By the time the chaos actually occurs, we already know what’s going to happen. With the laser burning her eye, face, and hands, Olivia tears herself free. She finally gets up from the bed just as her friends, followed by the now-worried doctor, burst into the room, only to slip on a piece of dislodged equipment and fall through a window, plummeting down several stories and crashing on a car. The exact process by which Olivia died may have been a surprise, but the end was never in question. No one escapes Death.
This mixture of shock and expectation makes Final Destination 5 the best in the franchise. Where the first film introduced the clever premise of a serial killer movie without a serial killer, and where the second film improved on the model with kill sequences that still make people think twice about following a logging truck or trying to get out of an elevator, Final Destination 3 slipped into a level of mean-spiritedness that undercut the inherently playful concept. By the time the supposed last entry, The Final Destination, released in 2009, the series felt rote and empty, a mechanical march toward death devoid of all energy and whimsy.
To understand Final Destination 5’s achievement, one must remember that the franchise is inherently formulaic. Each movie begins with an outrageous sequence in which an unremarkable event ends in utter carnage – a plane falls apart in mid-air or a Nascar crash launches debris into the crowd. That sequence is then revealed to be a premonition by one of the would-be victims, who escapes the accident along with their friends. Then, one by one, Death reclaims those who avoided their fate, picking off the victims with delightful Rube Goldberg scenarios.
According to this formula, Final Destination 5 may not seem like a clear franchise standout. It doesn’t have the single most outrageous death sequence. That honor goes to Hunt Wynorski (Nick Zano, playing the exact opposite of his lovable Legends of Tomorrow character Steel), who gets his guts sucked out of his butt by a pool pump in The Final Destination. Nor does the movie have the best actors in the franchise. While it does see the return of series mainstay Tony Todd as coroner William Bludworth and gives Courntey B. Vance a supporting role as an investigator, Final Destination 5’s likable but bland cast doesn’t quite match the charismatic turn by Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Final Destination 3 or the depth Mykelti Williamson provides his character in The Final Destination.
But even as it falls slightly short of its predecessors in some categories, Final Destination 5 outdoes them all with its pure sense of inevitable dread. Take the movie’s best death sequence, that of gymnast Candice Hooper (Ellen Wroe).
The scene begins with an establishing shot looking down on the practice floor, where Candice and her fellow athletes go through their routines. But Quale knows that he isn’t just informing viewers about a location – he’s inviting us to look for trouble. When the camera pans along the practice space, following Candice as she prepares, our eyes dart around, looking for anything that could turn deadly. Quale’s camera shows us the loose bolt in the parallel bars, exposed wires on a frayed power cord, and an upturned screw on a balance beam.