FINAL DESTINATION 5 – Blu-ray review

You’ll recall that the premise of the “Final Destination” series, which started back in 2000, is that in each film a different group of young people escape imminent demise, only to find Mr. Death stalking them thereafter, the Grim Reaper applying his deadly scythe in various gruesome and unexpected ways while the audience writhes either in utmost agony or sheer glee.  Obviously, the movies are simply excuses for our watching people die in the most grisly ways imaginable, a little like the “Friday the 13th” genre and other such slasher pix except with more style and wit.  Still, there were no real plots, no serious characterizations, no meaning.  Just blood and guts, little more.  Well, to be fair, the first “Final Destination” movie had a modicum of humor in it; enough, in fact, for me to have called it a comedy and to have marginally enjoyed it.  After the first movie, however, the series went downhill fast.  So it gives me some pleasure–a perverse pleasure to be sure–to say I enjoyed this fifth, 2011 installment, “Final Destination 5,” better than any of its predecessors, maybe because the filmmakers remembered their macabre sense of fun as they were doing it.

If you’ll also recall, the last entry in the series, mysteriously titled “The Final Destination” rather than “Final Destination 4,” tried so hard to be cool and hip that by overreaching, it was not at all interesting.  This time the filmmakers take a more straightforward view of things and produce a more subtly amusing picture.  The humor grows out of genuine terror and the giddy, grisly, over-the-top consequences of the action.  It’s not a horror classic by any means, you understand, but it’s highly watchable if you have a strong-enough stomach.

Credit screenwriter Eric Heisserer, film editor Eric Sears, and first-time big-screen director Steven Quale for their work in turning what could have been–probably should have been–just another exercise in gore into a tense and at times daringly inventive fright film.  Even the opening graphics screens look clever, attractive, and functional.  Everything about the film, in fact, operates like a well-oiled machine (even if it’s a machine from Torquemada’s Inquisition), including Brian Tyler’s aggressive background score that underlines the movie’s aggressively forward momentum.

The amazing thing is, even though the film features an abundance of awkward, amateurish, sometimes flat acting, the scenes between the deaths don’t seem to matter.  They are mere transitions, immaterial to the movie’s primary purpose, which is to keep its audience in fear and wonder for an hour and a half.  Besides, the corny dialogue and acting only help to emphasize the B-movie nature of the proceedings.

Needless to say, the plots of these things are unimportant, too; it’s the deaths that count.  And in “Final Destination 5” the deaths are more creative than ever.  They come about as the result of convoluted contortions of irony, like those old Rube Goldberg contraptions where one part of the mechanism leads to another and another in ever more roundabout ways.  Think of death by gymnastics, death by acupuncture, death by Lasik surgery.  (No, I’m not revealing anything here; everything is so obvious, you can see it coming a mile away.)  It’s all a hoot, actually, with some of the death scenes nerve-wracking in the extreme and grossly engrossing.

A word of warning, though:  If you’re not used to the “Final Destination” series, you may not be prepared for the splatter-fests they are.  “Final Destination 5” is no exception; if anything, it’s even more stomach-churning than the previous films.  When I say “splatter,” I mean that quite literally.  Bodies fall from very high places and splatter into red, oozy, pulpy masses on the concrete below.  Heavy objects fall on people’s heads, turning them into red, oozy, pulpy masses.  The filmmakers mean it as hyperbole, exaggeration, naturally, so the bloodier they can make a death scene, the better, and some of these are pretty nifty.  Audiences wouldn’t have it any other way.

Anyhow, the tale begins as a group of young people are going by bus on a company retreat when suddenly one of them, Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto), has a premonition that the bus is going to fall off a collapsing bridge.  Sure enough, the bus stops on a bridge, and Sam persuades eight of the passengers to get off as quickly as possible; then the bridge breaks in two and the bus plunges into the water below.  Sam and his friends have escaped death.  Almost.  If Sam and his pals had seen the first four “Final Destination” movies, they’d know their escape was but a prelude to death.

Things as seemingly benign as an upturned screw or a piece of bare metal on an electrical wire can put viewers on edge, with a few wonderful final insults to punctuate the events.  Sometimes the fatalities come quickly and shockingly, sometimes slowly and methodically.  In either case, the ingenuity of the death scenes provides both suspense and smiles, a sly combination.

Look, too, for several signature character names, a hallmark of the series, like Peter Friedkin, Candace Hooper, and Olivia Castle–Friedkin, Hooper, and Castle, of course, being famous horror directors.  Moreover, the company the young people work for is “Presage,” the word meaning an omen or portent, a foreboding or foreshadowing.  And so it goes, with sly wit entwining with endless fear for the characters and, to a degree, for the audience.  Heck, even the prolific actor Tony Todd (“Candyman”) returns as Mr. Bludworth.

As I say, “Final Destination 5” works, and it does so as a good carnival house of horrors might work, giving participants a vicarious thrill a minute.

New Line’s video engineers use a single-layer BD25 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec in duplicating the film for Blu-ray in its native aspect ratio, 2.40:1.  It’s a short film at ninety-two minutes, and the extras are few, so a BD25 suffices.  The studio showed the film theatrically in 3-D, and the viewer can easily see where the filmmakers meant the 3-D to stand out.  In 2-D it still works pretty well.  The screen image, shot with an Arri Alexa digital camera, is a little glossy and overbright, yet these qualities seem to enhance the mood of the glossy, overdone story line.  In all, the picture is very clean, very clear in the digital manner, with an inevitable flatness and softness of detail that also come with digital shooting.

The 5.1 lossless DTS-HD Master Audio does its job with the precise efficiency of a laser beam, no more, no less.  It displays a strong dynamic range and impact, deep bass, a well-balanced frequency response, a wide stereo spread, and an enterprising use of the surrounds.  You might actually be aware of how good the sound is in the first few minutes of the movie, but then, as every good movie soundtrack should, it disappears into one’s subconscious, smoothly reinforcing the action without calling attention to itself.

Disc one of this two-disc Combo Pack contains the high-definition movie on Blu-ray and several bonus items.  The first extra is a five-minute featurette, “Final Destination 5: Circle of Death, Your Final Destination,” which connects the fifth movie to the first.  Next is a fifteen-minute passage of “Alternate Death Scenes,” followed by two “Visual Effects of Death” segments, “Collapsing Bridge,” nine minutes, and “Airplane Crash,” three minutes.

The extras on disc one conclude with ten scene selections; BD-Live access; English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish spoken languages; French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Then, because this is a Combo Pack, it also includes a DVD of the movie in standard definition and an UltraViolet Digital Copy.  For those of you who’ve forgotten, I quote the packaging:  “Now you can also stream your UltraViolet Digital Copy on Flixter!  Watch anytime, anywhere on computers, tablets or smartphones.”  The offer expires December 27, 2013.  A handsome slipcover encloses a flimsy, double BD Eco-case.

Parting Thoughts:
Speaking of dates, remember to note the date on the airline ticket in the final scene.  Say no more, say no more.  The film never quits.  And in case you missed the first four movies, a final bloody montage will bring it all back.  Or up.

“Final Destination 5” will not win any awards from the Academy, I can assure you, yet it’s a neat, tidy, tightly wound little horror picture with a single-minded intent to startle you out of your seat while causing you to laugh immoderately.  As I said in the beginning, it’s grisly fun.