In slasher movies, there’s a masked bogeyman from whom you can run. In possession movies, there’s a demon you can exorcise. In torture flicks, there’s a device out of which you can slip. You can shoot a werewolf with a siliver bullet; plunge a wooden stake into a vampire; and shoot a zombie in the head. But the sneaky glory of the Final Destination series is that the bogeyman is death. You can’t escape death. Death will kill you every motherfucking time.
Therein lies the simple brilliance of the FD conceit; you can’t outrun it; you can’t stab it in the heart; you can’t call the cops on death. We are helpless against it. More sinister still are the extraordinarily random acts of violence at play. A commercial airline drops out of the sky only once every few years (knock on wood); a train derails only rarely; a roller coaster flies off the rails once in a lifetime. It takes a considerable amounto of human error to cause most catastrophic disasters. But freak accidents? They are a daily occurrence. A blade could shake loose from an appliance at any time. A stair could give away suddenly and without warning. A leaky faucet could trickle onto a hairdryer. We are all a second from death on each side of us. How many near-death experiences have you had in your lifetime? How many times you did you stop yourself before stepping off a curb just before that bus drove by? How many near-fatal collisions have you avoided? It’s a wonder any of us survive infancy.
Final Destination is more than just spectacular, Rube Goldbergian-style deaths. Final Destination plays on the daily fears that most of us manage to suppress, because if we couldn’t believe that a 911 call or a gun under our pillow or a medic-alert bracelet could save us, many of us would be so paralyzed by the random nature of death that we’d be incapable of leaving our houses. And guess what? Death will still find us there.
5nal Destination 3D is the latest in franchise that has spanned 11 years now, and it’s the best since the second in the series. First-time feature director, Steven Quale, finds whatever it was that was missing in the last two installments and resurrects it. It’s still a series of set pieces devised to kill off bland twenty-somethings in the most elaborately gruesome ways possible, but it manages to reiterate better than the last two installments how random, how inevitable, and how permanent death is.
It’s also an ass-load of fun. The series feels reinvigorated by the 3D elements. Though the plot is as thin as that piece of paper sitting precariously next to you threatening to fly off and start a chain reaction that will result in your demise, 5nal Destination also brings the series full-circle in a surprising and almost imaginative way.
The fifth film begins with a bus ride to a corporate retreat. Headed across an expansion bridge, Nicholas D’Agosto — typifying the series’ flair for the symmetrically bland — has a vision that the bridge will collapse. He ushers seven of his friends and co-workers off that bridge just in time to save them, only to later realize that death is still drunk with power and nipping at their heels. One by one they drop, each in their own satisfying kill kill head-exploding, body-twisting manner until Miles Fisher — Tom Cruise by way of a JCPennys catalog — attempts to exploit a loophole. But there are no loopholes in death; fuck with Death, and he will hasten yours.
We all know how Final Destination films end by now, and thanks to the central conceit, we even know in what order most of the victims will die. The tension is not in the if, it’s in the how. Quale, working from a Eric Heisserer script, breathes new life in the how. He doesn’t up the ante, as the last two films attempted — and failed — to do. He simply finds a way to make the inevitable exciting to watch again.