, finding a sense of fun in its intricacy.
Self-preservation is the maximum drive during the franchise, as each character’s anxiety is maxed out by something as seemingly mundane as a gust of wind or loud noise. They spend time drawing out diagrams and plots, desperately attempting to ascertain how they can beat Death again. And even when the characters believe they’ve figured out the convolutions, exceptions, and loopholes in the strategy of the plan, they are proven wrong time and time again, as they are blindsided by the elements they would’ve never thought to consider. They are entirely futile against the force that is dead set on their victimization, making their fight against it all the more tragic. The films also drag the audience into a state of heightened agitation along with the characters. Constant misdirection leaves the true event of Death’s capture always up in the air. Safety and peril are impossible to discern. The most primitive and commonplace circumstances have a biting and menacing occupancy in the shots, that instantly tighten your chest upon their introduction. Viewers are soon conditioned to have the number 180 leave them with their breath caught in their throats.
The core of Final Destination reminds us that our lives are constantly in danger, and we are absolutely helpless in avoiding everything that can possibly stop it in its tracks. But on its surface, it is one of the most entertaining and amusing horror franchises. It’s fun to watch, and I’d argue that it’s because it has to be. Are we truly prepared to face a collection of five films that explicitly scream the realities of death’s inevitability in our faces if we aren’t able to laugh about it? The violence in the films is so distant from reality and practicality, that the murders don’t contain the potential to hold a genuine, emotional impact: they really aren’t scary at all. Each kill is exuberant in its drama, but even more so in its humor. And though the first Final Destination film came out four years prior, they almost feel like parodies of the executions in Saw. They’re crazy, elaborate, and brutal, but also completely absurd and ludicrous. They aren’t capable of being taken seriously, and we are empowered to laugh and have fun because of it.
Brutal killers, homicidal ghosts, and murderous dolls are not a guarantee in this life; they’re not even a fate we’re remotely likely to encounter. Unfortunately, the only promise in this life is death itself. Despite its absolute absurdity, the Final Destination franchise truly tackles the foundation of all human fear, not just the ways it can be manifested. These films bombard us with the fact that we’re never truly safe; danger is everywhere, and every second we dodge it, we are lucky. We may escape harm every day, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we should feel free from looking over our shoulders. In respects to the final words of the franchise, spoken by Bludworth, the messenger of Death himself… you all just be careful now.