Review by Matt Barone (@mbarone)
All of the criticisms aimed toward the hugely successful Final Destination franchise are spot-on. Yes, it’s nothing more than an excuse for gore-hounds to watch cattle (young dimension-less characters) unavoidably get slaughtered, making the tongue-in-cheek horror series cinema’s most voyeuristic property. And, no doubt, the acting usually ranges from borderline decent to on par with one of those SyFy network movies. It’s true, money would be better spent on more enriching genre films like Another Earth, or similarly dark movies that at least breathe with innovation and fresh ideas (see: Bellflower). The Final Destination flicks are obvious cash-grabs from slick Hollywood producers too distracted by easy bucks to push the horror genre forward—agreed.
That’s not the whole story, though. In addition to those valid points, there’s one argument that rarely gets made when discussing the seemingly endless string of films known only for elaborate, typically unrealistic death scenes: The Final Destination movies are the most honest horror pics coming out of the Hollywood system. The filmmakers haven’t ever promised thought-out characters or intricate plots; from the ad campaigns right down to the interviews with those involved, the jumpoff flick, 2000’s humorless Final Destination, and its much (thankfully) more self-aware and funnier sequels sell the piles of corpses without any pretension. In a game where directors and actors pitch their shitty horror remakes and not scary clunkers as if they’ve revived The Exorcist, that’s something to appreciate.
As is the fact that the latest installment, Final Destination 5, manages to both stay true the best entries’ strengths and take a few stylistic and narrative chances; save for the precedent-setting original, Final Destination 5 is the most ambitious one yet. And it sure as hell needed to be, since the previous sequel, 2009’s The Final Destination (yes, that’s a bullshit title), basically did everything wrong, treating its horribly acted characters like lifeless automatons and giving the especially absurd death scenes very little punch.
Signing on to the fifth movie, first-time director Steven Quale, a longtime colleague of James Cameron’s who served as second unit director on Avatar, whether he knew it or not, had a tall mountain to climb in order to win the franchise’s supporters back. And, folks who love watching annoying character die insane deaths, we’re happy to report that Quale has emerged triumphant: Final Destination 5, for what it’s worth, is the best one since 2003’s riotously comedic Final Destination 2. In 5, the deaths scenes are genuinely suspenseful, the 3D treatment is, unlike every other three-dimensional movie not called Avatar, somewhat tangible, and a few of the characters even have fleshed-out motivations. The Grim Reaper should be proud.
In Final Destination 5, Death Has More To Work With Than Ever Before
The film’s set-up is identical to every other Final Destination movie: a group of lucky souls averts a massive, fatality-ridden disaster after one of them has a premonition that shows he or she what’s about to happen. This time, a sales team’s weekend retreat gets halted when their bus rolls up to a faulty suspension bridge, which, thanks to construction worker negligence, splits in half and sends cars, people, and everything else on it crashing down into water, and, most importantly, to their deaths. And like the previous films, the survivors get systematically plucked off by Death itself, since they were all supposed to croak during the opening calamity.
Though it’s not Shakespearean drama, Final Destination 5 commendably tries to give its lead characters souls. The one who envisions the bridge collapse, Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto), has been offered a chef’s apprenticeship in Paris; his loving girlfriend, Molly (The Walking Dead’s Emma Bell), doesn’t think they’d last if Sam takes the opportunity, so, as Final Destination 5 opens, she breaks up with him. As for the rest of the characters, there’s one, Sam’s good friend Peter (Miles Fisher), who’s given more to do than just, well, die, but the rest are the usual exaggerated archetypes. The girl-obsessed douche is particularly abhorrent, not to mention a dead ringer for the Subway sandwich guy Jared; the promiscuous hard-drinking girl (the very hot Jacqueline MacInnes Wood) only speaks in “slut”; and the token black guy is, well, nothing more than a prerequisite black dude.
This isn’t to say that the predominantly lame characters in Final Destination 5 are a bad thing. The real fun in the FD movies, when they’re working right, is watching annoying people get their well-deserved comeuppance, and Quale is acutely aware of that. The payoffs of the deaths in Final Destination 5 aren’t as morbidly brilliant as the amazing ones in Final Destination 2 and Final Destination 3, but Quale patiently extends the scenes’ pre-cadaver segments, ramping up the tension to all-new levels for the franchise. It’s a clever move, teasing the viewer’s anticipation rather than glibly feeding into it. The first post-disaster-sequence death, that of a training gymnast, sets the tone, providing close-ups of a pointy screw and a none-too-sturdy ceiling fan as the limber girl bounces around in a dance of eventual death.
Its Efforts To Push The Franchise Forward Aren't Perfect, But Final Destination 5's Desire To Satisfy Is Appreciated
After the satisfyingly gruesome bridge set-piece, which features impaling, charred bodies, and characters split in halves, Final Destination 5’s cavalcade of violence touches upon acupuncture, laser eye surgery, and flying wrenches. But in its final act, Quale’s film introduces a “kill or be killed” concept that presents a chance for characters to actually survive one of these flicks. It’s ultimately bullshit, of course, lest the producers undermine their entire franchise by counteracting against Death’s previously unstoppable plan.
But it’s at least a sign that Quale and screenwriter Eric Heisserer put some thought into a sequel that’s far more innovative than anyone could have expected. There’s even a last-minute twist that, in its own ridiculous and kind of nonsensical way, provides a reason to justify Final Destination 5’s existence beyond the movie studio’s profit margin. If they’re going to keep the series on this sequel’s positive track, more Final Destination movies won’t be the worst thing in the world for horror fans. Final Destination 5 isn’t incredibly well-acted—in terms of its leads, D’Agosto’s pathos is equivalent to that of a crash test dummy, and, more often than not, Bell just looks bored stiff.
Quale, on the other hand, is nicely charged up. The director bookends his already fulfilling debut with high-fives to the audience. The opening credits sequence evokes the credits seen in 1982’s 3D “event” Friday The 13th Part III, with an all-black screen, white lettering, and all of the franchise’s past instruments-of-death crashing through the cast and crew’s names; further embracing the sadistic glee, there’s a tightly edited montage of past Final Destination deaths right before the end credits. Quale doesn’t get any points for subtlety, but who cares? Unlike the makers of The Final Destination, he totally gets what a Final Destination experience is supposed to be and capitalizes on all of the inherent joys—how often does that happen with a fourth horror sequel?
Review by Matt Barone (@mbarone)