Accidents will happen
(Final Destination 5, Steven Quale, US, 2011, 92 mins)
The Final Destination series mischievously plays on the fear that all smothering Mothers instill in their nervous children, fortifying the anxiety they’ve pulsed through the womb, that a heightened awareness of, mostly, illusionary dangers is necessary to survive.
In this suffocating paradigm, every situation you can think of is an accident waiting to happen. A man, probably a schizophrenic, may take exception to your face and spare you the inhumane crush on the Northern Line by pushing you in front of an oncoming tube train. Your fish supper may kill you, a bone hidden between soft flaps of white meat becoming lodged in your throat. You may touch the contact of the plug you didn’t quite push all the way into the socket and get a fatal shock. Unlikely, but some poor fool’s been ended thus and it would be naïve, indeed nigh on cavalier, to imagine it couldn’t happen to you.
In Final Destination it’s even worse than you think because the fates are malevolent and determined. Death is a serial killer. This is the cheap appeal of these films; not just the possibility that every situation, every prop within the scene, is potentially life threatening, but the certain knowledge that this is the case.
It’s a smart conceit, devised by X-Files writers Glen Morgan and James Wong, that thanks to several sequels has imbued the audience with the lead character’s clairvoyance. We’ve seen it once, only to live through it again, with variations.
Each instalment isn’t a movie as such, but a sadistic guessing game, in which young multiplex patrons are invited to watch their peers, or perhaps more accurately the genetically gifted kids that their peers resent, offed in a series of elaborate, and whisper it quietly, inventive domino scenarios. Reviews of each film are by and large interchangeable; they’re beat for beat identical; the setpiece accident (though is there any such thing in this universe?), in this case a gloriously indulgent bridge collapse, staged with aplomb, survived by a retinue of fresh faces and followed, deliciously, by their deferred demise.
New Line Cinema didn’t get to the fifth instalment in this derivative series by remaining ignorant of their audience’s line in schadenfreude. With the emphasis on stage managed deaths so unlikely that Quale and his predecessors could only get away with it in a set of films as tongue in cheek as these, there’s little need for anything so quaint as characterisation; this cohort of victims are types – the bitch, the lecherous geek, the jock, the sporty girl and the African American, who irritatingly was deemed to be distinct by virtue of being the only non-white kid and so wasn’t given a personality, and said stereotyping tips you to their fate; the bitch’s accident is linked to her vanity, the lecherous geek falls foul of his perversion, because no one likes a trier when they’re ugly, and so on.
This instalment comes in 3D, though not the immersive, subtle third dimension, promised by James Cameron in his call to revolution, but old school, conspicuous, gimmicky 3D in which form is dictated by the desire to use the technology for its own sake.
All of this could be have been awful, and maybe it is in the grand scheme of things, but you have to admire the glee with which each young life is snuffed out. You can almost see the story conference in which accidents involving everyday objects and services were placed in a tombola; the best picks stuck to a cork board and workshopped into a script. The net effect, ironically for a movie about death, is a film without a soul; a mechanistic approach to both story and composition; but the target audience won’t care. No one thinks about the rivets on a rollercoaster.
Perhaps this is a rare instance of a movie being as fun to watch as it was to bolt together. Sure, it’s morbid hokum, but Quale and writer Eric Helsserer are astute enough to know what the material requires; a smidgeon of self-awareness, a lick of humour and, thankfully, the odd drop of suspense. The finished film may not amount to much but it plays better games with its audience’s expectations than many of the previous entries and even manages an excellent, final rug pulling moment that doubles as a great punchline.
Who saw that coming?