Once you get past the immediate question of how many “final” destinations there can be (what’s next, The Really Final — No Fooling — Destination?), this is an efficiently trashy horror flick of the Creative Death school.
For the uninitiated, the Creative Death horror sub-genre has been around nigh on to forever (at least dating back to 1933’s Terror Aboard), but really seems to have come into popular favor with The Omen movies, before it was co-opted by the teen-slasher-movie cottage industry. In a Creative Death film, plot is secondary (virtually inessential in some cases) to a formula based entirely on devising ever more clever and elaborate methods to cause the demise of its characters. That was the hook (no pun intended) of the original Final Destination, and it’s the hook here as well.
There’s no actual plot, just a premise: A group of characters — most of whom seem to have done nothing to deserve a cruel end — manage to thwart “death’s design” by not handing in their dinner pails when they’re supposed to. The problem is, you see, that death is a bad sport and he (or she or it), when jilted, is going to come looking for you to set things right. Now before you laugh, you have to ask yourself just how far removed this is conceptually from Max von Sydow’s character playing chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot) in Ingmar Bergman’s iconic The Seventh Seal — not to mention the Ancient Mariner shooting craps with Death in Mr. Coleridge’s epic poem.
All right, so neither Bergman nor Coleridge thought to re-invent the Reaper as Rube Goldberg, and both are notably deficient in the exploding-car department, but that’s probably because neither gentleman had the cultural advantages of the horror genre of the latter part of the 20th century. They are thereby absolved of these shortcomings. And Final Destination 2 is here to fill in those unfortunate oversights with a vengeance.
The film is essentially a reshuffling of the original Final Destination — minus all but two of the first movie’s characters. (Despite the fact that the original Final Destination left its star, Devon Sawa, intact, the new movie has him conveniently — and inexpensively — meeting his fate off-screen before the story begins. Perhaps Sawa has priced himself out of Final Destination 2’s budget thanks to such timeless classics as Extreme Ops.)
This time out, we have the aggressively normal Kim Corman (A.J. Cook, Out Cold) having a psychic flash of an improbably choreographed road accident that will soon befall her and her friends. When the events leading up to that accident start occurring in real life, Kim manages to thwart their deaths — and those of several others — by blocking the entrance ramp to the highway where the accident occurs. Faster than you can say “Jerry Bruckheimer,” death starts setting things right by offing her friends, and Kim’s left to try to convince those of them still among the living that they’re in mortal danger. So she seeks out the help of Clear Rivers (yep, that’s the name of the character played by Ali Larter in both movies), the lone survivor from death’s dance card in the first film. It doesn’t help, of course, and the deaths start piling up.
Possibly the assembled victims’ chances for survival would have increased had they shown a little more intellect than they do. I’m not sure how I’d react to all this carnage myself, but I do think I’d draw the line at hanging out in an apartment with a collection of spears leaning against a wall, a kayak suspended from the ceiling, ice-skates dangling in a closet next to an ice pick and a bowling ball precariously perched on a high shelf. This does not seem to occur to our heroes, however.
It really doesn’t matter. Such casual stupidity is part and parcel of this kind of film, which is designed more for ghoulish gleefulness than logic. The makers of Final Destination 2 not only don’t care that you’re apt to laugh at such an unsafe safe haven, they expect you to. It’s just a convention of the sub-genre. And anyway, the movie’s entire raison d’etre is the deaths. So the real question is how the ones here stack up against those in the original.
There isn’t anything quite as gruesomely absurd as the death of the Val Lewton character (the first movie named its characters after iconic horror-film specialists; this one makes a low-budget, half-hearted attempt with the names Corman and Carpenter), but it’s still death a la a game of Mousetrap — and, if anything, it’s more spectacular. The opening carnage, for example, is on a much more epic scale than the plane explosion in Final Destination. But where this round best succeeds is in the area of misdirection: Time and again — but most effectively in the bit where a person is trapped in a car — Final Destination 2 sets things up to appear as if death will occur in a certain manner, only to blindside the viewer at the last moment with a nasty twist.
Yes, it’s gory and it’s stupid, but it still works as a pretty effective thrill ride of the first-you-jump-then-you-laugh-at-yourself variety. There’s a sort of a plot running through the situation, but I’m not sure why they bothered, since it makes absolutely no sense and is finally just another piece of misdirection (albeit of a less effective variety). Final Destination 2 is at its best when it’s content to be nothing more than the blood-splattered shock machine it ultimately is.