The best all-around installment of the series (since the original) with an opening sequence that just misses rivaling the intro to the #2 freeway pileup.
The scene: a parking lot where employees are gathering for a team-building retreat. Sam Lawton (Nicholas D’Agosto), a sales rep with aspirations of being a chef, is having issues with his girlfriend, Molly Harper (Emma Bell), over his plans for the future. As Sam and his fellow co-workers make their way by bus to their (final) destination, he has a vision of the bridge they are crossing suddenly collapsing and taking the bus with it. Snapping back to reality, Sam drags Molly off the bus, followed close behind by his friend and boss Peter (Miles Fisher), manager Dennis (David Koechner), Peter’s intern girlfriend gymnast Candice (Ellen Wroe), Candice’s optically challenged office rival Olivia (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), persecuted floor supervisor Nathan (Arlen Escarpeta), and womanizing nerd Issac (P.J. Byrne). When the bridge goes down, the “lucky eight” survive, but Death (as explained by Tony Todd) doesn’t like leaving the books unbalanced.
Since the original Final Destination, each subsequent sequel has concentrated on creating more elaborate deaths than make their audience care whether or not any of these people died. This isn’t to say the series hasn’t been fun or enjoyable, but it has been a waste of potential performances other than looking terrified and screaming. While the last installment purported to be the last of the series, this fifth film not only pays homage to fans of the series (and the series itself), it also finds a way to tie up the entire franchise with a neat bow in case this is the last we see of it for a while. That would be a shame, but at the same time, it couldn’t hurt to let the concept simmer on the back burner and revisit it in a while rather than run it into the ground.
The new film takes far better advantage of its 3-D gimmickry than its predecessor, milking the inherit benefits of having a horror film throwing virtual things out into the audience; both the opening sequence and the end credits are pure entertainment and a love letter to fans. With someone realizing that these freakish “accidental” deaths are more cringe-worthy when we actually care a little about the people involved, the new installment plays into the relationships between the characters. The plot also hinges on a clever idea about how to avoid “balancing Death’s books,” but the way it was thrown out to the survivors to stay alive felt less like a plot device and more like baiting a trap. To say more would spoil the fun, but it should be no surprise that, similar to a Canadian Mountie, Death always gets his man, woman, or child in the end.
As far as the whole 3-D thing goes in the film industry, horror has inherit benefits because it can draw viewers into the experience better, but the trade off is the grungy, authentic feel of an Indie production that often suffers from too many digital effects and overproduction (much of what hurt the fourth film). The inclusion of Tony “Candyman” Todd was a welcome return after practically writing him out, first reducing him to a mere laugh for a carnival ride in the third movie before banishing him completely from the fourth. One thing that has never been properly addressed is why these characters are ever given a glimpse of their deaths and the opportunity to escape it (other than being a cool plot device). Perhaps if the series resumes in a few years, this is something that might come to pass. For now, this a great bookend to the current run made by people who love the series themselves, and a horror fan can’t ask for more than that.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)