It was an ingenious move to create a horror franchise that by its very nature distills the plot and audience expectations down to their purest forms– Final Destination means you’re there to watch a set of people die in elaborate ways, and there’s no pretense to the contrary. This still means there is a lot of boring and perfunctory character drama crammed in between the kills to move us from one gag to the next, but fortunately the filmmakers behind Final Destination 5 have learned to pare that down to a minimum, and sprinkle it with enough easy comedy that it’s never too tiring. Sporting yet another deliciously elaborate opening sequence of annihilation, a gleefully gratuitous exploitation of 3D, and a brisk 92 minute runtime, Final Destination 5 is the best of a series that doesn’t ask much but consistently delivers exceptional carnage.
If you walk in with any doubts that Final Destination 5 is a film built from the ground up for 3D, then they will quickly be dismissed by an opening credit sequence comprised of dozens of shots of objects being thrown at you through a plane of glass. As logs, burning window frames, prosthetic limbs, and other detritus repeatedly sends sharp shards into your face, you’ll watch the film exploit 3D to the point of absurdity until it loops right back around again to being fun. It’s a brave (or perhaps simply thoughtless) way to start the film, as it pretty much desensitizes you to the gimmick immediately. Fortunately, the film is up to the task of topping it.
The plot begins with some exceptionally trite introductions to various talking pieces of meat who all work for the same company and are preparing for a retreat, with few of them registering as interesting people aside from funny man David Koechner as a dickheaded boss, and Miles Fischer as a distractingly accurate double for Tom Cruise. There’s something about the lead couple possibly breaking up as the main hero contemplates flying to Paris for a culinary apprenticeship, as well as a look at a kid who’s been inexplicably made assistant plant manager and has a problem with a mean union rep. There’s the slut, the annoying nerd, and probably another stereotype or two, but the only relationship that really matter is between Sam and Peter (aforementioned main hero and Tom Cruise characters, respectively) who actually register as legitimate friends.
Once the film moves blissfully past the opening scene, soon the expected premonition of elaborate death and destruction occurs, this time on an under-construction bridge. Obviously there are lots of opportunities here for a variety of great deaths, and the film doesn’t disappoint. Director Steven Quale confidently shoots falling, impalement, slicing, splatting, water crushing, and skin-peeling burns with positive gaiety, and that the gimmick innately allows the film to snap back and run through an abridged version of the sequence a second time is all the more fun. From here the film moves on and begins, one-by-one, murdering these characters that have escaped death.
Final Destination is ultimately known for the smaller, individual Rube-Goldberg-like kill sequences that are all suspense and misdirection. Building up danger in innocuous situations and giving the audience a special build-up to inevitable tragedy is a specialty of the franchise, and Quale again handles these well. It’s old school slapstick that has a main character doing gymnastics around an upturned screw, and after having the audience flinch and grimace for a few minutes, sends the character elsewhere, their death happening much more abruptly through a chain of events you’d never see coming. Of course, there are also deaths that play out exactly how you expect them too and in these scenes the film is obligated to really come through with the pay off. Final Destination 5 doesn’t disappoint.
This series isn’t entirely without a bit of mythology, as there are mechanisms that allow a character to cause another death to forestall their own, this news vaguely delivered by creepy gent Tony Todd. There’s also a minor sub-plot with a Fed that suspects Sam may be somehow behind the pattern of death, but that’s ultimately discarded with no fanfare. No, this film is about the kills and makes little effort to pretend otherwise. The only real deviation from this is the way in which Sam and Peter’s relationship turns out, and the more conventional thriller sequence this leads to towards the end. Even this sequence isn’t without it’s particular franchise-appropriate punctuation mark, so it’s all ultimately in-character.
Concluding with a clever mindfuck of a scene, it’s hard not to leave the theater completely satisfied, even if that might be a trick of the film’s limited ambition. But for an entry in a series that boils down to little more than a YouTube kill montage, this is a worthwhile little horror flick. There’s not an ounce of replay value, as even a little bit of reconsideration starts suggesting that, aside from the bridge sequence, there’s little violence that couldn’t have been pulled off in a decently-budgeted TV show. You’re likely to walk off pleased your first time though, making the roller coaster sequence in a previous film even more of an apt metaphor what Final Destination is striving to be.