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Non-Review Review: Final Destination 5

This movie was seen as part of Movie Fest, the rather wonderful film festival organised by Vincent and everybody else over at movies.ie. It was well worth attending, and I’m already looking forward to next year. Good job all.

Okay, if you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that it means you’re interested in the Final Destination series. I mean, at a fifth instalment, it’s hard to argue that the audience doesn’t know what to expect – especially in a series like this, which is build around a particular gimmick. In this case, the gimmick happens to be turning the entire world into a Rube Goldberg Machineof death. So the question isn’t really whether the film works as a self-contained entity, or whether the entire concept works. We’ve had four films to determine whether the very idea of Final Destination 5 appeals to you, so let’s just focus on – if you’ll pardon the pun – the execution this time around.

It's a grave matter...

For the record, I have a bit of a soft spot for Final Destination, the original film in the series. It was, at the time, a rather clever little concept in a horror subgenre that was rapidly focusing on torture porn and serial killers to keep it alive. All credit to James Wong and Glen Morgan, it was a good idea – it was inventive and quirky and, dare I say it, original in a genre that had seemed stale for quite some time. So I’m not adverse to the core idea, even if the law of diminishing returns does set in after five films.

To be honest, I mostly recall the quirky deaths, rather than remembering any of the films. So I remember bits like the death inside a tanning salon, or a crazy highway crash, or a sudden ambulance smashing out of stage left. I couldn’t place any of these deaths in the context of a film, but they made an impact on me, based on the simple fact I can remember them. So that’s really the standard of the grim set pieces that we’re looking at. I’d argue that at least one (and maybe two) deaths match that sort of memorability factor. I don’t think it’s possible to spoil them, since the movie is candid about when if not howa character is about to die, but let’s just say I am not contemplating laser eye surgery any time soon and leave it at that. So that’s not bad, for a film with eight death sequences to produce two that rank with probably the most messed up of the series. The rest are just okay, and some are downright disappointing, but I suppose you’re really playing the law of averages here.

Bridging a gap in the franchise?

However, I really don’t remember the last few films being quite so “soap-y” for lack of a better word. There’s a whole host of romantic angst going on, and the movie invests a considerable amount of time in trying to get us to care about a relationship between two characters. Of course, this isn’t because the producers are turning into old softies after so many years, or an indicator of a bold new direction for the series, but it does feel a bit pointless when the movie doesn’t have the strongest cast. The writing and the acting (not to mention the basic premise of the series) makes the audience less likely to care about the characters in question. While we’re on the acting, this isn’t setting a new standard, but it feels like a huge waste to cast David Koechner in a film like this and then do next to nothing with him.

I have to admit, the movie does feel remarkably functional. The kids in question seem to accept the basic premise of the movie without too much uncertainty, and Tony Todd’s ominous coroner seems to be growing a little bit impatient of dealing with kids like this. “I’ve seen this before,”he states, not going into too much detail. I know that the characters need to catch up with the audience, who don’t want to sit through a whole host of exposition again, but it does feel a little strange. Again, one gets the sense that the acting or the writing could have been tightened up a bit.

A sight for sore eyes...

That said, the movie does have two sort-of semi-clever twists on the basic idea. The first is established relatively early on by Tony Todd’s grim official, and suggests that while “Death doesn’t like to be cheated”, it is possible to transfer your one-way ticket to the afterlife, with Death seemingly being satiated by any rapidly-cooling body. How Todd knows these things, I have no idea. Maybe the dude likes to knock back a six pack with the Grim Reaper while watching weekend football or something, I don’t know. Anyway, the introduction of the idea that you can kill somebody and “earn” the remaining time they would have had, makes for an interesting twist.

You’d think that the premise would wrangle a bit of drama from a series running the risk of turning stale, but instead it’s just used as a cheap gimmick to push the movie to a somewhat awkward climax. I’m not going to spoil it, but the character mechanics of the film feel far more convoluted than the random series of concurrent events that seem to lead to any given demise. The idea, however interesting it might be, feels somewhat wasted on the film.

It'll take some fancy footwork to outwit the Grim Reaper...

It also, along with the final twist that I won’t spoil here, makes Death seem like a rather lazy and incompetent worker. The film opens with characters joking about not making sales numbers, and part of me wonders if there’s a similar bureaucratic force at work behind the Grim Reaper in these series of films, with the ethereal force’s dedication to rounding up “the ones that got away” in a manner that would seem rather counterproductive. If I understand the ending of the film properly, Death must surely have tampered with some other people’s mortality clocks in order to score a cheap (but relatively effective) shot. It really seems like the Grim Reaper is getting a bit lazy in its old age.

In fairness to that final twist though, it is set up remarkably well over the course of the film, including a sly reference a funeral that perhaps only the keenest nerd might spot. It does feel quite fair the way that the movie sets up that twist, even if I’m not necessarily convinced of the brilliance of the twist itself. But enough taking in abstract riddles.

Running for their lives...

The film is offered in 3D, and I have to admit that I’m a bit disappointed. Surely the idea of objects flying out of the screen left, right and centre is the type of cheap hook the technology was made for. There’s no shame in it, that’s why Fright Night worked so well. However, I could take my glasses off repeatedly through the film without seeing any tangible difference. In fairness, the opening credits do make good use of the gimmick, throwing glass and sharp objects directly into our faces (even if the rapid cutting ran the risk of giving me a headache). We even get a “gag reel” style compilation (a “gag reflex reel”?) of the franchise’s “greatest hits” towards the end of the film, in which the post-conversion seems to have consisted entirely of inserting CGI glass into the shots. For a movie suited to this sort of effects work, I was seriously let down.

In the end, Final Destination 5 manages to add one (maybe two) memorable death sequences to the franchise’s canon. That’s really the best of it. Whether or not that’s enough, you’re probably best to decide for yourself. It’s hard to argue that the movie is objectively weaker than any of its predecessors, but I think a lot of the initial enthusiasm has since departed.

2 Responses

  1. I actually think Final Destination 2 is a legitimately good movie, for what it is. The deaths were visceral, scary and creative. After that, I feel like the producers, writers and directors got lazy. So while I probably won’t sit down and actually watch Final Destination 5, I’m sure I’ll see the best deaths on youtube.

    • Strange. I think the first one is a great horror. The second one (the one with the excellently staged car crash?) didn’t really appeal to me. Strangely enough, I thought the thrid one was better. But it’s hard to make an argument one way or another beyond “the deaths were cool.”

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