The Long‑Lasting Flavor… of Death!
by Eric J Baker
I can answer the tough questions. Why are you against the death penalty? – Because a government should never be powerful enough to systematically execute its own citizens, because you can’t unkill a wrongly accused man, and because it’s revenge rather than justice. Why don’t you believe in god? – I haven’t started my atheist manifesto yet, but, trust me, it’s going to kick ass. Why do you think petite brunettes with long straight hair are sexy? – Because they are.
So how is it that the simple questions are so hard? For example, why do I love trash horror movies? And, more importantly, why does this Final Destination 5 logo look so much like a 5 gum wrapper?
Perhaps it’s not fair to imply that the Final Destination flicks are trash cinema. After all, episodes 2 and 4 were directed by no less than David Ellis, the man who swept the 2006 Oscars with his masterpiece, Snakes on a Plane. And just because the previous Final Destination film was boring and terrible and featured bland characters, cheap CG, and even shittier 3D, it doesn’t mean it was bad.
Ok, it does mean that. Which is why my low expectations for Final Destination 5 were slaughtered like a naked teenager in a summer camp this weekend. Helmed by longtime James Cameron protégé Steven Quale, who directed second unit on Avatar, FD5 is a brisk, sardonically funny, and clever crowd pleaser. Hell, the audience at the showing I attended broke into applause at the end, and I didn’t even roll my eyes and think they were stupid like I usually do when that happens (Technical note: The actors can’t hear you when you clap. It’s a movie).
The conceit of the Final Destination films involves a character having a premonition of a disaster (allowing each entry in the series to start with a spectacle) and then saving his friends moments before the actual event occurs, thus screwing with “death’s design.” Soon the friends begin to die in increasingly bizarre ways as the grim reaper seeks to even up his balance sheet. In this latest edition, the accident is a suspension bridge collapse, and I’m not kidding when I say it played like something out of a Spielberg movie, albeit with more blood. Who knows why Quale took so long to get a feature gig (people assumed he was incompetent because of the last name?), but I won’t be surprised if he is directing big-budget summer action films soon.
The twist in this film (not explored as deeply as it could have been) enables the survivors to stave off death by murdering an innocent person who would have otherwise lived. This moral conundrum sets up some nice third-act suspense between lead character Sam (played by Nicholas D’Agosto, who looks strangely like this guy Rick I know), his friend Pete (played by Miles Fisher, who looks strangely like a mutant hybrid of Christian Bale and Tom Cruise) and his girlfriend Molly (played by Emma Bell, who looks strangely like someone I want to ****). The acting is spotty and the characterizations are inconsistent – why are the heroes in these movies so cheery in spite of being splattered by their friend’s blood over and over again? – but the 3D was awesome, so who cares?
That last line was there to make James Killough, our blogmaster and resident art house denizen, cringe. Flimsy characterization is what holds movies like this back from rising above the level of good trash. That said, the 3D really was amongst the best I’ve seen, which is shocking, given the kind of movie we’re talking about here. I guess Quale learned something on the set of Avatar. I also want to give special mention to the actress Jacqueline MacInnes Wood, not because she was brilliant in the film, but because she’s sexy, and Killough gayed up my last post so heinously with all that manflesh that I’ve got to set things right in the universe. I guess we’re playing out our own little version of Final Destination, eh?
Further props to the filmmakers for avoiding the Token Black trap by not only writing in several black characters but also not drawing attention to the blackness of the characters, the latter being a disappointing cliché that persists in the horror genre. In fact, one of the black characters in FD5 was played by Arlen Escarpeta, who acted for Killough’s buddy, Marcus Nispel, in the Friday the 13th reboot a couple of years back (and had an “I’m the token black guy” quip in that film). Actually, Escarpeta is from Belize, so I’m not sure if that means he’s black. Goddamn it, I’m trying to be self-righteous but I’m coming off like a clueless racist instead. Does it help that I met Escarpeta once, had a nice chat with him, and found him to be personable and charming? No? Ah, fuck it.
Being a straight white guy with western European blood in my veins, I don’t have much personal experience with Otherness, excepting my trips to the Orient. Even there, though, I’m usually assumed to be military on account of my shaved head and cool sunglasses, so no one seems particularly interested in my presence. However, there was that time in Philly…
Note: Those of you who are new to PFC should know that our reviews don’t just yea or nay a film. We often work in a rant about ideological hypocrisy or assess the lingering effects of colonialism in India. Or maybe we’ll just talk about a pretty painting. Today, you’re getting a rock and roll story.
In the early 90s, I was in a band with this guy who had more persistence than talent and no impulse control (never stick your face into the groin of a sex-industry worker in front of 25 people. That’s her job). Somehow he managed to persuade a club owner in Philadelphia to let us play there without showing a press kit, demo, or other indicators we could even tune our guitars. We were pretty good, but they didn’t know that. I still remember his boasts.
Him: Guess what. I got us in the Chestnut Cabaret in Philly!
Me: Never heard of it. Who are we playing with?
Him: I don’t know. Some big local act. It doesn’t matter, dude. This place is HUGE. There’s gonna be hundreds of people there. Maybe a thousand!
Let me describe our appearance at the time: Long, down-to-our-asses wavy hair, black stretch jeans, purple/pink/orange gaudy rayon shirts that were unbuttoned almost halfway. We played melodic pop/metal in the vein of Motley Crüe and Warrant. We used all-white instruments.
All white. Ha. You know where this story is going.
We showed up at the club. It was indeed cavernous and pretty packed, with maybe about 500 people. Seven of them were white, that being the four of us and our three roadies. The local artist we were to open for was named Glen (or was it Gary?) Fox, a Luther Vandross wannabe replete with a horn section and back-up singers who wore sequined dresses like the Supremes.
I shook my head at my bandmate and wondered what the hell kind of things were said on the phone to get us this show. That we were on Soul Train once? That we did a lot of Barry White covers? The club owner, upon seeing us, wisely decided to shuffle things a bit and let us go on after Glen (it certainly wasn’t Megan) Fox.
You have never seen a building empty faster than the Chestnut Cabaret in Philadelphia did the night we walked onstage. Scientists are still studying the evacuation pattern for application in future emergencies, so swift and efficient was it. We ended up playing to about 10 people: Our three roadies, the four fans who actually came to watch us play, the bartender, and two black gentlemen who remained behind. I like to think they were biologists taking advantage of the opportunity to observe the elusive “Token White Guy” in person.