Death is a many splattered thing in Final Destination 3 and the lowest common denominator responds to it with delight—a vulgar entertainment for vulgar people. It’s a depressing movie statement—a reminder of how low a filmmaker will sink to pander to our most corrupt tendencies. I can imagine the hate mail now: “Chill out, man, death is funny!” Yes, it can be funny. Indeed, it sometimes is in Final Destination 2, but that’s because director David R. Ellis, unlike guttebrow-panderer James Wong, knows how to temper the cynicism and jokiness around which these films are built with visual sophistication and pop excitement—a combination he’d further exploit, and better work out, in Cellular. Ellis builds in the same way Wong destroys: the former uses Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” in Cellular to stress his hero’s evolving empathy; the latter uses “Love Rollercoaster” during a death sequence in Final Destination 3 to flaunt the depth of his callousness (the scene ends with a graphic match between a pair of tanning beads and coffins). One imagines Wong would beat Ellis in a limbo competition.
To prefer Final Destination 3 to its predecessor is to prefer the company of a cracked-out whore to a drag queen. Loudly and proudly, the queen mocks her audience but not without ribbing herself—and certainly without judgment. The street hooker, on the other hand, shows you her cooter, slaps you in the face for trying to touch it, and then shows it to you again. In short: she’s nasty and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s at this crass, hypocritical level that Final Destination 3 operates, seducing audiences with its blunt images and sounds. “Can you feel how vicious it was?” asks Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at one point. If Wong castigated rather than rewarded his audience for their response to the film’s violence it’d be easier to take this kind of inquiry for real. (Hostel isn’t very good, but at least Eli Roth neatly structures the “cause” of the film’s first half to the “effect” of its second—he doesn’t think far, but at least he thinks; and unlike Wong, who exploits 9/11 in one scene with little reason and even less explanation, Roth certainly knows how to follow through.)
Laughing at death can be a way of easing the feelings we may have about its finality, but the elaborate death sequences Wong and his co-screenwriter Glen Morgan concoct aren’t attempts to relieve tension; flippantly mocking even the superficial moral discourse they lazily litter throughout the film, these overgrown jocks deprave us and themselves by acknowledging they’re too cool for emotion. Everything’s a joke (a carnival prize evokes a penis—no surprise, I suppose, given the film is made by guys who think only with their other heads) and each Rube Goldberg set piece seems to exist for the sole reason of pissing farther than the last. These death rallies matter more than Wendy’s tears in one scene, in which she acknowledges her guilt over the death of her friends and subsequently alleviates her strained relationship to her sister. Feelings are “gay”—a sentiment Morgan and Wong no doubt share with their adolescent target audience. It’s why Kevin (Ryan Merriman) tells Wendy that he doesn’t want to know how he dies unless it involves something going up his butt. Welcome to Wong’s world, where homophobia and getting split in half are causes for celebration.