Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 22, 2011)
When the 2009 film came titled The Final Destination, one might’ve assumed that it was meant to be the last entry in the series. Otherwise, why not just call it Final Destination 4? The Final Destination appeared to connote an end.
Yeah, right – and we believed that Freddy’s Dead would be the last Nightmare on Elm Street flick and The Final Chapter would offer the conclusion of Friday the 13th, too. Fool me once, shame on you – fool me 97 times and I’m a moron.
The Final Destination wasn’t a major hit, but it pulled in $66 million, which is more than respectable for something in its genre. I guess that was enough to guarantee Final Destination 5, so it arrived in the summer of 2011.
On the way to a company retreat, Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) has a vision in which a bridge collapses and everyone on his bus meets a grisly demise. When he snaps out of his premonition, he warns everyone to abandon the bus. Some follow, and some don’t, but the ones who get out manage to survive.
For a while, at least. As we learned in the first four Final Destination movies, you can only cheat death for so long. One by one, the survivors of the bridge collapse die in unusual ways. We follow these fatalities and wonder who – if anyone – will survive.
Like flicks in the slasher vein, that’s part of the attraction with any Final Destination, as we guess who will make it to the end of the story. However, we don’t really care, as the characters receive such insignificant development that they never earn our attachment or interest.
Besides, we can guess who’ll last anyway. We know the jerkier characters will buy it before long, and others just smell of “supporting part” so much that their deaths become inevitable. The films attempt occasional surprises to break this trend, but they don’t do much to change up matters.
This is because the filmmakers know the real attraction here comes from the bizarre methods of death. The characters don’t buy it in simple ways; instead, they go in ways that would make Rube Goldberg proud. These can be clever but they’re also maddening; they require so many coincidences and mishaps to occur that they provoke as much eye rolling as horror.
Given that this is the fifth film in the franchise and it’s likely prospective viewers know what to expect, it becomes more difficult to regard the absurd nature of the deaths as a true flaw. I suspect the Destination franchise has entered “preaching to the choir” territory; the flicks are made to appeal to a core base of fans, and any other viewers count as gravy.
And that’s fine, as long as we assume the established fans really do enjoy what they see. As for me, I think the series comes with a clever premise but the combination of the ridiculousness and the franchise’s fatalistic nature tend to be a turnoff for me. It’s not a spoiler to say that no one survives Destination 5. I’m pretty sure that’s the series’ MO, so you shouldn’t expect anyone to experience a happy ending.
Would it really be so awful to let someone survive every once in a while, though? Maybe – perhaps that MO is so well-entrenched that any change would look like a cop-out to the fans.
For me, though, I find it depressing, and it makes the movies less interesting. If I know everyone’s going to die, it becomes impossible to invest in the stories. There’s no drama or tension if we’re aware that each character will end up six feet under; if the only excitement comes from the complicated ways in which they perish, then I think the film’s in trouble.
Destination 5 does throw in a minor curveball when the characters apparently learn a way to cheat death, though again, it loses some effectiveness because we know it won’t work. That’s the inherent problem with the franchise. It’s so fatalistic that we never buy into the characters’ attempts to survive; no matter how good they sound, we’re fully aware they’ll fail.
Many horror franchises are repetitive, but the Final Destination flicks appear to suffer from this problem more than most. Final Destination 5 manages a few interesting moments, and I must admit I like the twist that comes at the very end. However, too much of the movie seems predictable and inevitable.