Thursday, 1 September 2011

Final Destination 5 (Steven Quale, 2011) Review

Yeah, I think we'd better run... disaster strikes again in Final Destination 5 (2011)

You can say one thing for Death: he doesn't hang around. It's not even 24 hours after a group of twenty-something co-workers (all impossibly attractive and sporting splatter-proof hair) have survived a tragic bridge collapse, and the Grim Reaper is already devising increasingly imaginative ways to bump them off. The group (assorted clichés) were going on a team building holiday, but halfway across the bridge Sam (Nicholas D'Agosto) has a premonition that they're all going to die. Yada, yada, yada - we've all been here before, and the price of your (3D) ticket will include some exposition of its own. Don't let that put you off though. After all, Death doesn't hang around...

I've always been a fan of the Final Destination franchise, and Part 5 mostly lived up to my weighty expectations. The formula itself is faultless: a fatal accident occurs, our protagonists escape and Death's ground rules for resettling the balance are established. Quale's shorthand is effective and from here the film slots tongue firmly into cheek, ramps up the suspense and lets rip with all manner of viscid executions. It's a wild ride with a wicked vein of dark humour, but most refreshing in this entry is the fact that everyone's game for a little self awareness. Jacqueline MacInnes Wood is incredibly beautiful as Olivia, the token hottie, but she's burdened by a pair of glasses. Because of this she's self conscious, and decides upon laser eye surgery. A lesser director would have exploited the actresses looks and the character's vacuity, such as the way cheerleaders were toasted at a tanning salon in FD3 (Wong, 2006), but he instead plays upon her human aspect - her insecurity. Olivia is a bitchy character but we sympathize with her, and the fear ratchets up when she's left alone with an eye exposed to major heat. Unable to move she begins screaming, and the camera closes in on her juicy orb. It's a deeply squirm-inducing scene, and I must admit to having felt quite uncomfortable. But then the film makes its fatal error...

I kid you not: every death is an anti-climax. Olivia's sequence inexplicably ends with her falling out of a window, and similarly womanizer Isaac (P.J. Byrne) gets squashed by a Buddha after several more interesting possibilities are abandoned. The first death belongs to gymnast Candice (Ellen Wroe), and Quale's setup is masterful. He establishes so many red herrings - a pin, water dripping near an exposed wire, a creaky exercise pole - that the audience is never sure where to look, and he protracts the sequence to unbearable lengths in order to elicit genuine tension. Several intakes of sharp breath later and the scene had ended. I won't reveal how, but it's unfathomably disappointing. There's real intelligence in the way Quale realizes his death traps, so it's a shame that he doesn't know how follow them through to a satisfying climax.

3D is perfunctory for most studio releases these days, but FD5 plays the technology for its strength: thrusting limbs into your lap. Flesh For Frankenstein (Morrissey, 1973) was the first film to realize 3D's true capabilities, employing the gimmick for slithering entrails and gloopy prosthetics. Even earlier than that were a series of sex films which used the pokey illusion to enhance the fleapit experience. It should speak volumes that the most successful 3D film of all time (financially speaking) is 1969's The Stewardesses (Silliman Jr.), a high-flying softcore sensation which promoted "leggy lovelies" as its unique selling point. Here a character is impaled onto a yacht and the 3D's emphasis on her still-beating heart provided one of several solid jump scares. The opening bridge collapse (specifically choreographed around the limitations of the technology) is a stunning sequence only improved by the way 3D utilizes space. Even the opening credits are a barrage of shattering glass, nails and knives, all set to a pumping score by Brian Tyler. There are no pretensions here - no talk of immersive worlds or supposed depth. It's all about that core concept: limbs in your lap.

The final scene links us back around to the original Final Destination (Wong, 2000) in an interesting but questionable way. It makes sense within the narrative framework of FD5, but poses difficulties for the chronology of the following four movies, and the new trilogy which will happen should Quale's film be a box office success. It's an ill-conceived concept, but I still can't wait for Part 6...

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