Final Destination 5: Film Review

Final Destination 5
Warner Bros.
This horror series with a touch of black comedy continues under the direction of first-timer Steven Quale.

Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher and Courtney B. Vance star in the fifth installment of the horror series, directed by first-timer Steven Quale.

Final Destination 5 continues New Line’s “death tease” series wherein a group of clueless characters are stalked not by a demon or mad man but by death itself … or to be accurate, the film’s makers. Real death, of course, is much more prosaic, letting far too many people expire in their beds, which is very uncinematic. In this film, as in the previous four editions, the suspense, or tease if you will, lies in guessing which of the objects in a location will terminate a character — the faulty wiring, that loose wing nut, those nasty knives, an overhead fan or perhaps a kitchen fire?

In a sense, the films offer up black comedy, provoking laughs at wrong guesses and giggles over an absurd chain of events that results in disaster. The series was on its own deathbed when the producers to their credit got the bright idea in FD4 to make the film in 3D. Sharp objects appeared that much sharper with the added dimension so the series got a reprieve and here everyone is back with a fifth film. To borrow from TV terminology, the series hasn’t jumped the shark yet, but the strain of inventing bizarre deaths is beginning to show.

This film’s opening sequence is undeniably spectacular. What must happen in each film is that one character gets a graphic premonition of impending disaster, which he essentially lives through moments before it actually happens. In FD5, a group of young people, heading for a company retreat, gets trapped in a bus on a high suspension bridge over a river just as the damn thing collapses in a “freak wind storm.”

Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) is the designated savior this time, which allows him to rescue seven colleagues including best pal Peter (Miles Fisher) and girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell). These survivors are dubbed the Lucky Eight by the media but from death’s point of view everyone was meant to die on that bridge. As death’s dour emissary (Tony Todd, who took the last film off) warns Sam at the funeral, “Death doesn’t like to be cheated.”

So it’s game on and the characters immediately start to meet horrible ends, which baffles an FBI guy (Courtney B. Vance), weirdly called in to investigate potential criminality in the bridge collapse. The series holds a peculiar fondness for impalement of human flesh, but the deaths created here in Eric Heisserer’s mercifully swift screenplay really push that predilection to include demises involving acupuncture and laser eye surgery. To be sure, there are a couple of straightforward impalements too mundane to mention.

The twist to this new edition is that death’s emissary lets a few characters in on a dirty little secret: If any of the Lucky Eight takes an innocent life, this will somehow balance the books in the afterlife: Death will no longer stalk that individual. This twist has greater dramatic potential than the filmmakers seem to realize for in doesn’t really come into play until a climatic sequence where the filmmakers unwittingly undercut the series’ M.O.: Will a fantastic accident or a good old-fashioned homicide do in the final survivors? The filmmakers never quite make up their minds how to play this.

Steven Quale, a longtime colleague of James Cameron who has worked in cinematography and visual effects including 3D for over two decades, was recruited to make his directing debut. Surprisingly, the 3D doesn’t amount to much after the bridge collapse. So it will be interesting to see how fans of the series spend their money this time since the 2D option will come with a smaller ticket price.

The British Columbia production is slickly designed and takes ample advantage of its locations from an Asian spa to a restaurant kitchen. The cast is a lively bunch but since emotions ran only a narrow gamut from anxiety to terror and back again, there isn’t much opportunity to show off thespian skills.

Ellen Wroe does get to show off her gymnastic training though in the film’s first and least plausible death. Jacqueline MacInnes Wood all but tears a teddy bear to shreds in the ophthalmologist’s chair.

Arlen Escarpeta should actually survive according to death’s survivors calculus but it turns out death cheats too. P.J. Byrne reaches for comedy in his spa death scene while David Koechner, as The Office-style boss, punches out so suddenly you might call his a disappointing death.

Opens: Friday, Aug. 12 (Warner Bros.)
Production companies: New Line Cinema presents, a Practical Pictures/Zide Pictures production
Cast: Nicholas D’Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher, Courtney B. Vance, Arlen Escarpeta, David Koechner, Tony Todd, P.J. Byrne, Ellen Wroe, Jacqueline MacInnes Wood
Director: Steven Quale
Screenwriter: Eric Heisserer
Based on characters created by: Jeffrey Reddick
Producers: Craig Perry, Warren Zide
Executive producers: Richard Brener, Walter Hamada, Dave Neustadter, Erik Holmberg, Sheila Hanahan Taylor
Director of photography: Brian Pearson
Production designer: David R. Sandefur
Visual effect supervisor: Ariel Velasco Shaw
Music: Brian Tyler
Costume designer: Jori Woodman
Editor: Eric Sears
R rating, 92 minutes