I joined the party a little late with Final Destination. I didn’t see the first film in theatres as I was more interested in the then-ending of the Scream trilogy, but once I did see it, I became a fan of the franchise. However, while I thoroughly enjoyed the first two films, the following sequels signaled an ill decline in quality and tone. The third film felt like a direct carbon copy of the first, and the fourth was a big failure, in my eyes. I even saw it in 3D, and that was the last 3D movie I will ever see. So, that comes to the latest entry in this modern horror franchise. I believe I was skeptical at first, but reviews for FD5 were quite positive. A friend of mine even highly enjoyed it, but time was not my ally as I could not get to seeing it theatrically. So, I had to wait a few months for the home video release. An iTunes rental it was, and now, the DVD is part of my ever expanding collection. So, what did Final Destination 5 do right that the last few sequels got wrong? There are many answers to that inquiry.
Death is unleashed after Sam Lawton (Nicholas D’Agosto) has a premonition that saves himself and several of his coworkers from a disastrous suspension bridge collapse. Now, they are marked by death to correct this wrinkle in its plan. Federal Agent Jim Block (Courtney B. Vance) comes in to investigate this incident, and to probe into how and why these few survived. The survivors are chilled by the haunting, foreboding words of coroner William Bludworth (Tony Todd) about how death doesn’t like to be cheated, and all he has to say comes to shape everyone’s fates in how they attempt to cheat it further. Sam is joined by his uncertain girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell), his self-assured but soon grieving friend Peter (Miles Fisher) and his gymnast girlfriend Candice (Ellen Wroe), the attitude-heavy office assistant Olivia (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), the not-so-slick Isaac (P.J. Byrnes), the young factory foreman Nathan (Arlen Escarpeta), and their boss Dennis (David Koechner). They are all on the top of Death’s list, and time is not on their side as they frantically attempt to find a way to escape its sinister agenda.
Firstly, everything starts with the tone. The last two movies delved into dark humor, or more appropriately, bad humor. The more serious, suspenseful tone of the first film had been forgotten. FD5 revitalizes that approach to the franchise, and not just in direction or acting. Cinematographer Brian Pearson filmed this movie with a lot of dramatic character. The lighting alone has a great deal of weight and beauty. Just because it’s a horror movie doesn’t mean it can’t have artistic integrity, and I feel Pearson gave the film plenty of that. The visual style strongly compliments the direction of the movie. While none of the actors will really win any awards here, they generally hold up well. Those who need to be sympathized with are nicely cast. Those that are meant to be reviled or disliked seemed to work right for me, but it’s hard to tell if P.J. Byrne’s Isaac was supposed to be a misogynistic ass to like or dislike. I chose the former. Nicholas D’Agosto is a decent lead handling the more vulnerable side of Sam well, but he doesn’t have quite as much to work with as previous leads in the series. I feel Miles Fisher had the most to carry as the film went on with his grief morphing into something unforeseen. Coincidentally, Fisher bares a resemblance to Tom Cruise, and I certainly read a lot into that facial similarity. However, seeing beyond that, he confidently shoulders a lot of emotional weight by the film’s end, and he handles himself very well in both dramatic and action oriented scenes. Courtney B. Vance certainly shows his worth handling Agent Block with the right amount of uncertainty and inquisitive sense about him. He doesn’t buy into the supernatural explanations at first, but as things develop, he becomes willing to believe there is something more at work here than he can deduce. It’s quite original from the other law enforcement figures the series has offered us before.
So, okay – the acting is good, the thing is shot well. How good of a horror flick is it? Very good! As the end credits song from AC/DC says, “If you want blood, you’ve got it!” Final Destination 5 has a hefty helping of blood and gore that will satisfy any fan’s splatter craving. The deaths remain original and inventive. They become more elaborate with misdirection by laying out elements that take a little longer to pay off. While that is usual for the series, I feel this entry pushes it further towards more unique results. Every little element that Death sets into place is simply part of a chain reaction of events that don’t lead you to the death you are anticipating. This helps to enhance the suspense and tension throughout certain sequences by leaving you wondering how that loose screw the gymnast didn’t step on will factor into the scene later. You think she avoided the imminent danger, but the actual danger has yet to fully show itself. These scenarios slowly develop hooking your attention in more and more until the pay-off hits you like a punch in the teeth. This also shows that the screenplay is smartly written. That’s a good upswing from the screenwriter of the atrociously dim-witted A Nightmare on Elm Street remake. The brilliance of this franchise has been using a force of nature as the killer itself. There’s no personality to tap into, and no way to just turn around to see the maniac with the machete, butcher knife, chainsaw, or claws coming up behind you. It forces the characters to be more intelligent and aware for them to survive, and it also forces the screenwriters to become more inventive in how to setup each death. No longer can they rely on an off-screen kill or someone just getting stabbed in the blink of an eye. So, I am glad that Eric Heisserer has stepped up his game with FD5. Now, I won’t spoil anything for anyone, but I very much loved the turn in the film’s climax. The story elements laid out by the returning Tony Todd’s William Bludworth are tied up into a very original and enjoyable departure for the franchise. The climax twists things around a little bit creating a more physical confrontation than we’ve had before, but it doesn’t all end there. As with all the Final Destination films, there’s an extra added punctuation after the climax just when the characters feel everything is fine. For those not in the know, it is a hell of a turn that the film only lays extremely subtle clues at throughout the picture.
Now, director Steven Quale appears rather interesting. He’s only had a sparse list of credits stemming back to 1988, and I seriously mean sparse. This is the fourth film he’s directed in 23 years. I don’t know why that is, but I would hope that success with Final Destination 5 would open doors to push his career forward with more velocity. I say this because he displays a lot of great talent here in handling and balancing horror, drama, and action into a highly entertaining film. Apparently, Quale has worked with James Cameron on The Abyss, Terminator 2, True Lies, Titanic, & Avatar. So, it is no surprise that the apparent 3D effects shots look great even in 2D. They still have visual and visceral impact without the three-dimensional effect. Begrudgingly, if I had the choice to now see this in 3D, I’d take the opportunity. In the past, the tech has not worked for me. I have no optical impairments. It’s mainly due to the fact that when images jumped out at me they became misaligned, like seeing double, and thus, ruined the illusion. I saw My Bloody Valentine 3D as well earlier in 2009, and that offered no better results than The Final Destination. So, I swore it off vowing I would never see another 3D film, but when things look this good in 2D, I’d have to concede that the proper three dimensional presentation would likely be quite impressive, to say the very least.
In regards to the visual effects, right from the opening title sequence, in both visuals and music, this movie made me feel like I was in for something ready to kick my ass. The credits sequence is awesome and original giving an audience some eye candy right up front to prepare them for the visual intensity of Final Destination 5. Again, since the only time I saw the previous two films were in their original theatrical runs several years ago, I cannot compare improvements in CGI, but from many accounts, it is superior here. The entire opening bridge collapse is massively successful, and CGI never entered into my thoughts while watching it. All effects were seamless and convincing meshed with some amazing cinematography. Quale clearly took a lot of time to construct this sequence to give it the visual scope and unnerving urgency it needed in every aspect. Each film in the series does try to top the opening disaster sequence of the previous, and I would be very intrigued to see if a sixth film can keep up that trend because this is a very intricately plotted out sequence. Much attention to detail was given. Now, the CGI in the rest of the film is as perfectly seamless, but it is very good. There is never any visual effects shot that takes you out of the motion picture. The quality is quite consistent and nicely integrated into the live action surroundings. It’s just how in your face they are that bring out any less than perfectly realistic qualities about them.
The make-up effects can sometimes be overlooked because of the CGI gore, but when I take a minute to think of them, they are immensely important to the strength of this film. Most of the gore in the film appears as a combination of special make-up and visual effects elements, but scenes like the acupuncture mishap perfectly display the quality of the practical effects. Of all types of films, it is the horror genre where I thoroughly enjoy seeing the behind the scenes look at how these things are done. Being able to marry the computer generated and practical effects work impresses me, and a film like this makes me appreciate the hard work that goes into it all because the use of the effects is never subtle.
While the characters may try to cheat death, fans are certainly not cheated with this movie! This is a winner! Final Destination 5 hits all the right marks, and delivers some bloody good horror. It’s possibly the best shot film of the franchise with a lot of high quality given to it in both large and quiet moments. Steven Quale deserves a lot of credit for delivering something so solid, impressive, and entertaining. I enjoyed this on many levels, and it gives fans what they basically desire as well. The entire series comes full circle with a smartly written screenplay that brings the right story elements together and wraps them up and around the characters very nicely. Everything flows easily without complicating the story. I am very impressed by this entry in the franchise, and I would hope that another Final Destination movie could come along to maintain this level of quality. Horror has taken many turns in the last decade that I haven’t cared for, and that has diminished my interest in the genre. However, that could change if this movie is a sign of things to come, if only for the franchise. Final Destination 5 receives a strong, positive recommendation from me! It is a reassuring return to form for the franchise that gives you more than you ever expected. Thoroughly satisfying is what this is!