In the horror-film pantheon, the Final Destination franchise occupies a niche all its own. It isn’t built around a signature villain, like other long-running sagas, but instead relies upon an abstraction to mete out its carnage. It operates according to a simple notion – that when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go – and adheres to a strict formula, laid down in the series’ inaugural installment, 2000’s Final Destination: Several attractive teenagers are scheduled to participate in some group activity together, but decide to skip it when one of their number has a vision in which they all perish in a grisly catastrophe if they don’t. Sure enough, the premonition turns out to be true, and the fresh-faced kids, having safely averted disaster, are relieved and grateful to have “cheated” death. But death – at least Final Destination’s intangible incarnation of death – doesn’t cotton to being cheated, and shortly thereafter sets about balancing fate’s ledger, one soul at a time.
That the formula has changed little over the course of four films, or that its ultimate outcome is usually ascertainable within a few minutes of the opening credits, matters little to devotees of the franchise. Because with every Destination, the appeal is the journey – or, to be more precise, the elaborate kill scenes that comprise that journey. Some aim for shock (a swimmer’s insides are siphoned out of his body by a pool filter), others for irony (a superficial Barbie-type is singed by a malfunctioning tanning bed); all are intricately constructed and exceptionally gruesome.
Such macabre ingenuity requires an astonishing degree of craftsmanship and technical proficiency to render it properly on the big screen, as I witnessed first-hand last November when I set foot upon the sprawling Vancouver soundstage where Final Destination 5 was being shot. Its centerpiece was a massive hydraulic gimbal, holding aloft, several stories high, a life-sized, 60-foot replica of a portion of Vancouver’s Lions Gate bridge. Scurrying about were dozens of crewmembers, busily readying the next set-up of what would eventually constitute the film’s inciting incident: a cataclysmic bridge collapse that sends cars and various other debris careening wildly in different directions. (Incidentally, the same gimbal was used to stage the airplane disaster in the first Final Destination.)
One might expect the crew on a film like Final Destination 5 to be collection of dour Edgar Allan Poe types, seeing as how they toil daily in death and destruction. But to a man (and woman) they were almost shockingly good-natured – and by good-natured, I don’t mean the amiable stoicism and gallows humor one finds in, say, a mortician or grave-digger; I’m talking about graciousness and enthusiasm of near-Mormon proportions. I half-expected to be handed a pamphlet and asked to take a personality test. Instead I watched as they prepared a shot in which a man is doused with boiling tar.
Overseeing all of the scurrying – and doing a fair bit of it himself – was the wry, uber-voluble Craig Perry, producer of all five Final Destination films. “We have a couple of interesting things we’ve added to the mix here,” Perry said of the latest installment, “but I think more than anything, the scope of the opening sequence is going to really take people by surprise. We’ve sort of likened it that we’ve been able to capture what is like a $150 million scope of a movie on a far, far less scale of a budget.” Exactly how “far, far less” isn’t exactly clear – specifics weren’t provided – but the budget is probably something north of that of the previous chapter, 2009’s The Final Destination, which hovered in the $40 million range. (For what it’s worth, IMDB pegs the number at $47 million.)
Perry added that the latest installment will make some tweaks to its traditional formula. He hesitated, however, to label it a reboot: “I’m not going to give away any of the things that we’ve come up with but there are some things that I think will reinvigorate what is a 10-year-old franchise in a way that will keep the fans happy but I think it will also allow us to tell more and more stories in this environment.”