Final Destination 5 – Review (3)


Live and Let Die Version 5.0

Every time a new Final Destination release comes out the film True Romance pops into my mind. It’s not because the two have anything in common per se. Neither share an affinity for guys wanting to screw Elvis or feature Balki Bartokomous. It all has to do with something actor James Gandolfini says when he talks about his experiences as a hit-man/enforcer for the mob. Having passed the initial gag factor of killing someone, he readily admits that now he kills just to watch their expression change.

That’s the bread and butter for the Final Destination series, and any horror franchise whose purpose is to have its victims killed in extravagant ways. Nobody has the same expression.

To its credit this franchise has maintained its longevity by less saturation. Unlike the Saw franchise, which arrived like clockwork every year from 2004-2010, Final Destination started in 2000 and would roll out a new installment every three years. But while critics and media would proclaim Saw and its sequels as torture porn, Final Destination managed to distance itself from the conversation, able to milk its simple concept and by having the deaths be a less “torturous” affair.

Both franchises have plenty of deaths, but the core idea with FD relies on cheating death. So instead of being psychologically cruel – with the deck stacked against participants – like Saw, the decade-old series is less malevolent. But at least the persons that Jigsaw selected were given the opportunity to repent and rekindle that joy of life. Call it baptism by torture. The characters in Final Destination don’t have such luxury. If you cheat death, death will come after you. He’s an omnipresent presence that you can’t escape.

This cheating death series may be morbid – falling in line with all the other DTMs (Dead Teenager Movies) – but it does it with a sense of humor to keep the intensity of situations at arms length. The deaths are exquisite and are done with enough CG blood and gusto to make sure audiences don’t always go yeesh.

Final Destination 5 follows the well-established formula. Hero character Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) has a premonition of an impending disaster. This time it’s the collapse of a suspension bridge. As it plays out seven characters die by various means, including one that will have someone’s stomach entrails within eyeshot of your 3-D rims (if you ponied up the extra coin to see in three-dimensionally of course).  Waking up from his daydream, everything begins to play out just like Sam envisioned, including the moment where the radio magically switches to Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” – how apropos. Quickly exiting the bus, urging everyone to get off, he’s followed by seven others who narrowly escape the bridge collapse just as he predicted.

The seven other survivors include Sam’s recent girlfriend now ex (Emma Bell), his best friend (Miles Fisher) and gymnast girlfriend (Ellen Wroe), the office comic-relief (P.J. Byrne), slutty gal that needs vision correction (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), David Koecher as their boss, and Miles Fisher who has been regulated to token black guy status for this ensemble. Though their place of employment is a paper company not much attention is paid to the name of the company, Presage. If you need a thesaurus to get the joke, I’ll give you two minutes to figure it out.

Now that Sam and the lucky seven have survived their brush with death the film doesn’t end happily ever after. They start dying off one by one in the order they should have on the bridge. Tony Todd, everyone’s favorite “candyman,” shows up to give the film some continuity as the wise coroner who lays it all out: you can’t cheat death. So what do they try to do – they try to cheat death anyway. Like the blonde bimbo in a slasher movie who thinks she can escape a killer by running upstairs, they try their best to avoid the Grim Reaper.

James Cameron protégé Steven Quale made the transition from second unit director on the films Titanic and Avatar to full-fledged feature director with Final Destination 5. All those years working with the self-proclaimed King of the World paid off as his attention to the death and near-death scenes are on point. Though after the initial premonition sequence and the first real death set at a gymnastics practice everything that follows doesn’t seem nearly as good. Still, as much as fun as the payoff is, the misdirection of certain deaths are almost better than the deaths themselves. Sadly, with a short running time, Quale & Co. couldn’t show as much creativity as they probably would have liked.

With the exception of the creative kills, screenwriter Eric Heisserer (who penned last year’s A Nightmare on Elm Street remake) tries to vary things up by including a way to extend one’s life a little longer. But it’s more of the same in terms of dialogue and one-note characters. The real surprise is in the final reel, though this writer saw the payoff early on – as far back as the initial premonition – only for it to be later confirmed.

If you are a fan of the Final Destination series – going as far back to the days when American Pie‘s Stiffler got beheaded – you will be treated to more attractive kills (does that sound sadistic?), with each victim giving a different expression, if at all possible. Final Destination may be the PC friendly substitute to torture porn, but with five in the books (this latest one giving some real finality to series – honest), now is the time to realize that the Grim Reaper has won.

Director:Steven Quale
Notable Cast: Nicholas D’Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher, Arlen Escarpeta, David Koechner, Tony Todd
Writer(s): Eric Heisserer

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