MacGuffin Film Review – Final Destination 5

Film Review – Final Destination 5

To prepare for Final Destination 5 in 3D, I watched the original movie in the franchise, Final Destination. I’d seen it before and thought it was a nicely plotted, effective little horror film, and this was reaffirmed on my second viewing. The characters are worth caring about, the story makes sense and is interesting, and there are enough scares to keep things hopping. My recommendation is that you rent Final Destination instead of seeing Final Destination 5. It’s a much better movie and you won’t feel nasty after watching it.

The plot of all the Final Destination movies is basically the same. Someone who is about to go on a plane trip/rollercoaster/bus ride has a vision that the plane trip/rollercoaster/bus ride is doomed to end horribly. Said person manages to get themselves and a few other folks off the plane/rollercoaster/bus. Disaster strikes and they become the guilty survivors. But, it turns out they cannot escape the hand of death; when your time is up, your time is up. The survivors will start dying off in the order that they were originally supposed to go, unless they can discover some loophole that will let them survive. (And this loophole may or may not actually work.)

It’s a genius set up actually, because this movie can be remade ad infinitum with just slightly different plots. Which is what they have done. Like I said, the first movie is pretty good. The second and third movies decline in quality, but were perfect for watching on a lazy Sunday afternoon with my daughter. (She’s 21, not 5, FYI. I might be a bad mom, but I’m not a BAD mom.) I thought I’d seen the fourth movie, but really hadn’t. It’s a legitimate mistake. The plot of the fifth movie not only parallels the first movie, it directly references it, which makes it fair game for a little comparing and contrasting in this review.

The story begins with our hero Sam Lawton (Nicholas D’Agosto) preparing to leave on a retreat with his company. I’m not sure what this company does, but they have sales people and manufacturing people. Sam is a salesperson, but he moonlights as a cook and he has just been offered an internship at his restaurant’s flagship location in Paris. Because that is where all great cooking is done. There is a subplot about his girlfriend (Emma Bell) breaking up with him because she doesn’t want him to have to choose between Paris and her, and you are supposed to identify with him and maybe even care a little about his impending death. Actually, it is a pretty obvious ploy and I was not the only one in the theater who laughed out loud whenever the couple was having a serious discussion.

Ok, back to the retreat. So the employees from this company are on their way to a retreat, and it should be noted that they all look really young. The actors range from mid-twenties to early thirties, but they are Hollywood years, so everybody looks like they are in their early 20s. There are a couple of adult-looking people in the movie (Courtney B. Vance and David Koechner) and they are in positions of authority. I would worry about the effectiveness of my sales department if they were all that young, but I guess the movie people wanted to make sure that their target audience could at least try to identify with the cast.

Anyway, they are on their way to the retreat when Sam has his vision. They are in the bus, stopped on a bridge, when the bridge starts to collapse. And it takes a long time for this to happen because it collapses slowly and in sections so we can see, and presumably enjoy, every agonizing death. This movie is in 3D, so there are lots of people getting impaled on stuff. Also, lots of people falling, including one who lands safely in the water, but gets smooshed by a car. This is the big special effects scene to get the movie started, and most people in the audience at the showing I went to cheered and laughed at the over-the-top nature of what was happening on the screen. Sam and a handful of others get off the bus before the bridge falls, and watch as the mayhem unfolds around them. FBI agent Block (Courtney B. Vance) questions everybody at the station about what happened, but leaves with doubts about what led Sam to get off the bus. (So far it parallels the first movie exactly.)

Then the deaths of the survivors start. The first death is a particularly nasty accident of a gymnast on the uneven bars. She ends up like sad rag doll, twisted and bloody on the floor. Then the other deaths follow, each character suffering a gruesome, improbable accident. Every death scene is carefully planned so the audience can follow along and anticipate what is going to happen. And I don’t just mean anticipate in the sense of “know what is going to happen,” I mean “look forward to.” In the first movie, some of the deaths were out of the blue, and some were elaborate scenes that built on one improbable accident after another. Each successive movie has built upon not only the elaborateness of the deaths, but upon their explicit violence. The deaths in this film are outrageous in their improbability and 3D gory glory.

Every set-up in this movie serves the death scenes. The whole point of having a manufacturing plant at the company is so that someone can die there. A girl’s glasses are specifically mentioned in order to foreshadow something nasty that is going to happen later. That gymnast is a gymnast for a reason. Everybody laughed during Sam’s relationship scenes because everyone in the audience knew that this was just filler until they could get to the good parts. The story here is just tacked on so we have a reason to move from death to death. In the first movie, the characters gradually figure out what is happening and why. One of the pleasures of the film was this discovery and resulting conversations. It is by no means a deep film, but the events in it have meaning. Final Destination 5 assumes that you have seen the other movies and that you know what is going on, so there is no journey of discovery. A minor recurring character played by horror stalwart Tony Todd comes out and briefly explains why the survivors are dying to the characters and the audience members who are new to the franchise. And then he gives them the new loophole: in order to survive, you must take the life of someone else. You will then receive their remaining years. Other loopholes in the past have been much more benign, like if someone intervenes in your death, your turn gets skipped. I don’t think I am spoiling the plot by saying this new loophole ends poorly on many levels.

I also think that “deaths” is maybe the wrong word to be using here. I think “kills” is more appropriate. The audience reaction to the kills was more like someone playing a video game than watching a movie. There was a lot of laughing and whispering while the kill was being set up and then more laughing and cheering during the kill scene itself. Only once was a death any kind of surprise, although you would have seen it a mile away if you were paying any kind of attention. I felt like I was watching a gladiator fight at the Circus Maximus. You know someone is gonna die and boy isn’t it fun to watch! There is a certain element of that in watching any horror movie with a body count, but in this movie there is no regret, no sympathy, no meaning beyond the enjoyment of an elaborately staged kill scene.

For those of you who are all about the special effects, the vision sequence is crazy over the top, but all of the little CGI people falling through the air looked totally fake. This was my first 3D movie, and it was actually kind of cool, but if there had been a story, this technology would not have enhanced it much. However, the 3D and other technology exist simply to take the kill scenes to the next level. Because the only thing this movie has to offer is moments of such absurd violence that no one could possibly have a shred of compassion for the person being made to suffer. Because then some people would feel crappy about coming to see the movie and the franchise might die.

There were a lot of people in the audience who had a great time. The film is played for laughs and there are a few funny lines. (There’s a really douchey character who is so awful that one can’t help laughing, even though racism, sexism, and robbing the dead aren’t supposed to be funny anymore.) There is one genuinely clever moment, but you will need to have seen the first movie to enjoy it. But then, Final Destination is so much better than this movie, you might be unable to enjoy anything else in Final Destination 5.

Final Grade: D+

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