Serious About Series: “Final Destination 5”

You thought we were done. You thought that our last destination was our final one. Hell, I thought these things. Well, no, I didn’t, and neither did you, because we all know any movie that makes money gets sequels. So here we are, in the aftermath of the really shitty The Final Destination, a movie that tried its best to kill all enthusiasm for the whole franchise.

How does this new try fare? Not too bad. But before I elaborate, I want to point out that this is a pretty frank discussion about a movie that’s just come out at the time of my writing this. I’m going to be pretty free with SPOILERS. This is your first and only warning.

Final Destination 5 (2011)

I talked at length last time about how I felt that 3D movies really didn’t work in 2D, and how I hoped that Final Destination 5 would attempt to justify me paying $3 more to see it pop deadly and bloody things at me for 90 minutes. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long, as it opens with a credits sequence of various props from the previous films all slamming through plates of glass at us. The 3D is gimmicky, sure, but it’s the way to see this movie. It’s wrapped up into it in a way I don’t think would play in 2D. For a break down of why, see the previous article. Anyway, back to FD5’s opening. I’ll admit it’s similar to the X-Ray kill opening of FD4, but it actually has some visual flare. It feels energetic.

And that’s kind of the saving grace of Final Destination 5. Sure the idea is all played out, and one can easily predict every step the movie is going to take, but it does it with a sense of devotion to the material that the last one sorely lacked. The people who made this movie cared about making a movie that worked. And the basic act of giving a shit is often the dividing line on samey franchise fare like this.

We open with a group of employees of a small paper company heading by bus to a corporate retreat. This plays out as a weird almost-funny riff on The Office at first, as we’re introduced to our hero who isn’t good at his job (but is a great chef in training), his maybe-breaking-up-with-him girlfriend, the overachieving best friend, and even the dumb boss played by David Koechner (who has even spent time on The Office). Other usual horror tropes abound, though it’s nice to see a movie that isn’t about teenagers.

Chef Hero ends up having a vision of the bus involved in a pretty gnarly bridge collapse, and Bob’s your uncle we’re off into another Final Destination movie. This one, much like the first one all those years ago, takes its time to get us used to the characters. They’re actually reacting like real people would, with actual survivors guilt and all of that. It’s a slower burn than the series has seen since it started, but I felt it played it well enough. Also involved is an FBI agent who doesn’t know what to make of all of this, wrapping us again back to the first and it’s obscure X-Files roots.

Tony Motherfuckin’ Todd is back as the mortician/coroner/whatever and spends a great deal of the first part of the movie showing up at murder scenes. The characters here don’t seem to really catch on that they’re all doomed until after the second person post-disaster dies, and it’s Todd who explains things to them in proper FD1 and 2 fashion. Here’s where the big fuck you to the rest of the series comes in though, the thing I was most interested in seeing.

Tony Motherfuckin' Todd. Like I need a better reason.

Todd tells them about Death’s Design and all that, but he also says that they can exchange their fates for someone else’s if they kill that person. Death takes them instead, and they get all the years that would have gone to the survivor. Nobody seems particularly taken with this idea aside from over-achieving best friend, who suddenly thinks that hey, if all of his friend’s didn’t deserve to die but did anyway, who’s to say which lives are sacred.

This is an interesting idea, and I was hoping it’d turn into this thing where the survivors all have to bring themselves to face this necessary evil. Survival is a pretty powerful impulse, and while I don’t have a particularly bleak view of human nature, I’m pretty sure me and a lot of people would do what it took to not die in ridiculous accidents. It would have been a bleak, throwback idea that hearkened to darker survivalist horror of the 70s and 80s.

Sadly that’s not what we get. Instead, the movie takes this premise and makes it the frame for the third act, as over-achieving best friend tries to kill Chef Hero’s girlfriend, who actually survived in the opening vision and thus isn’t cursed. You’d think she’d not hang around all these doomed people, but whatevs. Who am I to judge?

But by making it the focus it almost entirely derails the movie. Final Destination movies are founded on a very simple premise: they’re slasher movies without the slasher, reliant upon set piece deaths for all of their spectacle. But suddenly we have a killer, and not a very frightening one. When we’ve already seen the inevitability of death do incredible, horrible things to people, a scared guy with a gun isn’t particularly interesting. Especially when he acts in incredibly irrational ways and the film doesn’t bother making him particularly sympathetic once he turns. He ends up just another would-be horror killer, and is dispatched in short order. It is the epitome of anticlimax.

Thankfully, the movie isn’t quite over at that point, and we’ll get to that in The End?!, which is really the saving grace for the main bulk of the movie. As to the rest of it, I will say that despite that particular bit of misguided plotting, the kills are all relatively solid and there’s a reductionist quality to the whole affair (no visions, no magic cameras, no weird double-climax) that makes it feel all the more solid. The formula works, apparently, even if everyone seems intent to keep diluting it.

And so it goes. This is a movie for long-time fans of the series, to be sure. There’s a whole lot of nods both subtle and gross to the previous films, throwaway background elements that thankfully don’t call too much attention to themselves but work to make it feel like it came from people who have affection for and care about these movies, at least a little. It was one Clear Rivers nod away from making it the most crowd-pleasing thing ever. If the movie makes money, I’m sure they’ll make more, and I hope they can do interesting things with it. I’d love to see that darker bent on the whole life-for-life idea, but only if they really decide to commit to it. Otherwise, I’m sure I’ll be back in two years talking about more people dying.

I didn't even touch on how this one goes horribly wrong! It's gross AND includes patent-pending Final Destination water-and-electricity-don't-do-that gags.

The Best Kill
In proper Final Destination fashion, the best kill is easily the first kill. The girlfriend of the not-yet-erstwhile killer Overachieving Best Friend is a gymnast who is returning to particularly warm practice after the bridge accident. She’s on the balance beam when the AC starts, condensation from the top of the arena dripping down onto a fan set on the floor. The water pools near an exposed wire. This is all happening right next to the balance beam. At the same time, one of the ceiling vents shakes loose a screw that falls onto the balance beam point-up as she’s doing her routine.

It’s breathtaking to watch, knowing disaster is seconds away as she steps and flips around the screw. But suddenly she flips off of the beam and she’s done! Just as we breath a sign of relief, she starts walking towards the exposed wire and puddle. But just as she’s about to step on it she drops her towel, saving her.

Now on the parallel bars, she begins an aggressive routine that has one bolt starting to slip. Again it’s squirm-inducing to see, each spin bringing her closer and closer to disaster. But then, just when we think we’re about to witness obvious doom, another gymnast climbs onto the balance beam and flips onto the screw, impaling her foot and falling off of the beam. She lands against a podium holding chalk dust, which flies into the spinning fan, which gets blown right into the parallel bars. Our gymnast, blinded, is surprised into letting go of the bar where she lands on her head and breaks right the fuck in half. It’s gross, it’s tense, it’s the best kill since the shower in the first movie.

The ‘Best’ Kill
There is a really lame womanizer sleazeball survivor who goes around looting the dead employees’ desks for money. He finds a coupon to a Chinese spa, where he goes and is scummy about getting a happy ending from one of the people working there with a whole bunch of misogyny and casual racism to boot. He mocks the women and makes fun of the stone Buddhas and is generally the worst guy ever.

What follows is a genuinely funny bit with an old woman working him over who pretends she doesn’t speak English as she cracks every joint in his body and sticks him full of acupuncture needles. She’s so rough with him, in fact, that the table starts to creak apart.

She leaves him to sleep and that’s when a stick of incense drops onto some papers, igniting them. The guy tries to get up, but the table breaks and he falls off, landing flat on his chest and impaling himself on now bent and broken needles. While he’s lying there, his cell phone which has been set to one side vibrates off of the table and knocks over a bottle of rubbing alcohol which falls and pools around him. The shock of it is enough to wake him up, and crawling in pain he reaches the other side of the room just in time to keep himself from being ignited by the fire hitting the pool of rubbing alcohol.

Staring at the inferno, thinking he’s escaped, one of the shelves holding one of the big stone Buddhas collapses and lands on his head, crushing his skull and sending chunks of brain matter flying at the screen. The fat Buddha statue sits in the mess, blood running down its laughing face.

The End!?
Chef Hero and his girlfriend survive their would-be killer, Chef Hero getting the years that would-be killer had from killing someone else. Chef Hero has taken an apprenticeship in Paris, and we join the happy couple as they board the plane to Paris. As they settled into their seats, we’re interrupted by a scuffle higher up in the plane. It looks like some kids being dragged out of the plane. Chef Hero sighs and double-checks his tickets. Flight 180, departing in the year 2000 for Paris.

If you’ve been reading this far along, you know what that means. It’s played pretty close to the chest up until that point, 2000 not too far removed for a movie that goes out of its way not to play all its cards. But here we find ourselves, after all this time, right back where we started. The kids are hauled off the plane to go have the adventures I’ve already talked about. The plane takes off. Chef Hero and his girlfriend are killed in the resulting explosion of Flight 180, done incredibly faithfully to the original film’s semi-classic disaster.

And that’s not all! After the explosion, we’re left with the only other survivor, the young black guy who survived (for once!) and then accidentally caused another man’s death, saving himself from the plot. He’s at a bar toasting to his memory when another one of the people there mention that during the autopsy they discovered an embolism in the recently deceased’s brain. It was ready to go any day. The other man shrugs while relaying this news, says “Life’s a bitch” and as the only survivor stands there in stunned silence a piece of the exploded plane crashes through the ceiling and kills him.

Cut to the title, which begins to count down Final Destination 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 and then a huge montage of the original four movies’ kills remastered in 3D. It’s a neat touch, a final tribute to a film that seems to be made for the fans. If they don’t make another one of these, this is a great place to stop. It’s all come back around again, tied up with a nice neat bow, and as far as 5th entries in horror franchises go, is surprisingly solid.

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About M

Artist, ne'er do well, militant queer.
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