Five films into the franchise, the Final Destination series shows no indication of putting pause on its specialty brand of crafty blood-and-gore kills waged against the average Joes and Jills who find themselves infused with the vague psychic powers that could possibly stop all the bloodshed. This is, of course, not to say that the franchise isn’t worse for the wear, with character development all but sucked out of the film’s respective bottoms, leaving nothing but lifeless, water-logged bodies behind.
The set-up of Final Destination 5 is the exact same set-up as the previous four Final Destination films – a single person has a vivid premonition of a horrific accident that kills a hefty number of people. The premonition is so strong (and is, as is always the case with FD films, presented as a real event until a classic snap-out-of-it, it-was-all-a-dream come-to by the character having the vision) that when events that mirror the vision start to play out, said vision-er does the only thing that truly makes sense – they run. And by running, and bringing others along with them on their desperate race to survive, they do actually survive. Until they start dying, because Death itself is damn ticked off that the body count of its clever little catastrophes was not as high as originally intended.
This time around, the single person with the vision is Sam Lawton (Nicholas D’Agosto), whose premonition is that of a stunning bridge collapse while he and his coworkers (including his ex-girlfriend) sit on an idling bus taking them on a corporate retreat. Sam sees it all happen, and when it starts to actually happen, manages to save himself, Blonde Ex-Girlfriend, and a handful of their more antsy co-workers. Of course, Death comes for the survivors, and it’s up to Sam and Blondie to figure out the ins and outs of escaping inevitable (and bloody, bone-crunching) death.
As the Final Destination franchise has grown, more and more emphasis has been placed on the delivery of coy and clever deaths. Final Destination 5 has them in spades – twisty little demises that director Steven Quale and writer Eric Heisserer (both making their FD debut) deliver with great relish, genuine attention to detail, and some true tension. The first few deaths also hint at a tremendous sense of humor about the conceits of the film itself – laying out all the pieces and teasing the results in ways that will surely lead to giggling, tittering audiences who will swiftly shut up in shock when Death finally delivers.
But though the film’s first half is jammed with some inventive kills and well-placed tension (all stuff that’s certainly heightened by the film’s 3D, an added bit of production value that still never goes beyond unnecessary gimmick, even when it’s used reasonably well here), everything falls to bits when Sam and company finally realize what’s going on and that they need to try to stop it. While the franchise’s first sequel, 2003’s Final Destination 2, placed a premium on growing the mythology, the subsequent films have steadily strayed from developing it any further than someone telling the core group “you should have died, but you didn’t, so just get ready to die or something, okay, cool?”
That may be a laughable paraphrase, but it’s about as slapdash as explanations get in the FD world, and Final Destination 5 is no different.
Sam and the blonde one and guy who looks like Tom Cruise and the token African-American guy and maybe some other characters who all sort of look alike after awhile (i.e. like dead fucking meat) get told what’s going on by a guy who has been lurking around all the death sites (you’ll never guess why!). They’ve only just begun to question what’s going on, mainly by yelling at each other “what’s going on?” a bunch, so it’s somewhat surprising that they take the news so well and so completely. It’s even more surprising that when the deliverer of Death’s demands provides them with a potential out (a twist!), there’s so little pushback from the group. It’s, of course, not an easy fix, but Death is pretty pissed with them, so what can ya do?
Though Final Destination 5’s twist on the rules isn’t all that inspired (it’s jarringly bizarre that it’s never been used in the franchise before), it does allow for some shifts in character that should be more interesting to watch. But for all its attempts at frisky change-ups, the film is saddled with a bland and boring cast that never engages the audience. It is fortunate that D’Agosto has the heavy lifting here, as he’s the only somewhat interesting character on screen.
What will set Final Destination 5 apart from its brethren, however, is its real twist. Though FD5 changes up the rules mid-way, it’s a bit of misdirection, as the film’s true twist only happens during the film’s final series of events. It’s a bold move, because it’s only as the concluding minutes tick by that the depth of the film’s cleverness is revealed. Till the last gasp, Final Destination 5 is paint-by-the-numbers, until its frame is flipped to the reveal the actual picture underneath.
The Upside: The kills are as wicked as ever, but the film’s familiar concept is given a late-breaking twist that makes the whole film much more cool and clever in retrospect.
The Downside: The film’s cast doesn’t strike an emotional chord at any point in time, making it nearly impossible to root for one-dimensional humans to win against crafty three-dimensional death.
On the Side: I maintain that there will never be a sequence in a Final Destination film as flat-out cool as the Route 23 disaster that opens Final Destination 2, but FD5’s bridge collapse is a close second.