Tag: david r. ellis

The Final Destination


The Final Destination (2009)
★ / ★★★★

It is apparent that “The Final Destination” is a product of its time, when it was considered “cool” or “hip” to have objects thrown at you in 3D. The fourth entry in the series is the most exhausted and uninspired—surprising because Eric Bress, the screenwriter, and David R. Ellis, the director, also helmed the far superior “Final Destination 2” which is filled to brim with memorable deaths and joyous twists. What is left here is scraps, eighty minutes of laughably bad dialogue, boring death scenes with minimal setup, and characters that are either dull or offensively cliché.

This movie has the nerve to flaunt an opening credits that references previous death scenes in the series. It is almost like a dare for us to compare them to what this picture has to offer—and the competition is not even close. Here, it is obvious that far too much CGI is utilized to the point where, for example, when someone gets impaled by a metal rod through his chest, it does not feel horrifying or shocking, just fake. This approach persists throughout the work, and it is amazing that nobody spoke up and claimed that none of the images on screen are effective. Instead of offering an experience, it becomes a vehicle for special and visual effects.

Here is a first in the series: a completely forgettable premonition sequence. The previous movies really take the time to introduce every element that must come together in order to deliver a jaw-dropping accident (or “accident”—depending on how you see it). There is a sense of timing, patience, a feeling of eeriness and certain doom. We get terrific terrorized reaction shots from those experiencing visions of the future. But in this film, all of these positive qualities are thrown out the window. Why?

We witness multiple crashes in a racetrack, but we don’t feel invested in the pandemonium because it all happens so quickly. Showing a crowd running away, screaming, and causing a stampede is not right in a movie like this. In the predecessors, there is a reason why we are stuck in one place with the characters—a plane, a freeway, a roller coaster—it is meant to create a sense of claustrophobia. These are places we often find ourselves in. The message is made literal: There is no escape from death. Who goes to a racetrack?

Furthermore, it does not help that Bobby Campo, who plays our protagonist Nick, is not a highly expressive performer. Compare his wooden performance to Devon Sawa, A.J. Cook, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead from the first three “Final Destination” films, respectively, and the difference is night and day. I felt as though Campo was half-asleep while filming his scenes. Maybe it is not entirely his fault. It is the director’s job to review a scene, note what does or doesn’t work, and execute the necessary changes. Many scenes here require reshoots due to flat performances, main and supporting alike. At one point, I wondered whether the cast and crew were on an extremely tight schedule. One cannot help but get the impression that something—anything—simply needed to be shot and submitted, to get it over with.

It goes without saying that “The Final Destination” offers a depressing, disposable experience. A part of me is glad it isn’t officially named “Final Destination 4” because the work overall is an embarrassment.

Final Destination 2


Final Destination 2 (2003)
★★★ / ★★★★

It doesn’t try so much to outdo the original in superficial ways. Instead, David R. Ellis’ worthy sequel to “Final Destination” respects its predecessor by taking ideas from the source, expanding upon them, and then—this is key—introducing new wrinkles for us to examine. Most of the time sequels attempt to outdo the original in this way: increasing the body count, amping up the violence, and intensifying the gore. While this installment does exactly these things, I counted three twists (which I will not reveal) that play upon what we already know: Death will be coming after the survivors of a freak accident, this time involving a pileup on the freeway.

Viewers will remember this film for the logs falling off a truck which then triggers a chain reaction of sheer, unadulterated mayhem. It is a wonderfully brutal opening scene, almost the exact opposite of the impressive first scene of the film that came before. In the original, our characters are in an enclosed space and we watch the order in which they die following an explosion. The approach feels rather clinical. This time, however, characters sit in their own vehicles while in motion. The method is entirely different. Editing is more pronounced, more purposeful, more confident. It functions on a higher kinetic energy. Blink for a spit-second longer and one is likely to miss a bone-crunching, skin-melting death. It is a wreck one cannot—should not—look away from. Because in this movie, the order of death still matters.

A.J. Cook is Kimberly, a high school student on a road trip with her friends. She is the seer, capable of experiencing premonitions that could cheat Death’s plans… at least for a while. Cook plays the character with utmost conviction, but I never felt as though there is much fight in her. Thus, it is the correct decision to bring back Ali Larter as Clear, one of the survivors of Flight 180 in the former picture. Larter chooses not to play her character as the mousey type this time around. And so we believe Clear has endured hardships that took place after the first movie. It is an interesting decision by screenwriters J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress to divide likability and strength between two characters. In horror films, especially splatterfests, one main character, usually female, possesses these two attributes. I appreciated the difference.

Here is a movie in which the violence paralyzes you. Twice or thrice I caught my jaw drop following a spine-chilling death scene, whether it is someone bring crushed by glass or a person bring sliced clean by barbed wires. I think it is because these death scenes almost always possess a dramatic parabola: the set-up, the false alarm, the climax, the resolution, the irony. Although we do not get to know any character in a meaningful way, the grim sense of humor is so sharp, the material is constantly pushed forward. In modern horror movies, it is uncommon for me to feel like I’m constantly trying to catch up to the screenplay.

“Final Destination 2” offers a good time. The script may be a weak point, but the sheep to be slaughtered are not meant to be articulate. It is all about the craft from behind the camera, the complex but clear choreography in showing the cause and effect of actions (or inaction) of doomed characters, and the breathless pace of a horror picture with numerous surprising ideas. It doesn’t always have to be about the blood. So it holds up upon repeated viewings.

Shark Night


Shark Night (2011)
★ / ★★★★

A group of college students (Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Zylka, Sinqua Walls, Alyssa Diaz, Katharine McPhee, Joel David Moore) visited a lake house in Louisiana for some fun in the sun after finals. One of them, Sara (Paxton), was from the area but she left her hometown three years ago and never went back. Her friends thought it was strange how Sarah, in all the years they’ve known her, never became intimate or even hooked up with a guy. Meanwhile, the barely clothed undergraduates, gleefully playing in the lake, were unaware that the water was infested with sharks. “Shark Night,” based on the screenplay by Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg, lacked the courage to come off as completely ludicrous. If it had been more confident, it could have worked as a parody or even a satire. From its first scene involving a topless girl who had to search for her swimsuit in the water, it was obvious that the material wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. The shark attack lasted for about three seconds of choppy editing and it wasn’t scary in the least. While a handful death scenes, aided by CGI, were rather neat, the few seconds prior to the characters’ deaths felt almost like wasted time. There was no patience from behind the camera prior and during the attacks. The formula was this: The camera would go underwater and about five seconds later, someone screamed out of pain. Sometimes having a character just pulled from underwater by a very strong shark and its victim never having to scream for help could work just as effectively or even more so. Let the camera linger for about five seconds on the surface of the water. Doing so would give us a chance to observe waves created out of panic turn into utter quiescence–an illusion that a shark attack never happened. Moreover, the movie could have benefited from more extreme typecasting. For instance, Nick (Milligan) was supposed to be the geek who wanted to become a doctor. He had his MCAT coming up but the only reason he decided to come with was because he pined for Sara. They knew each other through other friends but he lacked bravado to ask her out on a simple date. He didn’t think he was good enough for her. Yet without his glasses, he looked like another jock who should have all the confidence in the world. How were we supposed to believe that he had something to prove? The one character I found most interesting was Blake (Zylka), the blonde Adonis obsessed with fake tanning. He wasn’t especially smart, even self-absorbed at times, but when tragedy struck, it turned out he was the most sensitive and relatable. Having a final girl, which inevitably just had to be Sara because it was her hometown, was anticlimactic and frustrating because the character wasn’t established as strongly as she should have been. As a rule of thumb, for horror movies that require a “final girl,” the protagonist has to be someone we will be behind no matter what. Sara wasn’t that person. Ironically, it was Blake. It could have been an excellent twist if the writers had been more aware of and fleshed out the inconsistencies in their screenplay. Directed by David R. Ellis, “Shark Night” was tame compared to other bloodfests like Alexandre Aja’s “Piranha.” It wasn’t even as fun.