Final Destination 3 continues the movie franchise which also happens to serve as the latest incarnation of the slasher film sub-genre of horror movie. Franchises like Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street and, more importantly, their derivative knock offs are the kinds of empty story-telling people think of when they think of horror. In this case, the killer isn’t some madman in a mask, or a dream stalking terror, but Death itself wielding coincidence and circumstance as its weapons.

Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong (writers from The X-Files, Space: Above and Beyond, and Millennium)–James Wong also directed the movie–you have to wonder if they have exhausted the possibilities of the franchise. More remake than sequel, as these types of franchises usually are, the movie sticks to the formula that made the original a success. Final Destination 3 delivers more of what the audience has come to expect from these movies. Don’t get me wrong, what it does it does quite effectively, there’s just not much of an actual story; more like a premise.

The movie opens with the “what’s going to happen” premonition (always the highlight sequence of sheer terror and brutality). Whoever has the premonition avoids death along with several compatriots. Then death proceeds to stalk the survivors–in the order in which they would have died originally–in a series of creative and vicious deaths. Each death is felt–and whether intentional or not–reveled in. The audience becomes gleeful participants as they watch the movie by being invited to play the “how are they going to die” game. Sadly, the movie doesn’t give us characters to care about, but rather interchangeable caricatures that exist to be fodder: the Goth-lite duo, the token black (jock), the smart chick with not quite dumb guy, and the preening girls. One barely gets a sense of the lead character, just enough to almost care what happens to her.

I’ve been in an on-going conversation with my fellow Hollywood Jesus reviewer, Chris Utley, over my theology of horror article. I suspect that movies like Final Destination 3 are what he has in mind when he says “if I do see a horror film, it’s only to glory in the ingenious methods in which the filmmakers off the characters.” Hopefully, murders/killings, no matter how inventive, should evoke a sense of horror, revulsion, and sadness in us. The evil presented in such films should move us to confront it where we find it and seek out redemption from it. Once we distance ourselves from the more objectionable elements of the story, we still have a story that has to be dealt/wrestled with. Sometimes, that is easier said than done, however, even Final Destination 3 gives us to plenty to wrestle with.

“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.” –Ecclesiastes 7:2

Horror is about fear and as Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) puts it, “Fear is like a living thing. Always with me.” While this fear may stem, as her boyfriend put it, “from your sense of having no control,”ultimately what we are afraid of is death. Another strength of horror movies is that they force us to meditate on our mortality. In fact, the fear of death fuels horror. The one spiritual point that cannot be evaded is the fact that we are forced to confront the reality, and seeming randomness of death. One character bemoans the unfairness and sheer capriciousness of death, as these young people die while others who do great evil live such long lives.

There is a wisdom that comes from contemplating death. The reality of death forces our main heroine to re-evaluate her life as to what is truly important, such as her relationship with her sister. With the idea of one’s impending mortality, the characters try to look for some sort of spiritual meaning to it all. At which point, the characters have to wrestle with whether they want to remain in a state of willful ignorance as to the reality of their situation.

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” –I Corinthians 15:55

While the Devil’s Flight roller coaster ride intones that “you can run but you can’t hide” and “this is the beginning of the end.” we have to ask the question “is Death really the end?” The title Final Destination hints that death may be our ultimate destination, the great nothing that awaits us all. The fact of the matter is that death isn’t the end. Another one of the great things about horror movies is that we, or at least the characters in the movie if they have any depth to them whatsoever, have to deal with the question of “what happens after death?” What is our Final Destination?

“He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.” –Isaiah 25:8

The ironic thing is that the object of the movie is for the characters to beat death. The one enemy that can’t be beaten and can’t be thwarted, at least not by running from it or trying to out-maneuver it. One of the internal rules of the movie is that if someone intervenes, if someone saves the next to die, the person fated to die can be skipped by death. As the Goth-lite male points out, only an act of self-sacrifice can thwart Death’s plan. Though Death is an enemy that stalks us, the movie’s theme echoes one presented in the Bible: that Death has been already overcome by the sacrificial death of Christ.

My reminder take home lesson from watching Underworld: Evolution is that watching movies is an expectations game. If you lower your expectations and enjoy this movie for what it is, you’re sure to have your expectations met. Both movies also remind us that any story, however slight that story may be, can be wrestled with. In Final Destination 3, Death inadvertently becomes something to be laughed at, our “whistling as we pass the cemetery” reaction to dealing with the idea of death. The movie literally presents dying as entertainment; a roller coaster thrill ride that entertains by killing people. The movie is what it is, without pretension or aspiration to anything greater. The death scenes in this movie franchise are some of the most creative ever filmed and ultimately, that’s what the audience wants to see: campy fun with top notch gore. If you enjoy the Final Destination movies, then you have more of what you came for … with different faces.