By 2000, the ensemble teen slasher movie was beginning to feel old, with many mediocre teen horrors following Scream’s success 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. The Faculty would pave the way for a set of uniquely different teen horrors from Final Destination to Jeepers Creepers, with studios openly exploring new and fresh approaches to the teen slasher genre. Here studios would look to TV for inspiration, from The X-Files to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and American Gothic.
Final Destination would come from the imagination of Jeffrey Reddick, his screenplay initially destined for The X-Files treatment. However, on advice from New Line Cinema, Reddick was encouraged to flesh out his script into a feature-length film, working alongside The X-Files series writers Glen Morgan and James Wong. The resulting story was destined to breathe new life into the teen horror market while giving birth to a franchise that continues to grow.
Final Destination (2000) ©️New Line Cinema
It is often said that the only absolute certainty in life is death, and as a result, the medium of film has long been obsessed with the mythical Grim Reaper. The 1990s saw a resurgence of interest in death as a leading character in film and TV while trying to modernise the ancient figure of folklore. Here 90s movies and TV would explore the mythology of the Reaper while embedding this within our collective fear of death’s inescapable grasp. For example, Meet Joe Black (1998) combines the classic love story with themes of mortality and finality. At the same time, Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners (1996) would reimagine the 14th Century figure of the Reaper as a ghostly serial killer.
Meanwhile, on television Reaper and Pushing Daisies both re-imagined and subverted the character of the Reaper as they explored the concept of life and death coexisting in a pre-determined universe. Final Destination owes much to all of these films and shows, and, just like, The Frighteners, it would reimagine the Grim Reaper as it discarded the hood, gown and sickle.
Final Destination would play on the deepest fears we all carry, fears that niggle no matter how confident we may appear to be. But its genius comes from dovetailing these subconscious, animalistic fears with the ultimate, unseen and uncontrollable serial killer, death. As John Denver sings out across a busy airport, flight 180 marks the start of Final Destination’s rollercoaster of horror by latching onto our deeply entrenched fears of flying.
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Many of you will be thinking, “not me”, or “I have no fear of flying.” I, too, don’t suffer anxiety when boarding a plane, taking off, landing or cruising at 38,000 feet. But when I hear a strange sound, or the engine roars unexpectantly, those niggles of doubt creep in and quickly build as the promise of safety is suddenly threatened. Alex (Devon Sawa) feels a sense of impending doom long before his dream due to a series of small coincidences. Again, this mirrors our collective fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time while asking us whether we should trust our animalistic intuition. These hooks dig into our desire to control the world around us while playing with our primaeval fear of death.
Instinctively, we as humans desire control over our surroundings, with this sense of control leading to a feeling of safety. Here Final Destination excels in creating nerve-shredding terror, whether in the form of a speeding bus, a slippery bathroom floor or a boiling kettle. Each beautifully orchestrated death understands human psychology and uses it to create a cinematic experience like no other. Many of you reading this will not have seen Final Destination in a cinema on its release, but trust me, it grabbed every audience member by the throat and wouldn’t let go. Twenty years on, none of that power has diminished, even if it suffered from several poor sequels. Final Destination is not only one of the best horrors of the 90s; it’s a seismic change in the landscape of the slasher and a psychological rollercoaster of terror.
Director: James Wong