I love the Final Destination films. They appeal to me, in part, because each series installment makes the innocuous terrifying. Under normal circumstances, most wouldn’t be afraid to set foot on a plane, ride a roller coaster, drive on a highway, or cross a bridge. But the franchise takes seemingly safe scenarios and turns them into nightmare fuel. The series’ second installment, Final Destination 2, just so happens to be observing a release date anniversary today. That makes this as good a time as any to speak to why this 2003 follow-up stands as one of the most effective horror sequels of the ‘00s.
Final Destination 2 takes place one year after the events of the previous film. It follows Kimberly (A. J. Cook) and her pals as they set out on a road trip to Daytona Beach, Florida. Before they merge onto the interstate, Kimberly has a premonition that a multi-car accident is about to transpire. Following that horrifying vision, she refuses to get onto the highway and her SUV blocks several other cars from traveling their intended course. Though Kimberly and a handful of others are spared from the accident she foresaw, Death still has a score to settle.
It’s not possible to overstate how iconic the pileup at the beginning of Final Destination 2 is. That catastrophic mishap has inspired the creation of memes, bumper stickers, and various other pop culture references. I think a big piece of what makes this sequence so effective is that it’s arguably grounded in reality more than any other introductory disaster in the series. Multi-car pileups aren’t terribly uncommon. The other opening sequences are all within the realm of possibilities. But the log truck scene reads to me as the most likely, which also makes it the most frightening.
With that said, the opening is far from the only piece of this sequel that works effectively. Another standout aspect is the script. Screenwriters J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress strike a smart balance here. They bring back Clear Rivers (Ali Larter) to invoke a sense of nostalgia and give fans a familiar face. But they differentiate this sequel from its predecessor by killing off all of Kimberly’s friends in the multi-car pileup. That allows the sequel to tread new ground, rather than rehashing its predecessor’s depiction of a core friend group working together to evade Death. This time, we have a sampling of strangers. That allows for the story to go in several different directions and serve up some incredible kills in the process.
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Speaking of kills, the fire escape ladder death, the falling sheet of glass kill, and the flying barbed wire sendoff are all as icky as they are imaginative. Hell, each of the film’s kills is noteworthy. But those three stand out to me as especially enjoyable. And that’s to say nothing of all the epic and imaginative deaths that transpire in the opening premonition.
As any good Final Destination film should, this sequel makes the entire universe feel like an unsafe place. Most horror pictures have a smaller scope that limits the reach of their antagonist. But the Final Destination films don’t. When Death is after you, there’s no escape. Just existing in the world renders a character vulnerable here. That is a distinction that Final Destination 2 director David R. Ellis uses to remarkable effect.
Ellis builds suspense by way of anticipation. We are constantly confronted with bad omens and mishaps that keep us in suspense as to when these characters are going to kick off. Sequences like the one where Evan (David Paetkau) survives the ill-fated decision to put his hand down the garbage disposal in a horror movie serve as a subversion of expectations that is likely to keep the audience in a state of low-level panic. We’re left waiting for the hammer to drop as characters survive potentially deadly situations. Until they don’t.
That approach serves a couple of purposes. It establishes that Death is always after these characters, keeping that top of mind for the audience. Additionally, it makes the timing of each respective character’s ultimate demise unpredictable, which is just what you want from a horror movie.
On the whole, Final Destination 2 strikes just the right balance between telling its own story and harkening back to the original; the kills are memorable; and the opening is one for the history books. All in all, Final Destination 2 is one of the most impressive horror sequels of the ‘00s.
Final Destination 2 isn’t streaming anywhere as of the publication of this post. So, if you’re keen to give it a rewatch in observance of its anniversary, you can find the flick on both physical media and digital rental platforms.