By the year 2000, the ensemble teen slasher movie was beginning to feel decidedly old. With a plethora of mediocre teen horrors having followed the success of Scream in 1996. However, despite this one film, The Faculty managed to break the mould in 1998. By reimagining the classic science fiction/horror film Invasion of the Body Snatchers for a teen audience. In turn, paving the way for a set of uniquely different teen horrors from Final Destination to Jeepers Creepers. As studios explored new and fresh approaches to a genre born in the late 1970s. In turn, taking ideas from a growing TV market in science fiction and horror. With shows such as The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and American Gothic riding high in the ratings. And with this in mind, it is no surprise that Final Destination was born out of an episode written for The X-Files.
Final Destination came from the imagination of Jeffrey Reddick, his work destined for The X-Files TV treatment. However, on advice from New Line Cinema, Reddick was encouraged to flesh his script out to a feature-length copy. Duly working with The X-Files series writers Glen Morgan and James Wong in creating what would become Final Destination. With James Wong swapping his TV directing duties for his first big-screen outing. Ultimately creating a film that was not only destined to breath new life into the teen horror market but also create a whole host of sequels of varying quality.
Deaths Sadistic Design
It is common knowledge that the only real certainty of life is death. A truth and fear that has transcended the boundaries of religion, belief and culture throughout human civilisation. While equally finding itself translated into film throughout the history of the medium. With the Grim Reaper appearing as a central character in films ranging from The Seventh Seal to A Christmas Carol. Each appearance embodying the finality and fear of a figure synonymous with the Black Death in 14th Century Europe. The 1990s saw a resurgence of the Grim Reaper in film and TV, while writers equally tried to modernise the ancient figure of folklore. With both film and television exploring the mythology of the Reaper, while embedding this within a human fear of deaths inescapable grasp.
Meet Joe Black premiered in cinemas in 1998, combining a unique love story with themes of mortality. As death allows a young man (Brad Pitt) to live after a hit and run accident. On the condition that he allows death to take his body and experience the one thing, he fails to understand. Love. However, nothing can circumnavigate the need for death to claim a soul, even when saving another. A theme that would also find a voice in Final Destination two years later. Where Deaths plan is also fixed in motion, no matter of the human desire to survive or cheat mortality.
While Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners equally played on the human fear of death, layering its narrative with dark comedy and horror. As the 14th Century figure of the Reaper was unmasked as two ghostly serial killers hellbent on claiming more lives. Meanwhile on television Reaper and Pushing Daisies both reimagined and subverted the character of the Reaper. Playing with the concept of life and death coexisting in a pre-determined universe of human experience. And even in gaming, the Grim Reaper found himself at the forefront of the Playstation revolution, with Grim Fandango.
It is difficult to accept death in this society because it is unfamiliar. In spite of the fact that it happens all the time, we never see it
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (Death: The Final Stage of Growth, 1975)
But it was Final Destination that rose to the top of the pile with its fresh portrayal of death. Releasing the character from his hood, gown and sickle, while creating a far more scary force in cinema. The unseen assailant who won’t let anything come in the way of his assigned victim. Ultimately reimagining the Grim Reaper as a relentless serial killer.
Planes, Trains and Gore
From the outset, Final Destination understands the deepest fears we carry in our daily lives. Fears that niggle at the corners of our subconscious mind, no matter how confident we may appear to be. And by dovetailing these subconscious fears with the ultimate, uncontrollable serial killer, Final Destination embeds itself into our subconscious. Not only ensuring its success as a modern horror movie but equally transcending the boundaries of the teen slasher film. Reflecting back to us our vulnerability and fear within a classic horror movie template.
As John Denver sings out across a busy airport, flight 180 marks the start of Final Destinations rollercoaster of horror. Latching onto our collective fear of flying, while dovetailing this with the mysteries of precognition and dreams.
From the outset, Alex has a feeling of impending disaster, one born of small coincidences, cemented by a horrific dream. Mirroring a collective human fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, while asking the question ‘Should I trust my intuition?’ These are fears that play into a human desire to be in control of the world around us. While toying with our primaeval fear of death occurring within a situation outside of our control. For example getting on a plane, where our lives lay in the hands of technology, pilots and the forces of nature.
These uncontrollable fears are revisited when Carter believes he can control his destiny by placing his car on an active railway line. Only to find the engine won’t start, his belief in his superiority let down by technology and engineering. At the same time, as his girlfriend is taken from him by a speeding bus. The end of her life subject a simple misstep and lack of concentration. But this fear of our vulnerability also stretches to the home. As we watch the security of everyday life dissected in a blaze of pure horror with Tod’s bathroom hanging and Miss Lewton’s death by kitchenware.
It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live
Marcus Aurelius 121 AD – 180 AD
But Final Destination doesn’t stop with our fear of death, with its narrative equally reflecting how this fear can stop us from living. As we witness Alex barricade himself in a shed, trying to cheat the inevitable, while similarly denying himself to the opportunity to live and love. In turn, reflecting the superhuman feelings associated with teenage life, and the vibrant energy and belief in overcoming anything, even death. The truth of human mortality not yet having cast its shadow upon the teenager through close friends or family. And while Final Destination may point to a grand design in life and death, it equally asks us to reflect on how we would act if this were true.
And maybe it is here where Final Destination is at its most powerful. Challenging our fear of the inevitable end, while also demonstrating that death does not discriminate based on age. And no matter how superior we may feel in our youth. Or how invulnerable to pain and disaster we may think we are. Death continues to surround us, its unseeable and sometimes sudden descent, something that should drive us to live and cherish each moment; no matter our age. For when death comes knocking its how we have lived that is more important than how we die.
Director: James Wong