Final Destination 2 Perfected the Art of the Gross-Out Kill
The long-running franchise only exists for one reason, and this was its masterpiece.
“When we first started writing this, we were trying to think, ‘How can we make Death just a total badass?’” noted Final Destination 2 co-writer Eric Bress ahead of the film’s 2003 release. Considering the sequel features an elevator guillotining, a 15-year-old boy getting squished to smithereens by a falling window pane, and a horrific traffic accident that left every viewer too scared to drive behind a log truck again, it’s fair to say they nailed the assignment.
It’s the latter that sets the wheels in motion for all the carnage ahead. While driving her friends to a spring break in Daytona, student Kimberly (A.J. Cook) foresees a highway pile-up where a falling log pierces the skull of Detective Thomas Burke (Michael Landes), lottery winner Evan (David Paetkau), is set ablaze, and teacher Eugene (T.C. Carson) gets pulverized by his out-of-control motorbike. Any doubts the franchise would struggle to surpass the original’s plane crash were quashed within the first 15 minutes.
Kimberly’s vision ends just before she gets steamrolled by a wayward truck, prompting her to block the onramp and the motley crew of frustrated passengers behind her. Soon after, the log truck incident occurs for real. As you’d expect, the Grim Reaper isn’t going to simply write his plans off.
The franchise would later up the ante by sparking its chain of events on the Devil's Flight rollercoaster (Final Destination 3) and at McKinley Speedway (The Final Destination). But the relative mundanity of FD2’s opening only heightens the terror. Visiting a theme park or a race track isn’t an everyday occurrence. Traveling in a car is. It’s little surprise back-to-basics prequel Final Destination 5 opted for a similar setup. And the film continues to play on our commonplace fears, as well as invoke new ones.
First victim Evan’s demise, for example, starts with something as innocuous as cooking some noodles in his apartment. Cue his hand getting stuck in a garbage disposal just as the overflowing pan sets the kitchen on fire. Far more playful than its predecessor, FD2 then teases audiences with numerous near-misses – he eventually breaks free, smashes the windows that suddenly slam shut, and swerves the exploding glass – before delivering the squeamish fatal blow: a falling escape ladder impaling him.
David R. Ellis, a former stuntman whose only previous directorial effort was the slightly less macabre Homeward Bound: Lost in San Francisco, continues to explore how the smallest life decisions can have the most disastrous consequences elsewhere. Following a perilous dentist appointment in which he was nearly electrocuted, gassed, and choked by a plastic fish, the series’ youngest victim, Tim (James Kirk), finally meets his maker by startling some pigeons. Grief-stricken mom Nora (Lynda Boyd), who witnessed her son’s squishing just feet away, then gets decapitated while trying to leave an elevator.
There’s also a greater sense of irony on display here. Nora only tries to make her exit after getting spooked by Rory’s premonition of a man with hooks; she’s joined in the elevator by a guy who, for some reason, is carrying a basket filled with prosthetic limbs. And poor Kat (Keegan Connor Tracy), the only victim to actually die in a vehicle, comes unstuck by the very thing designed to protect her – an airbag which, having been set off by the jaws of life, pushes her head back onto some PVC piping.
Not every Final Destination 2 death is quite as inspired. Kat’s delayed car accident leads to a gasoline leak, exploding news van, and a stray piece of chicken wire that slices through Rory in a manner similar to Seann William Scott’s Billy beheading in the first. And in the franchise’s biggest copout, we only learn Death has finally caught up with original lead Devon Sawa in an online news report, and, rather lamely, by a falling brick.
The second installment, however, is far more successful in adding to the film’s mythology elsewhere. Whereas future chapters seemed to exist purely for the pitch-black lols (see FD3’s tanning booth scene), FD2 at least tries to interweave a cohesive story around its kills. The gang haven’t been plucked by Death at random. They would, in fact, have all died the year previously had Flight 180’s survivors not got in the way. Kimberly, for example, only avoided the mall shooting that killed her mom by stopping to watch a report about Tod’s bathtub strangulation.
Ali Larter, one of only two returnees alongside mortician William Bludworth (Tony Todd), also gets to reprise her role as Clear, the original’s Final Girl who eventually agrees to leave the safety net of her padded cell to help thwart Death once more. Although Burke is the professional here, it’s Clear and Kimberly’s detective work that drives the film, even if it proves futile. Thanks to a leaking oxygen tank, the former dies in a massive two-for-one hospital explosion alongside Eugene, while the latter also suffers the ignominy of an off-screen killing in Final Destination 3’s alternate ending.
Final Destination 2’s kills might not boast the most jump-out-of-your-seat (Terry getting splattered by a bus in the original), the most squirm-inducing (gymnast Candice’s bone-crunching contortion in FD5), or the goriest (Hunt’s pool drain disemboweling in The Final Destination). Yet it’s the chapter that best recognizes that sometimes there’s nothing more frightening than the everyday.