The air is thick with the smell of sulfur. Perched high above us is a giant chunk of bridge roadway mounted onto an enormous mechanical device that pitches the road forward and back. Welcome to the set of Final Destination 5!
As you may have guessed (since this is a horror film), there are people atop this slice of hell as well as cars and a large smoking container vehicle that seems prepared to blow its contents on the first sorry sucker caught in its path. Beyond all this is the infinite space of green screen, ready to pull this shot of pain and suffering into the “real world”, in 3D no less.
Yes, we were told the last one was THE FINAL DESTINATION, but you can’t keep a good premise down. For the newest installment, we’ve got a sort of “The Office” meets Death scenario going on. Director Steven Quale set up the scene we are standing beneath. “We’re doing one scene in the movie, which has one of our spectacular deaths – David Koechner’s death actually – and what we’re setting up right now is a hydraulic ram system to have a car that smashes into this tar kettle. Basically, when you’re resurfacing a road, you have to put tar on it, incredibly hot tar that helps surface the cracks and so forth. The construction workers are working on that, the bridge collapses, and in that section the car rams into this, it happens to flip it over; and Dennis, the character that David Koechner is playing, is hanging on the very edge there, and he just happens to be right in the spot where this tar kettle hits, turns over, and he’s going to get completely encased in steaming hot tar so it’s a nasty way to die, but we’ve been doing the tar and feathering joke.” And comedy is what makes all that wrong seem so, so right! Point of fact, this film is packed with dark comedy, whether it be from the actors doing their thing or the unintentional, over-the-top hilarity of a bloody situation.
The Final Destination films always kick off with a major disaster claiming the lives of anyone not fast or lucky enough to dodge the oncoming chaos. In this episode of Humans vs. Death, The Lionsgate Bridge (or alternate universe facsimile of that bridge) becomes a death trap complete with snapping cables, sliding cars, and of course the inevitable plunge into the icy waters beneath. Producer Craig Perry commented on the terror this massive structure presents, even without the movie pitfalls added, “If you guys get a chance, go stand on it; you can feel it move when the cars travel by. It is the most bowel-loosening thing you can imagine because you actually have that sense of movement and vertigo because they don’t have the sky high curbed over suicide railings. You’re just very immediately 300 feet off the ground so I know that when you’re doing an angle and you’re traveling 65 miles an hour, you’re like ‘I shouldn’t be this high up! I’m like in a plane here!!’ We extrapolated from that innate sense of ‘I don’t think I should be doing this.’”
Craig went on to explain that even though these films start with a huge catastrophe, it is often the little details that send the audience running. “In the last movie one of the great audience twist reactions was a complete almost non-sequiter where she’s (Krista Allen) at the beauty salon and she’s getting the scraping under the toenail. You could just watch the audience twist themselves, and that’s the cheapest visual effect you could ever do, and it plays off of everyone’s innate squeamishness about things going terribly awry even when you’re grooming yourself. So I think that we struck a pretty decent balance.”
Nick D’Agosto chipped in some bits of plot info. “So everyone’s getting picked off this bridge. And my character gets to witness all of these amazing perfect things happening around him. And Emma (Bell), too, but at the end there are two of us, Miles (Fisher) and myself, who have to jump onto a handrail as we are jumping from one end of the bridge collapsing into what is like thought to be the safe side.” As we know all too well, in the opening scene of a Final Destination film, there IS no safe side!
A horror movie is only as good as its scares, and the Final Destination franchise has always presented you with the notion that death could befall one of our main characters at any moment. It’s a game of mouse trap with a very sticky ending. Being well aware of this gimmick after four films, the audience needs to be roped in by the initiation of the sequence and then blown out of their seats by the completion of the cycle, hopefully laughing their asses off at the level of gore implemented for the final result. Capturing the right look for these moments is key, and sometimes CGI just doesn’t cut it. When you’ve got Steven Quale directing, a man known for working on the orgy of green screen shots known as Avatar, the horror fan becomes concerned that they’ll be splattered with copious amounts of horrible CG blood. Steven remarked, “I’m a fan of believable FX. It doesn’t matter how it’s done, but if you can do a prosthetic make-up effect and make it look real, that’s way better than trying to do a computer graphic thing that sticks in someone’s eyeball and looks totally fake. I’m a firm believer in getting as much practical stuff as possible with the exception that we can’t practically destroy a bridge! I even flew and did an aerial day on the Lionsgate Bridge to get the plate elements from a real bridge so we’re not having this CGI stuff. There’s no place for it in movies that I make as far as I’m concerned.”
Craig Perry adds, “Everything that we’ve done here … and I know this sounds silly since you are standing in front of this massive piece of green … we’ve been able to put together the sequences in such a way that you will not be able to tell when you are not on that bridge. It’s really pretty amazing. So in terms of CG, a lot of it’s the background, but you’ll also notice that we have things falling over, articulated elements of the bridge. As much as possible we are trying to do things practically and augment with CG, and I think that the best use of CG if you’re not creating a creature these days is to augment. Will there be full CG things? A couple of things only because on the day it’s more expensive to figure out how to do it practically than to just do it in CG. You can blow 220 grand or you can blow 20 grand. I’ll take the 20 grand! No one will know … motion blur … we’re fine! These are the decisions you have to make as you move forward.”
Building on those thoughts, we asked about the extent of the carnage we’ll be in for. Steven answered “We have some horrific deaths. I can’t go into detail, but the fans will not be disappointed. The actors love it, too. They’re really getting into it all. Five hours of make-up and putting prosthetics on and Toby Lindala making it amazing; it’s pretty sweet.” Craig added to the Toby lovefest by stating, “There’s one guy, Toby, that’s in this thing that did such an unbelievable job. Your brain will be blown. You’ll be like ‘How the hell did they do that?’ It’s the perfect magic trick. I’m not even going to tell you what it is. There’s a great magic trick that we pulled off that has NO CG, and you’re just going to be like ‘It’s great!’ That’s what I love. I also think that Toby, in that department… You know how makeup effects is usually a 50/50 proposition whether they work? He has just stuck the landing every single time in this movie. It’s been really great to see those kinds of practical effects and old school blood. CG blood…naaa. We are doing everything in our power to avoid full CG blood. We had to do a couple of augmentations with some elements because, again, on the day, you can’t rig it appropriately because you’ll see the rig so do we add blood later that’s real, or do we have weird tubes that we move? Ehhh, let’s add real blood later because we want to have the person active and moving. A lot of decisions weigh into every decision about how to realistically capture what we are trying to do.”
Toby himself weighed in on the results of his crew’s work: “The demands are greater with the 3D, the resolution that we’re required to show, the quality. The finer details really have to be that much more precise. We started out thinking that it (gore content) was going to be kind of dialed back a bit, but I’m happy to report that, yeah, the guts are flyin’. There’s been a lot going on, a sort of change in the feeling to really ramp it up. The gore could surpass the previous films, but a lot of that is going to come down to the decisions made in the editing room.” Knowing how certain elements in the film that the crew was excited about might end up being cut for time, we wondered how much say Toby and company would actually get in the creation of these scenes in the first place. He remarked, “There are some elements that stayed exactly as scripted, and there were some things that were very much in development. So we got to be a part of that process and offer in what we could do and what we were most confident about with our materials. So artistically, it’s been great. The 3D has definitely thrown an angle in. We’ve been really milking the 3D angle, not in a cheesy way, but really just using that effect, designing things in ways to really get the maximum effect out of that. There are great moments of implements just, you know, hanging over the audience and just oozing blood. The choices made with some of the actors and their performance, to really help linger on these things. They’re great! We’re getting into some final tests today for some of our last deaths, and we’re really excited about the pieces. Just crazy visual images. I think we’re gonna knock it outta the park this time.” After conferring with our press buddy on hand at almost all times, Toby let fly with a film point you’ll love. “Everybody dies twice!”
Knowing the filmmakers’ distaste for CGI blood, we wondered how that practical content figured into Final Destination 5. Toby grinned and explained, “Throughout the process we’ve gotten consistently gorier. We must be sitting around 15-20 gallons of blood right now, just to give you a scale, and we’ll probably make it past 30 by the time we’re done. We’re getting into a lot of the wetter stuff over this past week.” After some laughter and light bulbs going off over heads, we were treated to an awesome tale of maggots and police intervention. “A few years ago we were moving our shop, and a body from the third picture that gets severed at the waist on the roller coaster, it ended up going into storage at our old shop. It got wrapped in plastic, and blood being corn syrup-based (and we were adding chocolate to our blood and changing tones so it becomes more of a petri dish), it got pretty sour before we moved it to the other shop. When it came out of storage, it was still wrapped in plastic so we put it out in the alley. It was a Friday, and we put it out in the alley next to a bin in our gated yard. And on Sunday I had like six calls from the police while I was in the water with my daughter, and so I had to rush back. They had sent out 50 forensics investigators and cordoned off two blocks. So that speaks for the authenticity of it. It had that added level of authenticity with a bit of mold and a good smell happening, too, which is always convincing.”
The Final Destination films have always set out to present a cast of characters from all walks of life; a sharp contrast to the countless horror films packed with hot teens or twenty-somethings. The filmmakers mentioned that those fans who have stuck around since Episode 1 are now in their 30’s and 40’s so this cast includes a range of ages, allowing for a closer connection with the cast. To that end, in this fifth installment the filmmakers are seeking a deeper connection between the viewer and those about to die with a further emphasis on character development as well. Craig Perry explains, “One of the things that we strove to do was to give them more that they could chew on because I think the more that they are wrestling with as persons, the more the possibility of losing all that by dying will impact their decisions and force them to do things so I think one of the things that’s most interesting is that there’s an idea of real loss. One of the things that we’ve been accused of, and I think rightly so, in the franchise is that we don’t allow the characters to mourn the deaths of the other ones. We have found a way to accommodate the idea of one of the characters mourning the death of one of the other people in their cadre in a way that is actually related to the story so that it doesn’t slow down the movie. That’s one of the twists that we’ve come up with, and it’s a really interesting thing. I think it’s going to allow for something – a third act confrontation that none of the other movies have been able to facilitate, and I will leave it at that. But what I like about what we have done here is create a character-based drama in the third act where they’re not just running around trying to save people – there are a lot bigger things at stake.” Craig went on to promise that the characters are given more to do, providing greater challenges for the actors and (hopefully) providing a more satisfactory story for the viewer.
Steven Quale weighed in on the topic of characterization saying, “I’m a filmmaker and I love to go see movies, and I want to see good movies so I strive for excellence, and to me it always starts with the characters and the cast and how to transform that written page into an actual living, breathing person, and that’s why we worked really hard at that … and that was everybody, the executives at New Line, myself, the producers … to try to make that happen, and it was beyond my wildest dreams. I’m thrilled to death with what we got. In some of the other Final Destination movies, some of the characters were so, how shall I say, non-desirable, just in their character, that you were happy they got killed, and that’s fun, too, but if you really care about the characters, then it can be that much more horrific and sudden when they’re gone so you build up to that. That’s drama. You want conflict and surprises, and that paradigm makes for a better movie.”
Speaking of characters, let’s meet em’! This motley crew all work at the same large industrial paper company. The relationships of some of the characters are still relatively new so there are people completely comfortable and those still finding their way in the group. The crew goes on a corporate retreat to build on those relationships. Of course, no one wants to be there. As they cross a massive suspension bridge, the mayhem begins.
Emma Bell (of Frozen and “The Walking Dead” fame) plays Molly Harper, just coming out of a tumultuous, sexually charged relationship with Nick (“Heroes”) D’Agosto’s character, Sam Lawton. Sam is the “premonition boy” of the film. Their love affair started in the copy room and then continued onto the copier itself. Now Molly is giving Sam his walking papers, but he is trying his best to win her back. Perhaps some shared personal tragedy and the rush of survival against all odds will bring them back together? Might happen! The two are basically worker bees in the office.
Miles Fischer, the American Psycho look-a-like, plays Peter, a middle manager dating one of the executives’ daughters. His character is described as a hard worker and stand-up guy that everyone really likes. “It is unlike anything I’ve ever played before, I’ll tell you that. And my character is actually fairly unassuming from the start. I’m the guy who knows exactly what he wants, who’s always had a plan, A plus B equals C, and I’m just anxious to get there. Nobody is in competition with me. And then as the movie develops, that very much changes. And I take on a bit of a different role.” P.J. Byrnes chimes in with, “He gets less handsome, that’s what happens.” Miles is relatively new to the horror scene. “I haven’t shot a lot of horror before, or thrillers, but with P.J. it’s like he opens his mouth and everyone is cracking up, same as Koechner. And the scenes are so kind of intense; especially the big action thriller sequences are so heavy and technical that when you’re shooting them, as soon as ‘cut’ is yelled, you’re cracking each other up just to get out of that severe intensity. So strangely, kind of being on that raw nerve, the humor and the horror really go hand in hand.”
P.J. Byrne plays Isaac, the guy you love to hate. “Everybody has that one person in the office that you can’t stand, and I am that guy in this movie. So hopefully when I do die, you’ll actually enjoy it.” We do, indeed, like to see the resident asshole get his just deserts, horror film style, and P.J. says we won’t want to miss a moment. “You want to see me die, and they actually milk the hell out of my death, which is an exciting way to go. And that’s all I’m allowed to tell you.” P.J. is new to horror, but from the tone of his answers, it seems like he may be hooked. “I’ve done a lot of comedy and a lot of drama but never sort of this actual horror genre so I was sort of excited to do it. In Extraordinary Measures I played the family doctor who had to tell this family that their child is dying. These are sort of close, intense dramatic moments. Doing this is sort of opening it up, and living in this horror thrill world is a completely new experience for me. I’ve never had to yell loud! I’ve never had to run at a camera or fly at a camera in 3D. That’s a new thing, that’s exciting, and that’s probably why I signed on for it.” The character Isaac is also described as being “very ambitious toward the female sex.” “I care about three things. I care about women, myself, and getting women for myself. Not always in that order.”
Ellen Wroe plays Candice, the youngest in the office, college intern and daughter to the owner of the company. She refers to Miles Fisher’s character Peter as her “boy toy”. For an undisclosed reason, they’ve also made Ellen’s character a gymnast. “I do actually do get to do gymnastics, a physical sequence, a gym sequence. And I had to do most of my own stunts so that was so cool.”
Jacqueline MacInnes Wood plays Olivia Reynolds, another worker bee in the hive alongside Nick and Molly. “You love Olivia or you hate Olivia…she’s kind of a rocker chick, she’s in the moment, she’s not sure what tomorrow’s gonna bring. And she’ll have your back, but if you cross a line with her, she absolutely knows how to hold her own. And in certain situations she’s very honest. She says what people sometimes want to say…sometimes what people are thinking but don’t necessarily have the balls to say it. So sometimes it’s very shocking, but she doesn’t do it to intentionally hurt anyone. It’s just like, she just doesn’t really have a filter.” Ellen adds, “I think guys love her, and then girls hate her cause they really secretly wish they could be as cool as her.” It seems her character has an axe to grind…or a crush to work out! She explains further, saying, “We don’t exactly like each other, I don’t think. But I think it stems from jealousy. I really think that’s what Candice is rooted in with Olivia. She’s just ‘Uh, that girl’s so pretty!'” Jacqueline mentions her death is particularly bloody. “I have some prosthetics for a while, so uh…it’s really raw!”
Arlen Escarpeta plays Nathan, a hard hat type that works in the back of the office. “I’m confronted with Sam’s character, Nick’s character, and we’ve got this like friendship thing, like we know each other, but I’m not up on the floor with everyone else. I’m down there by myself. With these guys here, they’re up in the office, you know, they can bounce ideas off of each other, kind of support each other. And then with me, I’m kinda really down there on my own. And when you guys see the stuff that my character goes through, it’s brutal, it’s tough. It’s definitely tough.” We talked a bit about the correlation between the likability of a character and the level of carnage involved in their death. It’s often understood that the more of an asshole the character is, the more we want to see them ripped to shreds. Arlen seems to get it the hard way, even though his character is fairly innocent. “I think Nathan, you know, he’s a likable guy. Does that mean you won’t want him to get what’s coming? Not necessarily. I mean, I think the build-up there is even probably maybe a little bit more because you almost root for this guy to get a little bit of redemption somewhere or whatever, with all the different stuff that he goes through in the movie. But I think when he gets what’s coming to him, it’s good. I think it’s still satisfying for the audience, for sure.”
David Koechner rounds out the office crew playing Dennis, the boss at the paper company. When asked if he was a good boss, he replied, “Dennis certainly has a…I’ll say ‘commandeering’ style of management. My guess is he’s probably on his third marriage. That gives you a hint as to who he might be. Dennis has a certain management style that some people would appreciate, other people might say wow, that guy’s a prick.”
The final “main character” is one I’m sure all horror fans would agree is essential to a Final Destination film. Is he the embodiment of Death? Is he a mischievous god-like creature that enjoys watching humans attempt to dodge their sticky fates? The filmmakers will never give you that answer. It’s too much fun for them to watch you speculate endlessly. It’s also more fun for the film to have an indefinable entity that remains a mystery. To us, he’s just Tony Todd, one of the nicest guys working in horror today. Craig Perry lends his thoughts, “The characters don’t know who he is so they follow the same course that other people would when confronted by this presence/person/personality. We do want to acknowledge the people who allowed us to be here without sacrificing those who might be with us the first time. And that was one of the intersections where how do we make sure that Tony Todd plays well to the people who want to see him and plays fresh to the people who’ve never seen him, and I think that we got it right because I’m really happy with the way he’s integrated into the story.”
We are told by various cast members that they had interacted with Todd and that his role is very similar to the length and tone of past FD films. Todd was not on hand, but Nick D’Agosto stepped in with thoughts on his behalf. “Tony himself says that this is the most fun he’s had shooting a film and he thought it was some of the most interesting work he got to do for his character because it helped him explore his character in a way that he’d never gotten to explore it before. So I think…and I know working with him was absolutely awesome and he is just as terrifying as you want him to be when you’re standing opposite him in that scene. He’s extremely powerful in every way. He’s tall…imposing…he has that element which is a psychological element which is very intimidating. It was great. It was really fun to work with him, and you know obviously he’s a real jovial guy in person and really kind and cool.” All the actors were practically in unanimous agreement on Tony Todd. Very big – Very scary – Deep voice. They all recognize an almost hypnotic power Todd utilizes while also pointing out his kindness. Arlen Escarpeta put it best when he said, “It’s Tony Todd’s World, for sure.”
It’s very important for a cast to sort of gel, attaining a group rhythm you can feel through the screen. After talking with the lot and just feeling the vibe on the set, you can tell there was plenty of laughter filling the air at any given moment. P.J. Byrne summed up the group’s thoughts. “I think we’re very lucky also with this cast. You know most of us do not live in Vancouver and we’re all living in Vancouver for three months, but there’s a wonderful relationship that we’ve all developed and this sort of family vibe. So we’re in the trenches together, and we’re pushing each other, and if there’s long days, we’re picking each other up. With these wonderful relationships that we’ve developed, hopefully they’re going to add to this movie and you’re going to see that on the screen.”
At the time of these interviews, all the death scenes had been filmed. P.J. remarked, “Yes, we’ve watched each other die … and enjoyed it.” Nick made mention that Emma’s death scene was the group’s favorite. “Because we all have such a good time with each other, it’s fun. Often times you have these really macabre kind of lines where people are like, you know, well at least you didn’t go the regular old schmucky way we’re all going to go, which is a heart attack or something, you know what I mean?”
David Koechner chimes in on the severe nature of their deaths. “They’re fantastic. They are so delightful. They’re delicious, I would say. Any time there’s a death, everyone is impressed and proud. I love that there are so many ways. There are qualities of the characters that are embedded in their deaths, that’s for sure. There’s a really interesting other level to how everyone dies. Sometimes it has to do with their physical makeup, sometimes with their personality. It’s really fascinating. And you know, it’s such an interesting genre, where you cheer when there’s deaths, right? You’re thrilled by them.” Jacqueline adds, “In a weird, twisted way I like to watch people die. But you know, it’s like a strange macabre because as much as death scares us, it intrigues us, which is really cool with these movies; you die in so many creative ways. And when they make another one, you’re like, ‘How many ways can someone really die?’”
Arlen chimes in on the topic, “How do you pretend to die? You know what I mean? We can never wrap our minds around that, you know what I mean? And then to try to simulate, like you said, it’s really, it’s draining the body, definitely the brain, because the whole time you’re like, ‘Do I sound crazy? Do I sound stupid? Does it sound real?’ Do you know what I mean? And then you gotta trust the guy behind the camera that it looks right.”
The crew, as a whole, were tight-lipped as you might expect on the exact details of their gruesome deaths, but Emma offered this little hint. “We all go out with a bang!”