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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: Final Destination 5

(Two Stars)
U.S.: Steven Quale, 2011

In Final Destination 5, as in the other Final Destinations, blood is the money shot, the actors, or at least their characters, are expendable , and a guy named Bludworth, or his boss Destiny, is breaking up that old gang of mine (again).
 
For only the price of a movie ticket (and refreshments, which you may want to skip), you get to see in this movie, a half dozen or so personable young actors and actresses hideously killed in highly imaginative ways. People are bashed to death, sliced in two, pursued with cleavers, lasered to death, blown out of planes and dropped off a disintegrating suspension bridge — and each time, the sequence is carefully planned, ingeniously set up, and meticulously executed. There’s no denying that Final 5, directed by Steven Quale, James Cameron’s second unit director on Avatar, is well-made, and it may well be the best of this tawdry series, as some say, though I haven’t seen enough of them to judge. (Just the last one, which was awful.)
 
And it didn’t really help that, in this movie, the death scenes were done with such unusual care and such obvious technical skill, edited so crisply, shot so well.
 
As in the previous four entries in this popular horror movie series, a young character experiences a premonition of death (usually in a plane or vehicle about to crash, here on a suspension bridge about to collapse). They wake up to avert the catastrophe, and help others escape — but then they all find themselves the targets of a malicious destiny (represented here as previously, by actor Tony “Candyman“ Todd playing a coroner named Bludworth). Death apparently feels it was robbed, and that the inappropriately alive survivors must be rubbed out in a series in a series of seemingly spontaneous “accidents.” There’s one new wrinkle: You can avoid death a second time if you kill somebody to take your place.)
 
That’s the main appeal and marketing hook of the movie: those ingeniously staged accidents that look like Rube Goldberg inventions in reverse, or like the torture murders of Saw, rescripted by a second, more finicky maniac, as if they were part of some evil mechanism of fate. And they include gory, painstakingly staged scenes of a beautiful young gymnast jumping on a gym-horse, on which a screw has been dropped (that and the bridge collapse are the movie’s showpiece sequences); a lecherous schmoo named Isaac (P.J. Byrne) going for an oriental massage and acupuncture session that turn nasty; and (my nomination for the movie’s low point), the eye-opening fate of bespectacled, leggy Olivia Castle (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), who has laser corrective eye surgery, during which, outrageously the ophthalmologist walks off while the laser is running and just as it’s about to go berserk.
 
None of these actors are bad or mediocre, but none of them are really very good (here) either, not even Byrne who tries hard to find some comedy and ham it up for us. And though Quale shows off real, flashy technical expertise in his series of bloody set-pieces, it gave me no pleasure to watch them. Nor did I feel any suspense, because according to the rules of the Final Destination game, there’s no way that any of the main characters (those who were spared in one accident to die in others) can survive. You know they’re goners almost from the moment you first see them, or at least if you’ve ever seen another Final Destination. Nor is there any explanation of why there’s been no investigation into this mysteriously recurring phenomenon, or why this stuff keeps happening — other than the fact that it’s time for another sequel.
 
You think I’m being a grouch. But, by now, I estimate I must have seen 10,000 or more kids in horror movies getting mangled and killed (if I didn’t, it felt like it), some imaginatively, some unimaginatively. I’m sick of it. What good does it do to see a well-made movie, if what they’re making annoys the hell out of you?
 
That’s how I felt about Final Destination 5. And it didn’t really help that, in this movie, the death scenes were done with such unusual care and such obvious technical skill, edited so crisply, shot so well. I guess I would have liked the movie more if the non-carnage dramatic scenes in between the slaughter were better done, but they were vapidly written and indifferently or pushily acted. It’s clear that those scenes, which were admittedly better than their equivalents in some other horror movies, including some previous Finals, weren‘t regarded as important, just drama stuff — which is a common failing of today’s horror movies.
 
How can you blame the writer, who was just churning out the bloody business as usual? How can you blamed the director, who was engaged to stage torture with pizzazz? How can you blame the actors — who know they were hired to get ripped apart?
 
The big question: Why do so many teenagers and twenty-somethings love to see movies, even badly made movies, where a bunch of young people — all young, all attractive, except for an occasional goofball — are slashed, bashed and bloodily massacred one by screaming one, by either a psycho serial killer, some kind of fiendish monster or zombie, or here, by the not-so-fickle, relentless finger of fate? I just don’t know. But believe me, a lot of Hollywood is looking for the formula — and their patron saint may be a maniac swinging a marketing hook.
 
   Oh year, the movie was in 3D. See it in 2D.

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Wilmington

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“The core fear is what can happen to you, personally. Your body. That’s what horror films deal with, precisely. We are a very thin skin wrapped around a pumping heart and guts. At any given moment it can come down to that, be it diseases, or somebody’s assault, or war, or a car wreck. You could be reduced to the simple laws of physics and your body’s vulnerability. The edged weapon is the penultimate weapon to disclose that reality to you.”
~ Wes Craven, 1996, promoting Scream

MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

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