Every “Final Destination” follows a simple, durable formula. We start with The Premonition, in which the Cassandra of the doomed (here Nicholas D’Agosto of TV’s “Heroes”) foresees a gruesome tragedy.
He alerts anyone who will listen, though his warnings are usually dismissed as lunatic ravings. Disaster strikes, and a small group of survivors is left bewildered by their unlikely salvation.
Their relief is short-lived. Death has a plan, you see, and he doesn’t take kindly to revisions. Rather than hunt down those who escaped his wrath at some later date, he pursues them with madcap persistence, leaving a trail of gratuitously mutilated bodies in his wake.
By now, you should know whether “Final Destination 5,” the strongest sequel yet to the 2000 original, suits your ghoulish sensibilities. If you’re looking for high art, find it elsewhere. If you’re curious to see how something as seemingly benign as a misplaced Dixie cup could punch your ticket to the morgue, here’s a movie for you.
One of the film’s surprising strengths, a testament to director Steven Quale (“Aliens of the Deep”) and screenwriter Eric Heisserer, is its knack for building suspense in spite of itself.
Subtlety is not their objective. “Destination” telegraphs its fatalities — the lights flicker, a frigid gust fills the room, and we know Death is ready to collect.
But consider an early sequence, as an exposed screw rests menacingly on a balance board. It’s a given that someone will step on it, setting into motion an elaborate chain of events that will leave one of our fresh-faced victims without a pulse. Rather than rush the payoff, though, Quale lets the scene breathe, patiently elevating the tension.
The second-unit director on “Titanic” and “Avatar,” Quale makes shrewd use of the movie’s 3-D effects, particularly during its breathless opening on Vancouver’s Lions Gate Bridge.
But “Destination” isn’t merely an exercise in technical proficiency. D’Agosto, Emma Bell and Miles Fisher head a mostly veteran cast (including David Koechner, of “Anchorman”) that’s a notable improvement over the disposable players in 2009’s “The Final Destination.”
Yet for diehard fans, fancy camera work and modest stabs at character development are really beside the point. Do the kills measure up? They do, in a fashion as laughably over-the-top as you’d expect.
The movie is as thrilling as a roller-coaster ride (another instrument of death, put to sinister use in “Final Destination 3”) and about as profound. If history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, “Final Destination 5” is in on the joke.
Final Destination 5 ★★★
Starring Nicholas D’Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher, Ellen Wroe, P.J. Byrne
Written by Eric Heisserer
Directed by Steven Quale
Running time 1 hour 32 minutes