Final Destination 5 begins with 3D objects smashing through glass one after the other. At first, I thought I was watching the film’s central set piece, a bridge collapse, from a first-person perspective, but then I spotted a lamp, a set of kitchen knives, a fashion dummy, followed by the lamp again and the fashion dummy. Do the doodads go back in line after every collision? Is the glass self-regenerating? I mention this to illustrate how the mind wanders when faced with endless repetition.
As it turns out, the credit sequence serves as a perfect metaphor for a franchise that, four sequels in, has yet to find a fresh take on the original formula: obnoxious teens go on a field trip; the most sympathetic (Nicholas D’Agosto) gets a premonition and saves the others from a disaster; death then plays Mousetrap with the survivors; Tony Todd shows up to explain the plot for anyone who dozed off; and the heroes find a way to cheat the Grim Reaper, which more often than not comes back to bite them in the ass.
As I mentioned, a bridge collapse serves as the catalysing disaster in Final Destination 5. Having experienced firsthand the freeways in Montreal, I find the concept more relatable than the roller coaster ride and NASCAR pileup from the previous two entries. However, the execution leaves a bit to be desired, relying too heavily on digital animation and folk getting impaled in improbable ways. The gory spectacle distracts from the tragedy, and, clocking at four minutes and forty-four seconds, the sequence gets old fast.
I feel the same about the subsequent Rube Goldberg kills, which combine the conceit of 2005’s Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (oh, irony) with that of a bad Itchy and Scratchy cartoon. I get it though. Urban legends must have seemed a natural fit for a series about the deadly mundane. Unfortunately, old wives’ tales seldom pass scrutiny, so we end up with ridiculous set pieces involving acupuncturists who’ve lost both their hearing and sense of smell, gamma-powered eye surgery, and lots of large objects puncturing the human body instead of knocking it down.
I’d hoped the franchise would have dropped the “man is made out of pudding” motif from the previous instalment, inconveniently titled The Final Destination (2009). The first Final Destination (2000), which I now wish was the first and Final Destination, challenged our adolescent delusions of perpetuity by playing with the notion that death can come from anywhere. This one has death coming from everywhere. It’s not enough for someone to catch on fire while suffering a thousand impalements. A blunt object’s got to crush the poor sap’s skull too.
Another victim plummets from a high-rise and has an eye crushed by an oncoming vehicle. That means the driver saw a human being drop from the skies and thought, “Hmm, I won’t stop to call the authorities or try to avert possible falling debris. Instead, I’ll steer closer because, if there’s one thing my garage floor is missing, it’s the smell of rotting cornea juice.” Forgive my pedantic nature, but shouldn’t horror films present death as horrific rather than oh-so-funny?
At least, screenwriter Eric Heisserer aspires to some measure of substance, adding a promising if inconsistent turn to the series. The survivors learn that they may extend their lives by committing murder and stealing the victims’ remaining years. This allows a discussion of ethics in an arbitrary world. When one of the characters hunts down the hero’s girlfriend (Emma Bell), who refreshingly never dies in the vision, we sense he isn’t trying to survive so much as right a karmic injustice. The movie never explores the notion further, though I hope future instalments do.
I also like the final twist, which seems to draw inspiration from the Saw franchise of all places. Granted, those paying attention to details in the background will see it coming a mile away, but then that’s precisely why it works. I only wish director Steven Quale had let the characters react in accordance with their arc instead of negating the story’s central message to play up the irony. To make matters worse, he punctuates the scene with a mean-spirited and largely predictable punch line that ruins just about any chance of contemplation.
That’s my biggest issue with the movie. Like the tired franchise to which it belongs, Final Destination 5 has got interesting ideas, but it doesn’t know when to quit fooling around. For example, the aforementioned punch line might have served as an amusing Easter egg after or even during the credits, but that space is reserved for a 3D compilation of the series’ most gruesome kills. The montage is as tasteless as you might imagine, and it too goes on far too long.