I've been a fan of this series since the first installment, which I actually own on VHS (despite the lack of functional VCR to play it). The second one is OK, if not a bit overrated (some think it better than the first, to which I say nay). The third and fourth sucked. So when I hear about a fifth one, I'm like "OK, whatever," at first. Then I hear that they're changing up the rules and it's not just going to be another rehash. I'm more interested. Then I hear Tony Todd is back. My interest shoots up even more. Then I see reviews stating it's one of the best since the original, and it becomes a must-see.
Anecdote: This is where I usually give the plot synopsis, but I know what you're thinking: "This is the fifth in a horror franchise where each film is almost exactly the same. You obviously know what's going to happen." Well, dear reader, let me share this tidbit with you: After the big accident premonition and it goes back to the guy who realizes everyone is about to die, there was actually a woman in my theater who went "Gah! It was just a dream!" and another nearby that was like "That wasn't real?!" Seriously. So without further ado...
This time we get Sam (Nicholas D'Agosto), an office worker who wants to be a chef as he's going off on a business retreat with others in the office. But when he gets a premonition that the bridge they're crossing collapses and kills almost everyone, he ends up rescuing a handful of others just before it actually happens. Of course, Death doesn't like this and starts coming after them one by one in the order they would have died in the accident. But then a coroner (Tony Todd) explains some rules and lets them know if they kill somebody, they can take all the life they have left. The only other real recognizable name here is David Koechner, who plays the office manager.
The problems with the last 2-3 films in this series is that they moved away from the more serious nature of the first film and turned it more into a failed horror/comedy. This film, however, returns to its roots... and in more ways than one. If I were to rank them in quality, I'd place this somewhere in between the first and second. It's not as good as the original, but it definitely has some original twists and turns and isn't afraid to take the formula in a new direction. And there is an awesome twist at the end of the movie--unfortunately, I saw it coming very early on in the film. Still, it elevated the film even more (kind of like Saw VII; you knew it was coming, but it was cool anyway).
But the part anybody cares about in these films is the deaths. Starting off with the accident, it's unfortunately not one of the most exciting in the series. Still, it works for what it is. The fun thing about the deaths in these movies is that you almost never actually see it coming. You get these Rube Goldberg setups, but the majority of the time, what kills them has nothing to do with that setup--but just when you think it was a fake-out, it comes back and has something to do with the death in a way that you didn't even consider. It keeps you on your toes and guessing. And to that degree, this movie excels pretty dang well. They were pretty creative, if not for a slight reliance on CGI (including CGI blood).
The worst part of the film is the acting. Though that's really not much of a surprise. The last two films especially haven't been known for their quality thespians. I mean, next to Tony Todd, the biggest name in this movie is David Koechner. Mr. D'Agosto is in a constant state of surprise with his big round eyes and jumpy eyebrows. And Scott has said all that needs to be said about Miles Fisher, who plays the best friend.
Overall, if you're a fan of the series, you should check it out. If you were a fan of the first or second, but not so much the the third or fourth, check it out anyway. It blows those other two out of the water. And while there are a ton of connections to all the films, the only one of the series you really need to have seen is the first (which, one would assume if you're seeing the fifth, you'd have seen the first... but apparently not). It's an original take on a tiring premise and does it pretty well, even giving a pretty damn good ending. If this were to be the actual FINAL one, it would work well as the last installment.
(P.S. Almost forgot to mention the 3D. This is one of those movies 3D was made for. It's not that type of atmospheric 3D, but rather the in-your-face, blood spurting, pointy-thingies jolting 3D. And it uses it to abundance, never missing an opportunity. If you love that classic style of 3D done well, definitely check this one out.)