While Wendy and her high school pals are enjoying graduation night at the local amusement park, her sense of foreboding about riding a roller coaster becomes a full-fledged and extremely detailed premonition of an accident that will kill all aboard. Upon realizing the ride hasn’t actually left the platform, she freaks out and gets the attendant to let her off. Her boyfriend’s best friend, Kevin, decides to go with her, prompting a scuffle that gets the whole back half of the coaster ejected from the ride. As they’re escorted away, the coaster crashes just as Wendy predicted, killing her boyfriend, her best friend and a dozen or so other students.
As in Final Destination and Final Destination 2, it quickly becomes clear that Wendy and the others haven’t avoided death for long; they just made “it” really mad by missing their appointment. Death is still gunning for them. Their only advantage is that Kevin was able to find the plot synopsis for the first Final Destination film online. So he and Wendy know all about the high school French class that got kicked off Flight 180 just before it exploded and how death hunted each of them down in the order they would have died on the plane. Bonus: The digital pictures Wendy took the night of the coaster accident contain visual clues to exactly how death plans to take out each of the 10 or so survivors. If Wendy and Kevin can find a way to intervene, they just might thwart death’s plan before it works its way to them.
It would be a stretch to point to any element in this carnival blood bath as positive. There is some value to raising the issue of the brevity of life and the inevitability of death, but this film studiously avoids any real reflection on how those realities should impact our daily lives or our view of the afterlife.
The film opens on images of a funhouse fortune telling machine and a pinball that bounces around until finally disappearing into a hole marked “death.” The suggestion throughout the story is that once fate has marked you to die, a powerful “living force” steps in to make sure you’re terminated in one way or another.
Although the lethal coaster is guarded by a giant horned Satan figure and called “Devil’s Flight,” the reality of any kind of heaven-or-hell afterlife is discounted. Already inclined to believe life just ends, Wendy sees no reason why her boyfriend would care about her on earth even if he was in heaven with “Lincoln and Gandhi.” Later, she and Kevin become more convinced of the absence of eternity when they don’t “feel” the spirits of departed loved ones with them.
At the amusement park before the accident, Kevin uses a digital camera to take a shot up a girl’s skirt. (Later we’re shown the photo.) Two other girls—seen first with their thong underwear visible above their low pants—are badgered by an obnoxious, older guy with a video camera who (using crude language) keeps asking to see their breasts. In fact, he and others make several vulgar references to both male and female body parts.
That older guy never gets his wish granted, but the filmmakers evidently felt that moviegoers share his voyeuristic fantasies, because those same two girls also go to a tanning salon where they strip down and walk around naked for an extended scene. The camera tracks up and down their bodies several times, lingering on their exposed breasts. When asked why she left her panties on, one responds that her boyfriend “gets off” on tan lines. This completely gratuitous teen nudity is bad enough, but it gets worse …
… when death catches up with the girls, toppling a series of unlikely dominoes to trap them in the short-circuiting tanning beds and literally broil them alive. In the seemingly endless and stomach-turning sequence, the skin on their still exposed bodies darkens, boils, bleeds and eventually bursts into flame as they scream in agony. Given the leering nature of the nudity, this grisly scene feels deeply sadistic and hateful. As it happens early on, it also gives notice to the nature of the film to come, a series of gruesome death scenes in which heads are burst open, riddled with nails or popped like water balloons in a torrent of blood. The lucky ones are simply impaled, while other bodies are ripped asunder and witnessed still twitching. The camera rarely turns away.
In addition to around 10 abuses of God’s name (including “g–d–n”), the f-word is heard around 40 times and the s-word around 20.
“Crack” is jokingly referred to.
Though clearly locked in a life-and-death struggle, Wendy, her sister and Kevin strangely never turn to their parents (or anyone outside the “death group”) for help.
The first Final Destination film—written and directed by the same team that put this third outing together—became a hit on the strength of its original idea and execution (so to speak). Though still fiercely gory and violent, that film didn’t seem to celebrate its inventive death scenes with the same twisted joy of Vol. 3. In a way, it also challenged viewers to wrestle a little with the big questions of life and death. Is the timing of our death predetermined? Can we avoid death for now? Will it matter if we do?
Director James Wong and his crew no longer seem to care about such big ideas, if they ever did. Instead, they simply repeat the same story line and up the wattage of the violence. More blood. More gore. More gross-out moments. The film falls into a predictable, eventually monotonous pattern of ratcheting up the tension by showing us how the universe is aligning to dismember the next, oblivious victim.
Worse, all three of these films create a strangely supernatural world in which God holds no sway, if He exists at all. Victims neither turn to God for Help nor scream out at Him in anger. Instead, death itself becomes a god. One character at a funeral questions a priest about the inequality of “death.” Another arrogantly shouts “f— death”—right before he dies. Death is credited with the all-powerful ability to engineer a ridiculously complex series of Rube Goldberg machinations to bring each victim to an explosive end. And death never fails.
Death is powerful and evil and brutal. That’s why it takes hopeful faith to buy into the idea that God is greater than death, that He defeated it once and for all when Jesus exited the tomb, that deathless life waits for those who trust in Him. But it’s a faith that frees us from fear of death—even death by roller coaster. Final Destination 3 will have none of that. Although clearly intended as a mere amusement park ride itself for those with a taste for cleverly delivered gore, it ultimately offers a hopeless and cynical worldview that death is our final master.