It’s no exaggeration to say that Final Destination 5 changed my life.
Is that the most absurd sentence I have ever typed? Yes. But it’s also true. Final Destination 5 was the first real horror movie I saw in the cinema – I had just started cultivating a nervous but intense interest in the horror genre, and I suddenly found myself with just a phenomenal amount of movies to catch up on. When the fifth film in this franchise that I had been distantly aware of for a long time but too neurotically terrified of everything to indulge in true horror, I knew it was time – I was ready.
And I loved this movie. It was ridiculous, accessible, funny, horrible, clever, beyond over-the top: there were about five people in the cinema with me and my best friend when we saw it, and being surrounded by people who were so clearly loving this film as much as I was – that was a big moment for me. People loved this shit! The same as I did! A few months after I saw this film, I would get my first job writing about movies – about horror. And the rest is history. Horror films and me, we were at the start of a long love affair, and I was ready to consummate.
With that horrendous metaphor out of the way, let’s get into the actual nuts and bolts of what I loved so much about the fifth Final Destination film, and the franchise as a whole. Specifically, I would like to talk about this scene (gore warning, obviously):
The basic premise to each film is endlessly malleable: at the beginning, someone sees a vision of an accident that leads to several horrible deaths. They intervene to save the people they saw die in their vision, and, soon after, the people rescued begin to die in bizarre and elaborate ways as death comes to claim what it is owed. And, as you can see from the above scene, these films go hard on what they can get away with, pushing the boundaries between comedy and horror to gloriously entertaining effect across the course of the five movies, released between 2000 and 2011, originally based on a scrapped The X-Files script.
And, for the horror fanatic such as myself, there is plenty to enjoy about this series on a purely surface level: the dedication to real effects is comendable and elevates most of the setpieces into the genuinely memorable. Tony Todd, in a recurring role across the franchise as a mysterious funeral director who seems to have some direct line with death, is unbelievably fun (and hot. Me fancying characters in these movies is going to be a theme, so get on board). The deaths are consistently, utterly, wildly creative, and the permeating sense of doom and possibility is unmatched in a lot of the other franchises we’ll be talking about, given that death in those movies focuses on a specific character as opposed to the notion of death itself.
And that’s not to say that I think these movies are exceptional examples of filmmaking or anything: the direction is workmanlike, most of the entries into the canon barely discernible in style, the acting almost consistently average (to give you a sense of the quality you can expect, Devon Sawa leads the first movie). But to judge this franchise on artistic merit is to miss the point entirely. The point of the FD series is turning unthinkable horror in the guise of the inevitability of death into brutally twisted comedy.
To return to the scene above: it is brilliant. It’s horror, as comedy. The build-up, the misdirection, the absurdist payoff: it’s an elaborate joke. The gag is forcing you to guess, to second-guess, to guess again, and then to pull down your pants and turn someone into a boneless pile of goop. Nothing is more frightening than death, and nothing is funnier than the things that frighten us most: tragedy plus bad taste is comedy in the right hands, and Final Destination massages this premise to its natural conclusion.
None of the other franchises we’ll be looking at this month go that far. Some of them indulge in camp, and sure, many are spackled with black humour, but it’s this franchise that succeeds on pure, sublime comedic value. Ridiculous, atrocious, unforgivably uninhibited: Final Destination is the franchise for me.
Ranking The Movies, Best to Worst: Final Destination 5, Final Destination, Final Destination 3, Final Destination 2, The Final Destination
By Louise MacGregor
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(header image courtesy of IMDb)