Thursday, April 24, 2014

Final Destination 2


It's been very taxing recently, what with the return of Norman in the flesh, or at least a variation on Norman in the flesh. While I have dearly longed for the return of my companion and soul mate since his untimely drowning in the Sparklett's Dancing Waters attraction at Sea World, I am somewhat unprepared for this wish to be granted. I have yet to decide whether Tommy, my Jungian therapist in whose body Norman now resides, is in truth my husband or just a rather unusual member of the household.  Should address him as Tommy or Norman?  At least Norman's spirit is now properly contained and there has been far less shattering of crockery and valuable figurines.

I spent the morning rehearsing the finale of Mother Teresa: The Musical, a fabulous scene in which Mother Teresa dies and her spirit ascends to the heavens to be greeted by the entire Catholic calendar of saints, staged as a kicky march to When The Saints Go Marching In played by the entire cast on silver kazoos. When the fog effects work properly, it's going to be sensational. At the moment, the Rosco smoke machines are only succeeding in gassing the entire soprano section, making their kazoo harmony quite ineffective as they're busy coughing up copious amounts of phlegm. The technicians are working on it and promise that it will be fixed for Monday when we do our next run through. It had better work; the poor girl playing Saint Catherine nearly fell off her wheel with hacking and Saint Agnes had a serious wardrobe malfunction, exposing far more of her bosom than was intended.

I returned from the rehearsal hall to Chateau Maine intending to put my feet up and enjoy a film. Thoughts of death and resurrection were plaguing my mind so, as I flipped through various movie channels, I decided to treat myself to a film that considered such ultimate questions. No such film was available and I had to make do with a broadcast of Final Destination 2, a horror film from last year that I managed to miss in the theater, as I had managed to miss the original Final Destination several years before.

The original film concerned a bunch of up and coming young film and television stars (Including Kerr Smith, Devon Sawa and Seann William Scott), playing extremely aged students, who were saved from a fatal plane crash through a premonition. The premise of the film is that death intended them to be on the plane and the young and attractive cast were therefore killed in various grotesque ways to restore the balance - a sort of Ten Little Indians with death and the paranormal in the role of the murderer and the audience encouraged to root for each increasingly bizarre 'accident'.

The film was successful enough to allow the green lighting of a sequel, somewhat problematic as most of the characters from the first film ended up dead. The one surviving student, Clear (Ali Larter) and a spooky mortuary attendant who knows more about death than he should (horror film vet Tony Todd) being about all the writers had to work with. The budget was obviously lower this time as the cast is rounded out with attractive young faces belonging to actors of whom you've never heard.

This time around, Kimberley Corman (A. J. Cook) is a young woman, off on a spring break road trip to Daytona beach accompanied by three friends. Along the way, she has a premonition of a horrific highway accident in which she and her friends will be killed. Concerned, she stops her car, blocking the highway onramp and preventing various people who should have been crushed, cremated or otherwise creamed in the accident from meeting their ordained fate. (Her three friends, however, still get theirs). As in the original film, these souls who have been saved (on the inevitable first anniversary of the events in the first film) are dispatched one by one in various freakish ways. It's up to Kimberley, Clear (who's spent the interim hiding out in a lunatic asylum) and a studly cop interested in Kimberley (Michael Landes) to unravel death's design and save themselves.

The film goes about dispatching its characters with gruesome efficiency. As it's clear ten minutes into the film, who's going to die and who has a shot at living, it's just a matter of trying to decide which of the various possible lethal accidents facing our heroes is actually going to succeed. There's a lot of referencing of death and life by characters in various superficial conversations but none of it amounts to anything and the film can't even make up its mind as to what the rules of the game actually are. From time to time it cheats its own internal logic, just to give the audience another jolt.

The screenplay, by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, doesn't give us characters; just types that can be put into situations which will eventually lead to a special effects blood extravaganza. The cast are game, and try to infuse these cartoons with some humanity but there's really no room for character development before we're off to the next impalement.

Director David Ellis, who has had a long Hollywood career directing second units and stunts for major productions, has a good eye for stunt work. The opening highway crash is masterfully filmed and put together with every little moment and image leading to an increasing feeling of dread until carnage actually ensues. He also infuses the proceedings with plenty of visual riffs to classic horror movies of the past (the clown and tree from Poltergeist, the institution from Halloween 2 a death out of the Dutch film, The Lift) and he knows how to set up a shot for maximum visual frisson. There are also lots of little 'keep them guessing' touches where death seems to be creeping up in one way, but then comes in quite another after a narrow escape.

The film's biggest weakness is it's somewhat jokey attitude towards death. Without characters we care about and with death that has no definite rules, but at times seems to be able to manipulate physical objects, and other times simply use events as agents, much of the mayhem comes across as ludicrously silly (especially a completely unnecessary epilogue.) We're not even sure what to make of the heroine's second sight which seems to have no specific rules other than to set up the next sequence.

While the film has some great visual moments and some innovative stunt work, it's undercut by its not putting more care into its human element. It's too bad. Ellis is a talented director and, with luck, someday he'll get better material.

Death by logging truck. Death by tractor-trailer. Death by explosion. Death by fire escape. Death by plate glass. Death by elevator. Death by PVC pipe. Death by barbed wire. Death by barbeque. Fish mobile. Concerned parent. Deadly pigeon. Man with hooks. Addled teens. Nipple ring removal. 

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