The producers of 2009’s supposedly final The Final Destination were so dissatisfied with that intended franchise sendoff they felt they had to make up for it with at least one more installment. Although the moral of these movies is that sticking around after it’s time to go isn’t a good idea, Final Destination 5 turns out to be a goofy-guignol tongue-in-cheek treat for fright fans.
The gimmick of the series is that death doesn’t take no for an answer. Characters who escape what should be fatal situations are killed soon thereafter to balance the books, usually in extremely unlikely and humorously groanworthy fashion.
This time, retreat-bound employees of a firm with the unsubtle name Presage are convinced to get off their bus after one of them has a vision of a suspension bridge collapse. Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) is the wholesomely earnest nice guy who sounds the alarm. In Sam’s gruesome premonition, his girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) is the only passenger who doesn’t end up impaled, drowned, crushed, boiled in tar, bisected or otherwise rendered bereft of life.
The action in both the fantasy and real versions of the show-stopping bridge scene is well directed by first-timer Steven Quale, who was second-unit director on Avatar and Titanic. The special effects are unexpectedly impressive for a movie that otherwise looks so direct-to-video, and the shot-in-3D cinematography includes a few figurative pokes in the eye that work pretty well.
At the funeral for coworkers who didn’t make it off the bus, Sam encounters a mysterious stranger (Tony Todd, who played the same all-knowing Mr Bludworth in the first two Final Destinations and was a voice in the third). He ominously informs Sam that “death doesn’t like to be cheated” before literally whistling past the graveyard.
The first survivor to be claimed is Candice (Ellen Wroe), who feels a little iffy about appearing in a gymnastic competition. The interconnected factors leading to her unfortunate fate include enough misdirection fake-outs to make the scene deliciously excruciating. A single upright screw that lands on a balance beam becomes as menacing as a landmine, and a frayed electric cord looks hazardous even before somebody spills water on it. Let’s just say that Candice doesn’t have a clean dismount, and leave it at that.
Her bereaved boyfriend Peter (Miles Fisher, looking and acting eerily Tom Cruise-like) becomes increasingly unhinged as more shouldn’t-be-survivors are killed. Coworker Olivia (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood, a supermodel-stunning regular on TV’s The Bold and the Beautiful soap opera) sees unsatisfactory results from laser eye surgery. Isaac (PJ Byrne) has a life-altering acupuncture session. Boss Dennis (David Koechner) has a wrenchingly unpleasant experience.
Structure-wise, the movie suffers from being front-loaded with its biggest and most exciting set piece. It’s hard to top that terrific two-time bridge collapse. Similarly, the death’s-revenge scene with the most elaborate set-up is the first. And a subplot in which Sam is suspected of being responsible for the bus accident feels like filler.
A final plot twist cleverly reveals that 2009’s The Final Destination still has a legitimate claim to that seemingly misleading title. Afterward, there’s a greatest hits montage of fatalities from the previous movies to send audiences on their merry way with a song in their hearts. Carpe diem, folks!