Latest big-budget mondo film thankfully more of the same
Once upon a time, the Faces of Death series of mondo films captured audiences’ imagination — showering them with grotesque imagery that mixed elaborately staged special effects with stock footage of animal cruelty and historical violence. The original 1980 film spawned three sequels and a host of imitators (some of which actually used footage of real deaths).
During the ‘80s and ‘90s, these films existed on the fringes of popular culture — passed along in hushed exchanges from sibling to sibling or traded at conventions. The movies were found by those who looked for them but there was no way any of the Faces of Death films were getting released at the local megaplex alongside the latest Tom Hanks romantic comedy.
It’s funny how time changes things.
Somewhere out there, a generation of children have had phobias permantenly instilled in their psyche from watching a Final Destination movie before they were ready to process the carnage contained within. For over ten years, the Final Destination series has been showing off the latest in technological advances towards bringing to life computer animated car crashes and binary-code born decapitations. This constant one-upping of the previous film has made the Final Destination series the equivalent of a supermodel showing off the latest season’s wears.
Every two years or so, a new film has been released — hopefully, to the series’ core group of fans, more gruesome than the last. By this point, audiences know exactly what to expect when it comes to a movie in the Final Destination series. The modern day inheritor of the Faces of Death throne, the films are the Saturday morning cartoons of the horror movie world. It’s a surprise there hasn’t been a Final Destinationin Space yet.
Known for their proclivity towards style over substance, the series of films follow a pretty strict formula: begin with a splashy opening catastrophe and follow with half dozen or so imaginative death scenes. For a Final Destination to fail, it would need to either veer off course and stray from the recipe or fail to think up new and exciting ways for people to die in highly illogical and possibly physically impossible ways. Luckily, director Steven Quale is not out to rock the boat and he isn’t trying to reinvent the series. He just keep the tradition alive with a fresh new cast and a brand spanking new batch of phobias to instill in those aforementioned unlucky kids that got dragged along to the movie by their insensitive parents. Your five year old thinking of getting LASIK surgery? Show them Final Destination 5 and they won’t be.
Nicholas D’Agosto leads the cast as Sam, the lucky psychic who receives the series’ trademark premonition that simultaneously saves a handful of victims-in-waiting from their would-be-death and also kicks off the movie’s story. The thing about it, though, is that plot in a Final Destination film is like plot in a first-person-shooter video game — it doesn’t matter and, if possible, Final Destination fans would hit the “Start” button and skip through all the cut scenes. D’Agosto and the rest of the cast (including Emma Bell, Miles Fisher and David Koechner) all work at a paper company but that’s inconsequential to the movie you are watching. The film is purely a construct of various death scenes strung together like a human centipede of generic horror movie contrivances. The charaters are one-dimensional and the story is borderline incomprehensible (a character works at the paper company but also works as a chef in a ritzy restaurant?). The film is all about its set pieces and any effort and imagination that went into making the film went into the characters’ deaths — not depth.
Here’s the thing, the movies only work if you don’t care about the characters. If the filmmaker were to try and have you genuinely feel for the cast of young and attractive actors they have assembled, watching Final Destination 5 would be a miserable experience. You don’t want to have your heart wrenched out every time a character dies so the audience needs to see the characters as cardboard, disposable cutouts — existing only to be killed. They’re the mice you buy to feed your snake — in a perfect world, they wouldn’t even have names.
And of course the characters are going to be killed — every single last one of them. It’s a Final Destination movie; do you really expect anybody to walk away unscathed?
As a film whose mission statement is quite clear — provide entertainment for those that enjoy watching special effects artists do what they do best — Final Destination 5 is a lot of fun. The death scenes are tightly paced, imaginatively constructed and — as they should be — take center stage in the movie. Going into the film expecting anything else would be equivalent to taking a big sip of your urine and hoping it tastes like lemonade.
Final Destination 5 is a great bookend to a series of films that has managed to be consistently entertaining for the last ten plus years. Writer Eric Heiserer, who created the popular internet meme The Dionaea House, finds a smart, clever way to tie the film into the series as a whole while also respecting the fact that the movie only succeeds if it doesn’t stray too far from its pre-determined path.
Final Destination 5 is like comfort food for the horror fan. It’s loud, oftentimes obnoxious (the film’s opening credits sequence is nearly three minutes of various instruments of death being tossed through a sheet of glass towards the camera) and, most importantly — it’s a lot of fun. So take that stick out of your ass (the filmmakers need it to impale some poor teenager) and enjoy the latest in a series that realized a long time ago being shallow is only acceptable for pretty high school girls and violence-heavy horror movies.
Director:Steven Quale Notable Cast: Nicholas D’Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher, Arlen Escarpeta, David Koechner and Tony Todd Writer(s): Eric Heisserer
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.