Yes, the title of each sequel is a clear-cut oxymoron – ‘final’ means finite, right? – but there’s still a compelling need to see co-workers and classmates and team building recruits die horribly in a realistic event (plane crash, car pileup, rollercoaster oopsy-doopsy), then avoid the carnage, and wait as Death figures out ways to re-arrange things so something as utterly minor as a loose screw is responsible for the bone-breaking carnage that destroys a life.
It’s a sick franchise, but its makers have always presented each installment as a vicious black comedy, but no sequel has ever lived up to the dread and elaborately conceived demises neatly arranged in the original film, after a group of teens miss the plane pre-ordained to claim their lives.
The second film began with a spectacular highway crash but lost its way when the drama had annoying characters more or less holing up, wandering around, re-grouping, and dying in bits & pieces; the third was fun purely for the amazing sickness of each kill (getting nail-gunned from behind the head was truly horrific); and the fourth, while filmed in 3D and boasting an opening race car smash-up, was terrible due to a rotten script and embarrassing acting. If the franchise makers learned anything clear from FD4, the script had to have decent dialogue, the final characters needed some earnest qualities to make audiences car a smidge, and the casting had to be good; no-names and half-skilled were poor substitutes.
FD5’s director is former James Cameron Second unit director ace Steven Quale, but his approach is surprisingly classical: no psychotic editing, just carefully constructed moods and kills, and scenes of fairly decent characters taking in the horrific consequences of near-death experiences after they managed to avoid tumbling into the water when a cabled bridge is twisted and snapped into pieces.
The casting is above-par (Frozen’s [M] Emma Bell plays another tormented girlfriend role), and the actors are allowed to play their scenes completely straight, which creates a sick, black contrast to the death scenes, going from the ridiculous to the gravely serious in regular heartbeats.
The story structure is a retread of every prior film, but writer Eric Heisserer (The Thing prequel) gradually sneaks in little clever clues that pay off with a great surprise twist: the final two characters who avoid Death are on the same plane that members of the bickering French class in FD1 were booted from; and the reason the kids died in the first film is due to the two survivors in FD5.
Moreover, a third member in FD5 believes he may have accidentally found a way to cheat death. In the first film, the writers established how Death follows the order of the originally conceived deaths, and returns back to the missed characters for a second try, whereas in FD5 the new trick (a gimmick that really exists to transform one character into a gun-toting loon) is to find a substitute life: kill someone else, and you’re entitled to live out their natural years according to Death’s master playbook.
Heisserer’s gimmick is almost as novel as Paul Dehn’s use of time-travel and alternate worlds in the Planet of the Apes sequels because like FD5, the writer saved the franchise from dying out; the quality of the sequels may have been just as variable as the FD entries, but the series lived on for 5 films, and Heisserer’s poke may well open the door for a few more entries before its producers finally retire Death.
The subtle hints of the film’s setting include the presence of some carefully placed dead-tech, and fans of the series will enjoy the kills not because they follow the same ludicrously contrived cause & effect designs, but due to the writer and director creating tension from simple fears: fear of needles (as in an acupuncture session from hell), eye trauma (which in no way flatters LASIK eye surgery procedures), stepping on a sharp object (thereby ker-knorpling a promising gymnast), and sharp things in a commercial kitchen that can easily create grievous trauma. Tony Todd is also a hint towards the film’s prequel status, if not Washington State being the epicenter of Death’s puzzle lab to test kills before expanding globally.
END OF SPOILERS
New Line’s DVD features a fine transfer of the film, and while there’s no audio commentary track, the handful of featurettes provide standard glimpses into the film’s making, notably split-screen demonstrations of the bridge and plane disasters, comparing production footage with green screen masks and the finished product.
A pair of alternate deaths in the deleted scenes gallery is rather redundant: more fire is added to bodily trauma, and there’s less eye grossness for the LASIK patient after she makes her shotgun crash through the glass window.
Pity the featurettes didn’t focus on the music, as Brian Tyler’s second scoring of the franchise is more low key, much in the way Shirley Walker’s music for the first film emphasized omnipresent dread. (Tyler’s final cue for the twist finale is also one of the best things he’s ever written.)
Also missed was an opportunity to dissect the elaborate main and end credit sequences by Kyle Cooper (Se7en), which starts the film with a mass of shattered glass and objects symbolic of the eventual death sequences; and a truly sick finale where the classic kills from all five films are arranged in a lengthy music montage, celebrating the carnage fans expect each filmmaker to deliver with irony, and visceral gusto. (The original poster campaign isn’t a cheat: someone does indeed get ‘rodded’ to death through the skull.)
Shamefully enjoyable, FD5 is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and a ‘Triple Play’ pack featuring BR, DVD.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan