We horror fans love to rank the franchises, but the problem (especially on Twitter, as there's often no leftover space for context) is that there usually isn't any grading scale to go along with it. When I rank the Child's Plays, something has to be last (Seed), but I still like it more or less - and on the other hand while I've never given it any serious thought, if I were to rank the Puppet Master movies, I wouldn't necessarily qualify whatever ended up on top (3, 4, and the newest one, I think?) as a particularly *good* movie. And then you get into the dropoff - Jason X lands one slot above Jason Goes To Hell in my book, but the grade goes from like a B to a C- at best. Maybe we should just stop doing these things.
However that's not my point for today. Last week the topic of the Final Destinations came up; specifically how "bad" the fourth film was. Granted, it's not exactly the best the series has to offer in any capacity (besides usage of Shinedown, perhaps, as I am a fan), and while I personally give it a slight edge over FD3, I'd never think much of seeing it at the bottom of someone's rank of the five films. But the pure hate for the film became evident when someone said they hadn't seen it yet, as one person replied that they should skip it entirely, and another ranked it behind a root canal. Come on now! Have you even HAD a root canal? First off, between the numbing and actual work it lasts longer than this 82 minute bit of popcorn nonsense, so you're already on the losing end of this (hyperbolic) argument. Then I realized I hadn't watched the entire film since the press screening ten years ago, so I started wondering if I was remembering it being better than it was. So I threw in my Blu-ray and gave it a 2nd look...
...and nope, I still enjoyed it. Not as much as I did the first time around, but to be fair most of these movies don't exactly improve on subsequent viewings. Also, it wasn't in 3D and it was at home by myself - no crowd experience or extra dimension to add to the fun. Thanks to Los Angeles' healthy repertory scene, I've been able to watch so many older films with a crowd after years of only home viewings (often alone, maybe with one other person i.e. my wife), and I'm always delighted to discover how much better certain films play in that setting. I always felt that Friday the 13th Part 3, for example (also a 3D entry) was kind of a chore at home, but I've seen it a few times on the big screen now and I always have a blast. And hell, I won't even LISTEN to your negative opinion on F13: New Beginning unless you've seen it with 200 other people laughing at "Damned enchiladas!"
But even alone, I had a good time with this one, which celebrates its 10th birthday tomorrow. One thing I like is that it's so mercenary, racking up the series' highest number of on-screen kills despite the shortest runtime, as if to distill the Final Destination experience to its purest essence. I suspect this may be why it was so fun in 3D, as the money shots just kept coming with precious few moments spent on talky scenes that were in no way enhanced by the effect. Yes, this means character development was at an all time low, but by this point it was clear that no one ever survives these things (whoever "escapes" Death in the big climax is always killed in an epilogue) so I can see why they might not feel the need to bother, since we're here for the death scenes and don't want to be bummed out by this or that person's demise because we knew about all of their hopes and dreams. There's no masked maniac, but these are essentially slasher movies - as long as we don't actively hate the characters and WANT them to die, it's fine if they're a bit of a blank slate.
That said, the most hateful character is also the first one to get offed after the big racetrack disaster (the series' least identifiable, to be fair - we've all done the other things but for most of us our NASCAR experiences have probably been on TV). That would be the racist character, and I have no defense for him whatsoever - other than to say that they wisely not only dispatched him quickly (his death occurs I think five minutes after he was "saved" at the disaster) but also gave him one of the most painful and prolonged deaths of the entire series, I think (tied with 3's overrated tanning bed one anyway*). Most of the sequences across the five films have the long Rube Goldberg-ian chain of events, but with rare exceptions the amount of physical harm to the victim is brief more often than not - they get hit by a bus, decapitated or impaled by a flying object, etc. But the racist asshole? It's the opposite - the sequence is relatively brief (something falls on his gear shift, sending the truck rolling down the street, and he's caught on a dangling tow hook when trying to stop it), but his pain goes on longer, as he suffers the burns from the tow chain sparking a fire AND the scraping against pavement for a good 30 seconds before finally dying (when the truck that's towing him explodes). Hell yes.
As for the others, they're a bit bland, yes, but I didn't hate them, and honestly, I couldn't tell you much about any of the series' characters thus far. Whenever I note I prefer this one to the third film, someone is quick to note that Mary Winstead gives that one the win, but is her character really all that memorable? The only thing I remember about her after a few viewings is that she didn't notice her own goddamn sister sitting behind her on a roller coaster. I think it's just because Mary Winstead herself is someone we like (hence why these defenses always refer to her real name rather than her character's name, which I bet you can't remember without looking), not because her character was exactly Laurie Strode or Nancy Thompson. That said, Haley Webb's Janet is more fun than Shantel VanSanten's Lori here in The, so I do wish the two were swapped, but eh, it's worth it for Janet's hilarious defiance at the climactic movie theater vision, where she refuses to believe in hero Nick's newest "bad feeling" and shouts "I AM MEANT TO SEE THIS MOVIE!" before the screen explodes (in 3D!) and she is impaled by shrapnel. Heh.
I also like the new ideas they tried out in this one. The series' formula is a bit limiting - someone has a premonition of a disaster and saves a few friends and strangers, but then they all end up getting killed in very convoluted ways a few days later, because Death cannot be cheated. And because by most fans' opinions the second film actually improved on the first, the bar is set high for sequels even as the template gets a bit worn. So it's understandably harder for each sequel to live up to the first two, but they gave it a good shot here. I particularly loved the idea that the character of George (Mykelti Williamson), a security guard for the racetrack who got involved in the scuffle that ended up saving their lives, is unable to kill himself because he's not next in Death's sequence, something they can really run with in a future installment after getting more elaborate with it here (the idea was also quickly teased in FD2, with a gun not working) and getting a bit more into how it worked. They don't show it, but he tells us about his curious predicament - he swallows pills and then pukes them up, runs a hose from the exhaust into his car, but can't get it started, etc. What I like is that they don't make it too ridiculous - he isn't invincible, but Death (for... "reasons") utilizes his control over all earthly objects to *save* someone just as he does to kill him when it's their turn. Also, the visions now show the hero clues that can help him (and us) figure out how Death might strike, even though they tend to be red herrings as many of the sequences, like the hair salon one, have the big chain of events only for the victim to get killed by something unrelated.
I can see why it's easier to dismiss than the others, as it's sort of an off-brand one in many ways. For starters it was shot in the US, primarily New Orleans (as were several movies at the time, part of an initiative to bring business back to the area after Katrina) instead of Canada like the others, giving it a warmer/brighter look than its brethren (a godsend for 3D viewing, which indeed was not as effective in the otherwise superior fifth entry). It's also the only one Tony Todd has no involvement with whatsoever (his mortician character Bludworth appeared in 1, 2, and 5, but Todd provided some vocal cameos for 3) and he is missed, as is composer Shirley Walker, who passed away in 2006. Hell it didn't even have a number in the title; it's referred to as FD4 in shorthand, but the actual "The Final Destination" title seems sillier in retrospect than F13's "The Final Chapter" as they at least continued the subtitle tradition after ("New Beginning", "Jason Lives", etc) but just went back to numbers for the next one here.
So yeah, it's got some rough spots, and I can't argue if you rank it last, but it's still a fun entry that lives up to most of the series' standards (and is arguably better than any other major modern horror franchise's "worst" entry - would you really rather suffer through Paranormal Activity 4 or Hellraiser: Hellworld again?). The franchise has been on hold since 2011's FD5 (it's mostly a financial thing - they cost more than the average horror film but don't make as much money as the much cheaper Conjuring type of films), but I would bet that it returns someday in some form - the brand is too strong to let it just, ahem, die. Until then, I'm just happy that I have five existing entries to choose from, and that - unlike just about any other horror series - I like all of them just fine.
*I know that sequence is much-loved, but I never enjoyed it - it's overly drawn out AND baffling even by this series' logic; how that plank manages to secure BOTH beds is still beyond me after a few viewings. FD3's best deaths are the weights and the drive-thru, end of story!