Terror Tuesday: Why Didn’t You See FINAL DESTINATION 5?

Brian is disappointed that a really good horror movie did so poorly at the box office this weekend.

If you’re reading this, that means you’re not at the theater watching Final Destination 5 (and if you ARE – fuck you! Put your goddamn phone away!), and if the box office reports are accurate, you probably didn’t go over the weekend either. The film actually had the lowest opening for the entire series (even the original had a bigger attendance), which means that it’s probably going to be a while before we get to see Death channeling Rube Goldberg with a bunch of attractive 20somethings again… and I don’t really understand why.

Obviously, there are a few places one could point a finger. The biggest being that the previous film, marketed/named as The FINAL Destination, was almost universally hated, despite securing the highest gross in the series (non inflation). As we learned with Saw VI, it doesn’t matter how well a series rebounds if the previous two installments disappointed; no three strikes rule in horror. I didn’t mind FD4 as much as most, for the record – I actually kind of liked how mercenary it was. No one comes to a Final Destination movie for character development; they just want to see death scenes, right? Well that’s pretty much all FD4 offered, as our heroes raced from one death to the next until they were all dead, 75 minutes or so after the New Line logo vanished from screen. Plus, 3D hadn’t been played out yet (this was before Avatar, remember), so the novelty of that was still fresh, and even as the Halloween and Texas Chainsaw series prepare to enter the 3rd dimension, there probably will never be a better fit for the format than this particular series, which had things flying at the camera and gonzo “in your face” death scenes even when it was still shot/released in 2D.

But maybe that’s also to blame, as the glut of poorly implemented native 3D (Resident Evil 4) and a ton of ill-conceived conversions (My Soul To Take, Priest) have burned a lot of folks on the format, regardless of whether it was native or not. For the record, FD5 is very much a real 3D film: it was shot with the newest 3D cameras (first director Steven Quale was heavily involved with Avatar) and it actually has the distinction of being the first 3D sequel to a 3D film in this current wave. With the same producers involved, they had the benefit of knowing what worked well and what didn’t, which provided (in my opinion) the best use of the technology for any film (horror or not) since, well, Avatar. However, there’s no convincing folks who are already sick of it (or never liked it to begin with), just as it’s difficult to explain to a thick-headed individual that there is a difference between native 3D and a convert. To them, (the post-converts) Alice and Clash of The Titans looked terrible, so now all 3D is to be condemned. So that’s another hurdle.

It’s also possible that some horror fans just didn’t know it was there. This is the first wide horror release since April’s Insidious (unless you want to count the vampire action movie Priest), so maybe there hasn’t been enough awareness. I go to the movies almost every week but I never once saw a trailer in theaters, because there was nothing to attach it to – you don’t advertised the gory R rated horror film in front of Captain America (I didn’t see Horrible Bosses, I assume that had a trailer since it was also New Line, though it’s hardly the same core audience). And there wasn’t a lot of web presence either; the bulk of the sites skipped right over it and went to pimping Fright Night. Worse, the billboards weren’t much of a help, with a bland skull and a “5” being pretty much it. The 3rd film sucked, but at least it had those cool roller coaster ads up everywhere – these ads don’t even hint at what the big disaster is this time around.

However, sadly, I suspect it’s just a matter of franchise fatigue. Unlike most horror series, there’s no central villain character (a Freddy or Jason) to latch onto, which means simply changing the setting or giving them a new challenge (i.e. Jason’s telekinetic final girl in F13 part 7) isn’t enough to distinguish one Final Destination from another. The downside of having such a unique hook (cheating Death, who comes back and gets you via a chain reaction sequence of random events) is that it’s hard (and perhaps unwise) to break out of that mold, which means that there’s not a lot of room for these movies to experiment. Each one adds a new wrinkle to the proceedings (in this case, the idea that you can “balance the books” by killing someone yourself and thus earning their remaining time), but it’s just that: a wrinkle, not a fold. Plus, by the time anyone does anything about this new development, the movie is almost over, so until then it’s following the same pattern of the previous four films: someone has a vision of a disaster, saves his or herself and a few others, and then spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out who will be next once the unseen figure of Death starts finishing what he started. If there IS a 6th film (and I hope there is, now that Saw’s gone this is the only real consistent horror franchise going), I suspect there will be some major changes to the basic blueprint.

Or some answers. After 5 films we still don’t know why these random kids are getting such vivid premonitions right before they should have died, and even though Tony Todd returns in this one after sitting the last two out, we still don’t know anything about him or whose side he is on. It’d be pretty easy to market the next one as “All will be revealed” or some such nonsense, not to mention give it its own identity: instead of being distinguished only by its disaster, i.e. “the one with the roller coaster” or “the one with the plane explosion”, it can be “the one where you find out who Bludworth really is”. I’m sure the producers have some sort of plan in place, waiting to be pulled out in case of emergency (such as opening in a distant 3rd place despite the 3D surcharge), but with studios canceling risky projects left and right as of late, it’s going to take some major DVD/VOD numbers (or foreign ticket sales) for Warner/New Line to pony up the dough for what is becoming a very expensive series (FD5 has a reported 40 million production budget, which is not likely to even be met let alone surpassed, not domestically anyway).

Of course, maybe it’s not too late. Word of mouth hits do occasionally happen (Insidious opened to even less than FD5 but went on to gross over 50 million, which would still be sub-par for the series but not embarrassing), and most folks I’ve spoken to (i.e. other web journalists) really enjoyed it as well. Even Devin loved it*! It’s certainly the best of this month’s major horror releases; Fright Night was slightly better than I expected but largely weightless (and poorly “updated”, Charley still seeks advice from an elder “master” – why couldn’t he just look up how to kill vampires at the same time he was getting his stupid “lock-picking app”?), and Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is a dull rehash that felt about 2x as long as it really was. Hell, the opening credits of FD5 are more exciting than anything in either of those films (with a better score too). It’s been a lousy summer for genre fare – don’t miss the only good thing that’s actually been offered to the masses.

* NOTE FROM DEVIN: I did enjoy the film a lot, and I have a half written review. It will run!