For fans, the joy of watching the Final Destination movies (yes, joy) comes from seeing the objects of everyday life coalesce into perfect killing machines. Microwave ovens explode; pigeons slam into dentist-office windows; glass sheets fall from the sky. Why does this happen? Only death knows, averted once before but destined to have its catch of the day. The concept works like catnip on anyone who's ever peered down a sink's garbage disposal.
There's little characterization to speak of in this third installment, but the gallows humor that emerged in the second film is delightfully in full effect. Horrible fates await teens in the places they most love: the drive-through lane, the tanning salon (including a sly edit from sun bed to coffin), the high-school workout room. Most impressively, the film opens with its ostensible heroine, panicky Wendy (Winstead), envisioning the goriest disaster ever to befall a roller coaster—which, of course, happens. She manages to avoid that misfortune, as do a handful of her peers, but their time will come.
The pleasures here are purely technical and refreshingly nonsupernatural. You scan the periphery of the frame for clues, while Hitchcock-worthy cuts propel you along inexorably. Maybe someone who wants to take on our trash-saturated media culture can explain the reasons behind this appeal. But in its extremely limited way, the film is precisely what horror should be: You emerge from the theater afraid to drive, even to walk. (Opens Fri; see Index for venues.)—Joshua Rothkopf