Let’s face it. Since the early Aughts, horror villains have been, by and large, drags. Even Founding Fathers of supernatural serial killing, like Freddy and Michael Myers, experienced a 21st century overhaul; a re-invention which sucked all the light-heartedness out of their respective franchises. Meanwhile, the “Saws” and “Hostels” gave us torture porn, which satisfies the visceral bloodlust but isn’t exactly a laugh riot. It’s about time somebody made the horror franchise fun again. And there are few things more fun than the wacky Rube Goldberg ways of Death’s Design. In 3D!
After the entertaining – but ultimately flat – false series-ender, “The Final Destination”, the careless Reaper returns to clean up yet another of his botched attempts at killing attractive youths. This time, it’s the dynamic corporate team of a paper company (Hey! That would make a good sitcom!), who thwart Death’s Design only to learn that he means to finish the job in a variety of gloriously gruesome and convoluted ways. (I hope this is just Death’s way of keeping things interesting. Otherwise, he might want to consider another line of work.)
Anyone new to the series will quickly get up-to-speed during the opening credits as a long stream of deadly objects hurl toward them. This is also where rookie director, Steven Quale, shows off a little, showcasing the pitch-perfect 3D gore effects that are to come. Horror is the perfect genre for 3D. After a brief introduction to the characters, they get right to the mass destruction. On their way to a corporate retreat, Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) has a vision of the bridge they’re stopped on, collapsing and killing everyone. This is the world’s most terrible bridge, where one crack in the wrong place coupled with a gust of wind, sends the entire thing crumbling into the water. It’s a very impressive, very awesome disaster scene that rivals the groundbreaking choreography of the freeway pileup in “Final Destination 2”. Sam is able to convince seven of his co-workers to get off the bus and they race to safety as the ground disintegrates beneath them.
The survivors consider themselves lucky until, at the funeral of their fallen colleagues, a sinister, whistling coroner named Bludworth (series regular, Tony Todd), warns them that Death doesn’t like to be cheated and he will come back to set things right. Despite all the ominous whistling, they are nonetheless surprised when, sure enough, Death picks them off in the order in which they were meant to die.
By now, audiences know what to expect: Elaborate death scenes involving faulty wiring, loose screws and spilled water that eventually lead to an unexpected freak accident. The “OWWH!” moment is what we’ve come to see, but screenwriter, Eric Heisserer does us one better. He understands that the reason the first two films worked so much better than 3 and 4 were because of the fleshed out characters. It’s fun to see all the different ways a person can be impaled, but if the people in peril are just archetypes, it’s a slog to get through the remaining scenes. The protagonists here aren’t exactly Rosemary Woodhouses, but they’re whole people with dreams and heartbreaks. We can feel their grief and fear and we genuinely want them to live. Final Destination’s first foray into 3D was one death scene after another. Five lets us get to know our characters a little bit, and then kills them off in 3D.
The fifth installment also introduces a new potential solution for thwarting Death’s Design (They didn’t say “Death’s Design” nearly enough this time around, so I have to make up for it here). This isn’t a personal vendetta for Death. He just needs to keep his books straight. So old Bludworth suggests that if one of these doomed souls takes the life of a person who wasn’t meant to die, they can have their years and everything will be square. It adds an interesting bit of extra tension as some consider testing the theory.
It’s not a perfect film. The first post-bridge collapse death is so outlandish that even the characters remark on its improbability. But, things get much better once Death gets back to his signature work of impalements and defenestrations. If this is indeed the final “Final Destination”, it’s a nice clean end to the series. But the freak accident premise has endless possibilities. They could also delve more into the supernatural aspect it, and give us an explanation as to who would bother to give someone a glimpse into their future if their future was inevitable (and why). They can get as existential as they want or take it back to bloody basics. All I know is I will be in line every time. Even if these movies always make me want to go home and tighten every screw and bolt in my house.