For the few people who have managed to ignore the Final Destination series over the past decade or so, the series follows the same basic template for each installment: a bunch of attractive young people gather together for some big event (in this case a business retreat), are saved from a grisly death (this time on a falling suspension bridge) thanks to a premonition, and then proceed to die off one by one as Death (capital D and vaguely personified) offs the survivors in the order they would have died had they not escaped their initial fate. Luckily for us, Death is an avid fan of Rube Goldberg and the PC game “The Incredible Machine” and sets about each subsequent death in increasingly complex and coincidental ways, because watching a bunch of pretty people develop heart disease or choking at dinner isn’t nearly as immediately gratifying. There are usually some feeble attempts at waxing philosophical about fate and the ephemeral nature of our mortal existence and other seemingly deep topics, but don’t be fooled: the plot is essentially a contrivance to establish darkly comical set piece demises.
While the endless parade of sequels and morbid fixation on death may bring to mind the Saw series, Final Destination differs by dishing out its gore with a wink and a nod rather than a sadistic laugh. This is less torture porn and more Troma in its execution, where buckets of blood illicit giggles more so than gasps. And after a rather disappointing fourth installment in the series (the falsely named The Final Destination, which was anything but), part five redeems the series by lowering the body count and instead taking the time to toy with audience expectations before each visceral payoff. While giving the blow-by-blow of the death scenes would defeat the purpose, I will say that the gymnasium scene ranks among the best in the series in terms of misdirection and gleeful foreshadowing. The director introduces a myriad of potential culprits and allows the audience to play its own game of Clue (will it be the screw on the balance beam or the frayed wire in the pool of water?) for what seems an eternity before the final reveal. Another scene turns a routine trip to the spa into nightmare fodder, and I will tell you that if you have ever entertained the idea of Lasik surgery, you’ll leave the theater with second thoughts. And in terms of the opening catastrophe, Final Destination 5 is neck-and-neck with the second installment in terms of variety and gutwrenching pacing.
In that regard, Final Destination 5 is more spectacle — like a street magician or a vaudeville act or a carnival ride — than an actual piece of cinema. The characters are flat stereotypes, the acting is ham-handed and the actors themselves forgettable (you’ll recognize David Koechner from a dozen other comedies, but he’s woefully underutilized here), and the plot hums along oblivious to its own shallowness. The pacing, too, can seem lacking, with large stretches of people not dying, which is not what you come to these movies to see.
And yet, despite my inability to recall exactly why I enjoyed the movie, I most certainly did. If you can manage it, this is a movie that simply must be experienced in IMAX 3D, preferably with lots of other eager viewers. At points, the theater almost reached, if not Rocky Horror Picture Show levels of hysteria, certainly the same mania I experienced in an opening night showing of Snakes on a Plane. This is high camp, the kind of movie that encourages talking and howls and cackles, where cries of “HOLY SHIT!” and one-liners from the audience are met with applause rather than shrill shushes. The 3D effects are impressively well done; the film was actually shot in the format rather than tweaked and modified in post-production, and it shows. Not since Avatar have I experienced a movie that employed 3D so skillfully that I forgot it was there. It simply added to the immersion (Steven Quale, a long time protege of James Cameron and a second unit director for Avatar, is certainly felt in that regard), and made the flying chunks of brain and bone all the more squirm-inducing. If you have doubts on the usefulness of those annoying polarized glasses, FD5 should quell them.
Ultimately, once the movie leaves theaters, I’ll have a hard time recommending it unless you’re viewing it under the influence of hard liquor and in the company of good friends. In terms of lasting appeal, there’s not a whole lot going for it. But if you’ve enjoyed any of the previous installments, or if you’re looking for an uproarious night out, I can’t recommend this movie (in IMAX 3D at least) enough. You may feel vaguely guilty the morning after, but you’ll be too caught up in laughing and yelling and cringing to care.
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