Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review: Final Destination 5 (2011)

Final Destination 5 (2011)

Rated R for strong violent/gruesome accidents, and some language

Score: 4 out of 5

So it ends here. Altogether, the Final Destination series is probably, pound for pound, one of the most remarkably solid and consistent horror franchises (that went longer than a trilogy, at least) ever made. Paranormal Activity started slipping around the second film if you're feeling charitable, with my enjoyment of three separate films in that series being very much an anomaly among horror fans. The original Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween series (not counting spinoffs, crossovers, or remakes), the "Big Three" slasher franchises, have as many bad entries as they have good ones. Final Destination, though, has only one film out of five that was truly bad, with the rest being decent at worst and highly watchable at best, and there are genuine debates in the series' fandom over which movies fall into the former category versus the latter. The only real comparison is Scream, which not only had a knockout classic as its opener, but whose sole bad entry had more redeeming value than the worst movie in this series -- and even then, there were only four Scream movies instead of this series' five. (With Scream 4's box-office disappointment and Wes Craven's passing, we'll likely never know how Kevin Williamson's planned "second Scream trilogy" would've turned out.)

And the fact that the Final Destination series managed to so quickly and effortlessly recover from its lowest ebb, going out on a high note with one of the best installments yet, definitely gives it some points. The critics were as surprised as anyone that a blood-soaked horror franchise on its fifth entry could still hold any surprises, yet surprise it did, enough to give this film the series' only Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes (albeit just barely). And in my opinion, it earns it. It expands the series' mythology, provides an interesting bunch of characters among both the leads and the supporting players, paints the walls red with great kills, and lastly, ends on a twist that not only blew me away the first time I saw it, but which held up beautifully upon a rewatch. This is one for the fans, but it's a great treat for everybody who stuck with the series after all this time.

I'll start, as I usually do, with the plot and the cast. Our main characters are co-workers who, while on their way to a corporate retreat, are saved from getting caught in a bridge collapse when one of them, Sam (Nicholas D'Agosto), has a premonition of the disaster. The film then proceeds to go your usual Final Destination way, but in addition to the obligatory parade of deaths, the film throws in a twist: somebody who's on Death's list can murder somebody and take their place, granting them all the time that that person would've had to live instead. When the mysterious Bludworth (Tony Todd, feeling like he'd never left) tells the dwindling pool of survivors about this, one of them, Peter (Miles Fisher), starts losing it and makes plans to kill somebody in order to save himself. And given that Sam said that, in his premonition, his estranged girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) managed to survive, Peter starts wondering why Molly deserves to live and not him...

As our heroes, Sam and Molly aren't quite up there with the third film's Wendy and Kevin as the series' best protagonists, but they're definitely up there with Alex and Clear from the first film. The film takes its time developing their relationship, with Molly distraught over Sam's plan to take an internship in Paris to become a chef, meaning that she'll have to either stay behind or uproot her life to follow him. Of the two actors, it was clearly Nicholas D'Agosto who did most of the heavy lifting as the main hero Sam, though Emma Bell did manage to keep up with him as the generically cute, but still likable, Molly, even if she wasn't a standout. Regardless, while their relationship was pretty boilerplate, I bought into it and wanted to see them make it, in both love and survival. And unlike the third film, where Wendy and Kevin were far and away the best characters, here we get a whole bunch of charmers who are either interesting, or who we love to hate. Jacqueline MacInnes Wood was one of the standouts as Olivia, with her unabashed sexiness and her snarky sense of humor. David Koechner as the boss Dennis helped give parts of the film, especially early on, something of a workplace comedy feel in between the deaths, and his was a very welcome presence. Miles Fisher as Peter is a villain in the vein of Ian from the third film, but more interesting and with more realistic motivations. Even the early deaths, like the nervous college girl Candice and the douchebag hate-sink Isaac, held my attention better than the supporting cast in any of these films since the first two. Between the solid leads and the equally solid supporting cast, I think a case can be made for this film having quite possibly the series' best all-around cast since the first film, and arguably rivaling it. 

They ultimately had to go, of course, which brings me to what we all watch these movies for. The deaths are all spectacular, in both the setup and in the money shot. The foreshadowing of just what is gonna land the killing blow is at the best it's been, handled with a genuine subtlety that leaves the Reaper hanging around every corner. None of the scenarios feel ridiculous here, instead feeling like the sorts of things that could actually happen to some poor sucker. (These movies ain't for the paranoid to begin with, but this one especially will make you want to lock yourself in a safe, padded room like Clear Rivers did.) The new concept of being able to kill someone to take their place on Death's list also creates suspense as to just who is going to die, leaving a sense of unpredictability that the series has lacked since the original. One great use of this scene not only made for an effective bait-and-switch, but created an interesting dilemma as the other characters (especially Peter, who'd been considering it even before then) saw first-hand that Bludworth was right about killing someone being an effective way to extend your lifespan.

And of course, they did not skimp out on the special effects this time. The gore is well-done and in vivid detail, the body count is high, and while once again you can tell this was made with 3-D in mind, the effects are far more restrained, translating much better to watching at home in 2-D. When it comes to the bigger special effects, I must give props to the CGI department, because the opening disaster is up there with the pileup in the second film as the best in the series. While the opening has always been among the highlights of any Final Destination movie, the bridge collapse here cranks it up to disaster movie levels, with a focus on violent spectacle as the suspension bridge slowly crumbles and takes everybody on its deck with it. Everybody involved with this film must have watched the last one, taken notice of how ugly the special effects were, and set out to make this film look simply gorgeous. For a medium-budget (about $40 million) horror film, the disaster scenes here look better than those from summer blockbusters that had several times as much money behind them.

Finally, I want to give a shout-out to the set designers here. This film has a twist ending that's heavily foreshadowed from the beginning, but unless you know what to look for, you probably won't see it coming except on a rewatch, at which point all the little quirks of the setting that made you shake your head the first time suddenly start to click. Not only does the writing do a great job of setting things up in passing bits of the characters' dialogue, but certain facets of the set design, like the vehicles, the cell phones, and even the license plates, also make it ring true. Without spoiling anything, it shows just how much everybody involved in this film was paying attention and taking care to make sure that the story came together, and wouldn't be undone by obvious questions.

The Bottom Line:

A very good grand finale for the series that sends it out with a bang. I wouldn't recommend it for series newcomers due to how much certain moments rely on call-backs to past films, but if you're a fan, then this film was practically made for people like you.

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