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Movie Review: Final Destination 5

Posted By Dan Fields On August 13, 2011 @ 12:37 pm In Movies,Movies & TV | 2 Comments

Final Destination 5

Directed by Steven Quale
Screenplay by Eric Heisserer

Nicholas D’Agosto as Sam Lawton
Emma Bell as Molly Harper
Miles Fisher as Peter Friedkin
Ellen Wroe as Candice Hooper
Jacqueline MacInnes Wood as Olivia Castle
P.J. Byrne as Isaac
Arlen Escarpeta as Nathan

How long is Final Destination 5? 92 minutes.
What is Final Destination 5 rated? R for strong violent/gruesome accidents, and some language.

CLR Rating:

Emma Bell as Molly in Final Destination 5.
Photo by Doane Gregory


Splitting People In Half Is All About Context

To begin with, the makers of Final Destination 5 want to impress upon you the advantages of seeing the film in 3D. The opening titles feature a series of large objects hurled through plate glass directly at the screen — lumber, fire extinguishers, iron poles — as if to tell us “last chance for 3D glasses!” The sequence runs on to an absurd length, dispelling illusions that this film will be about anything besides flying objects and the nasty things they can do to people. Just as we begin to enjoy the credits as free-standing abstract art, the actual movie begins.

A young man on a crowded bus witnesses a horrifying chain of accidents, in which he and many others die violently on a collapsing bridge. But thank goodness! It was all a premonition, and he has time to save a handful of his friends and co-workers before the disaster happens in real life. Which it does.

Now, he and the other survivors want to know just why this vision came along to spare them (but only them), and what it means for the future. Is death still on their heels, or can they avoid its grasp the next time it comes calling?

Sound familiar? This is more or less exactly the premise of four previous Final Destination movies. Fans of the series know the formula by heart now. We begin with a hideous inciting disaster, foreseen and narrowly escaped by a small group of characters. Then these survivors go their separate ways, and one by one each meets with some manner of bizarre accidental death. The fatalistic conceit is that even when a premonition of danger allows us to escape one accident, another soon follows to claim us and “balance the books.” As our dour mentor character tells us time and again, “Death doesn’t like to be cheated.”

That mentor is Tony Todd, famous to horror fans as Candyman and returning after his absence from THE Final Destination, a.k.a. Final Destination 4. As the mysterious coroner, he presides over the aftermath of each death scene and warns the surviving characters to watch out. He is clearly on a friendly level with death, and takes quiet satisfaction in watching these games play out, one by one.

As in previous chapters, the writers of this movie go to the trouble of giving things an extra twist. Tony Todd introduces us to a new rule that if you are destined to die, you may take the life of another first and death will leave you alone… for a while. Naturally, one grief-stricken character will take this notion to heart, which guarantees the story an action-packed climax.

However, as Nick Cave once said, “Sooner or later we’ve all gotta die.” Those initiated in the ways of Final Destination will probably spot the twist ending a mile before the finish line, but it gives the “life for a life” rule extra weight and a tragic resonance in every chapter that came before.

So how is the movie part — that is to say, the dramatic scenes that pad the space between elaborate deathtraps? Deliciously bad. The dialogue is cheesy, the stock characters allowed no more than one trait apiece, the situations contrived and the relationships laughable. And do we care? Probably not. At least these characters are friends and co-workers, so that they have some dramatic excuse to stick together and check up on one another. Somehow this rings more true than the group of virtual strangers in Part 4, who had to be dealt on-the-nose labels like “that racist guy” and “the foul-mouthed mother of small children” so that the characters we actually cared about could identify their remains later on the news. But do you want to talk about freaky? How do all the survivors in this film always arrive at the scene of an accident at exactly the same time?

At first glance, there is a terribly fine line between enjoying a Saw movie and enjoying a Final Destination movie. However, thin though it may be, the line is there and quite important. Ultimately it boils down to dramatic context, because in terms of content the need for one chapter to top another has driven the writers of both franchises to similar extremes.

So why did I cringe with glee through Final Destination 5 and practically snore through Saw 3D? I know I am not alone, so let’s put aside the obvious accusation that I am a sociopath and a hypocrite. I, like many of you, do enjoy violent movies… but not all violent movies. The distinction in question is that Saw visits ruthless inhumanity and torture on victim after victim, all the while trying to make some straight-faced point about the basic darkness of human nature. To this end the producers march out such a ludicrous parade of automated eye-gougers, gut-pullers, and people-sawing gadgets that the satirical thrust of the first film — would you saw off your own leg to escape death and save your family? — is lost forever.

Final Destination, however, is no celebration of torture. It is a series of horror films playing on a universal human phobia — that deadly freak accidents threaten us with every step we take. Since the premise does not depend on machines made explicitly for hurting and killing people — in fact, quite the opposite — this series has the potential to live on as long as people keeping buying movie tickets. There is no calculable limit on the number of ways that mundane situations and objects can backfire. The popular TV series 1,000 Ways To Die is proving that point on a weekly basis.

For those of you still scratching your heads over the possible appeal of this concept, consider also that Final Destination is as much about setup as it is about payoff. As each deathtrap winds up to its blood-soaked punchline (so to speak), the camera clues us in to tiny details that may ultimately affect the situation in big ways. A loose screw, a frayed wire, or a carelessly placed candle is all it takes to set off a destructive chain reaction. The people who write these movies appreciate the value of misdirection and red herrings, so that once the audience is good and ready for one shocking disaster, a completely different one will swoop in from the side and get the job done first. This formula works over and over again, assuming it has worked on you once.

To help guide you in your enjoyment or avoidance of this film, walk with me through the major IFs…

IF you have zero constitution for witnessing gruesome accidents, you are too healthy to watch movies like this. IF you enjoyed any previous Final Destination movie, do not miss this one. The franchise is running at full strength again after the last sequel dipped rather sharply. IF your kids want you to take them, think carefully about it first.

Finally, IF you decide to see Final Destination 5, go for the glasses. It is a film so shamelessly custom-built around 3D — even more than its predecessor — that to see it any other way must be a letdown. This may mean bad news for future DVD sales. If you want to go — by now, you should know — go big screen and go 3D. End of story.

Oh, and please drive carefully.

Final Destination 5 Trailer


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