So, I was watching Final Destination 5, and as one will at such times, wound up thinking about Kieślowski's Three Colors: Red. Specifically, about the final scene, so if you haven't seen the Three Colors trilogy, be wary of spoilers.* Though you should really already be on your guard for that, this being a review of a shitty splatter film and all. Anyway, the first time I saw Red, right after the end, where every character we've followed through the course of the films, and very nearly only those characters, survives a shipwreck, I immediately found myself turning over the question, Did these characters survive that wreck because we've been following them over three movies, or have we been following them because they were due to survive that wreck? The two propositions are not as similar as they first appear, and the difference says a lot about how we engage with works of narrative fiction.

For the five people who haven't already given up on this review, here's why I bring this up: Final Destination 5, like the four films preceding it, opens with the main character having a vision of a terrible accident that kills himself and dozens of other people, just minutes before it happens. He throws a royal fit, and manages to escape along with a cluster of other characters, barely avoiding the melty liquid death lying in wait. What makes FD5 different from the others - among other quite tiny considerations, for in the main these films are beholden to formula even more than other hugely derivative horror subgenres - is that while we're in the process of meeting our twentysomething protagonist, Sam (Nicolas D'Agosto), who is getting ready to head off on a two-day retreat with his co-workers at Presage Paper, we also meet some of the other people going on the trip. Seven other people, to be precise, about whom we learn a decent amount, all without so much as the Christian name of any of the other dozen and a half Presage Paper rank and file milling about. It's not new, of course, for body count-type horror films to introduce a nice heaping handful of easily-defined characters that we'll be following as they die in ghastly ways; there's even a phrase, Expendable Meat, commonly used to describe such characters. What's peculiar about the way they're introduced in FD5 is that we meet all of them before the first hint of plot has kicked in, and we know as we have not known in previous Final Destinations that these are the only eight people who "matter", even before the inciting accident. And so comes the question: do these eight characters survive the opening because we've been following them, or did we start following them because they were going to survive?

And why, why in God's sweet Hell, am I asking these questions about Final Destination 5?

The answer to that one, at least, is easy: because there's not much else to say. Like I said, these movies are all strictly formulaic, and it's hard to think of anything in particular to say that hasn't already been said. What happens, for the blissfully uninitiated, is that Sam previsions a horrible bridge collapse, and manages to save the lives of his newly ex-girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell), his best friend Peter (Miles Fisher), Peter's college-age gymnast girlfriend Candice (Ellen Wroe), who is interning at Presage, and three co-workers whose relationship to the others is ill-defined, Nathan (Arlen Escarpeta), Olivia (Jacqueline Macinnes Wood), and Isaac (P.J. Byrne). Also, Sam's shitty boss, Dennis (David Koechner). Unfortunately, dodging death isn't the same as escaping death, and as the mysterious coroner Bludworth (Tony Todd, the closest the series has to a recurring actor) explains, death is going to come for them until the books are balanced. Death achieves this by arranging for blatantly absurd traps involving the most perilous manipulations of the laws of physics to make certain that the eight survivors die in the most convoluted, bloody ways possible.

In other words, a Final Destination film is above all an exercise in hyper-gore for the sheer sake of it, and pretty much everything else is subjugated to the all-important goal of making each death as imaginative, as complex, and as disgusting as possible. If this doesn't sound like a fun night out, it isn't, and hasn't been since Final Destination 2, the only one besides the first that did a good job of balancing disgusting horror with a vein of extremely dry dark humor. But there is a Zen-like satisfaction in watching the minute differences in these things and seeing how they grow into actual distinguishing characteristics. Like, in this film, the characters are especially hateful, particularly the passive-aggressive asshole Peter. Also, the deaths are more dubiously-constructed than in any other film in the series outside of Final Destination 3. And yet, it is better than that film, or the fourth (oddly titled The Final Destination), boasting a much, much more credible and non-idiotic opening sequence, and a slightly stronger tie to realistic character behavior, though in any case looking for realistic character behavior in a film of this ilk is kind of dumb.

Also, FD5 is in 3-D, a fact that the marketing has not been quick to exploit, and for good reason: after all, has not 3-D more or less expended itself as a gimmick? and are not audiences doing all they possibly can to see 2-D screenings or skip movies altogether? Yes and yes, and I'm ordinarily in favor of that, but when a film is as ungodly tacky as FD5, I'm helpless before it. For starters, it uses the technology to much better end than the fourth film did (the only other one in 3-D), by which I of course mean there are more pointy bits shoved in the camera lens, some covered in blood and viscera, some not. Secondly, director Steven Quale has a wonderfully straightforward understanding of what 3-D is, which means that something is shoved at the camera in nearly every scene. Beginning, in fact, with the opening credits, which are the most compulsively unimaginative sequence in 3-D I have seen since this whole fad began. Here's what happens: the title card is on a pane of glass, and an object (that was used in a kill earlier in the series) flies at the audience, shattering the glass and sending shards towards us. That's all that happens. For five minutes. Does that sound glorious? Well, I found it glorious, because at this point I can think of no appropriate use for 3-D besides cheap theme park trickery - I would prefer gonzo theatrics to subtleties that barely even register, if I am to spend my hard-earned $4 on a bullshit surcharge.

So, Final Destination 5, ladies and gentlemen. 92 fleet minutes of the absolutely pointless evisceration of characters we care about not even slightly, given a sheen of carnivalesque gaudiness thanks to the hugely discredited 3-D process. It has a twist ending, and I guessed it in advance. Not because of any particularly obvious piece of evidence. Just because, during one of the boring parts (you can tell which parts are boring, because people are talking rather than bleeding during them), I found my mind wandering over there, and for no reason my mind said, "They could do [X]. I mean, there's no reason for them not to. It wouldn't even not make sense, really". I considered that for a minute, and I agreed. There's no reason at all for them to not have gone there, and the lack of a reason not to is pretty much the heart and soul of Final Destination from all the way back.

5/10