Friday, August 12, 2011

More Finals: FINAL DESTINATION 5


The biggest problem with the last couple Final Destination movies is that the audience starts the film way ahead of the characters. Since rare is the survivor in one of these cinematic death traps, we know all the rules and are forced to wait around for the new batch of characters to catch up to where we are. Each film starts with gathering a group of characters and then killing them all off in an over-the-top calamity. Then it circles back to reveal that the accident has yet to occur. What we’ve seen is merely a premonition that was just experienced by our main character. Said main character then saves some of the group seconds before the disaster occurs, but rather than saving their lives he’s brought them into a new kind of prolonged torture. Since they were all marked to die, Death itself, the ever-present invisible menace, is out to hunt down all of these escapees one by one.

I have a tremendous affection for this series. The first three are especially efficient and are probably the very best examples of the premise that could possibly be made, imbued with a gutsy B-movie sensibility paired with a devilish delight in methodically setting up the variables that, when triggered in just the wrong, or right, order will lead to a freak accident. They’re slasher movies without the villain. When you get right down to it, it’s far more unsettling for me to contemplate death by weird, complicated, unforeseeable circumstances than it is to simply ponder meeting a masked machete-man in the woods. The former is simply much more likely than the latter. These films succeed through their total commitment to the innovation and imagination (not to mention the incineration, impalement, and other sudden bloody frights) inherent in the concept.

By the time we arrived at the fourth feature in the series it was all starting to seem a little tired but here we are yet again, this time with Final Destination 5. It dials back some of the flippancy that began to settle in last time, occasionally summoning up the dread and propulsion that made the first three so much creepy fun. The recipient of the premonition this time is Nicholas D’Agasto, who wears the responsibility well. As for a group of his co-workers headed to a retreat that are saved by his early warning of a bridge collapse, they’re less memorable than they should be. The boss (David Koechner), the I.T. guy (P.J. Byrne), the intern (Emma Bell) and various office workers (Miles Fisher, Ellen Wroe, Jacqueline MacInnes Wood, and Arlen Escarpeta) are just plain less interesting than other ensembles and that makes the time spent waiting for the characters to learn why they survived, only to start mysteriously dying, a bit on the tedious side. (I do like how, as in all these movies, several character names are winks to horror icons of the past, this time including Friedkin, Hooper, and Castle).

As the characters line up to meet their grisly ends, the film, directed by Steven Quale from a script by Eric Heisserer, makes good use of its 3D technology, finding great ways to accent depth and heights but then still getting a kick out of thrusting bloody entrails and goop right at you. The way the plot unfolds feels a bit more belabored than usual. “You know how many things had to go wrong for this to happen?” a detective asks after a laser-eye surgery patient suffers through several steps of equipment malfunctions. It’s unsettling to a certain extent, and certainly gross, but lacks a real visceral impact like even an earlier sequence in this very movie that finds cringing suspense from the threat of unnatural bodily harm from gymnastics gone wrong. (I knew there was a good reason I find it difficult to watch uneven bars routines).

Learning about the franchise’s rules comes courtesy of the series’ one major semi-recurring supporting actor, Tony Todd as an eerie coroner. Asked how he knows so much, he responds “I’ve seen it all before.” That one line perfectly explains my problem with this movie.  I didn’t exactly have a bad time. It has a handful of good moments and ends on a terrific nod to the franchise’s past on top of a well-executed climax, but I just couldn’t summon up much reason to care. The ensemble isn’t distinctive enough, nor do they react to knowledge of the events quickly or interestingly enough. The film goes through the events you’d expect, hits all the beats the other films have conditioned us to foresee. But what the filmmakers serve up is only the bare minimum. I wasn’t exactly disappointed, but I left the theater wishing it could have been just a bit more inventive. The fresh premise is growing stale.

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