The Final Destination series is sometimes regarded as horror-lite. The movies are fun, entertaining, fast-paced, brightly coloured, and star pretty people you’ve probably never heard of before. Death is inescapable in the Final Destination universe, but at least it’ll set up elaborate Rube Goldberg-esque traps before it finally bumps you off.
Lots of people who don’t otherwise enjoy horror films, who shudder at the prospect of sitting through a Saw movie, will happily hand over their cash at the box office to see a Final Destination sequel. And you don’t need to concentrate especially hard on a Final Destination film; it’s all pretty lightweight and silly.
Except, after the movie’s over, you have to go home. And suddenly all those onscreen deaths that seemed so ridiculous and funny – audiences often laugh, clap, or cheer when Final Destination characters meet their inevitable and messy ends – suddenly seem a bit scarier. Because the thing with Final Destination is that there is no killer; the killer is, well, Death itself, and the whole world is in on it.
Anything pointy, wet, slippery, flammable, or heavy is suddenly the enemy. People die easily in Final Destination movies; if anything falls on a Final Destination character, from any height, it’s pretty much guaranteed to kill them, and messily, but somehow that just serves to emphasise our own mortality.
In most horror movies, there’s a way to survive. Scream taught us the rules, way back in 1996: don’t drink, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex, and don’t say “I’ll be right back.” Most slasher movies are crude morality tales, where being a good person (according to a fairly arbitrary set of rules, granted) means you get to live until the end credits. Jigsaw’s traps are designed to allow the victim at least some chance of survival; given enough bullets, food, and water, plus a safe place to hide, you can probably survive a zombie outbreak.
But in Final Destination, there is absolutely no way you’re gonna make it out alive if Death’s got you on his list. There’s no reason why a particular person is granted a vision of the future that allows them to escape the initial, spectacular accident; they just got lucky. The accidents in Final Destination movies are set up, but not by a person; they’re created by Death, or Fate, or whatever shadowy force is apparently pulling the strings.
Throughout the series, characters have tried to find loopholes, but ultimately none of them have worked: Death might leave them alone for an extra couple of days while bumping off the next person on the list, but it always comes back round to get them in the end. It’s not something that seems especially scary when you’re sitting in the cinema, and most of us probably don’t believe in fate and predestination, so the concept is just kind of funny…
Until you’re in the car, driving home, and notice that there’s a lorry in front of you carrying flammable gases. Or logs. Or you’re on a train, and it unexpectedly has to stop, or go over a bridge. Or you’re walking along the street and someone drives past way too fast, or you trip over an uneven bit of pavement. Or you’re making dinner and suddenly realise how sharp your knife is, and how close your tea towel is to an open flame. Suddenly, nothing is safe, and the universe is a cold, uncaring place, and one day you’re going to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The Final Destination franchise promises you light entertainment for ninety minutes, then leaves you with a pathological fear of almost everything – and a mild existential crisis into the bargain. Thanks, guys.