Written by: Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan
Directed by: David Hackl
Starring: Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, and Tobin Bell
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"Some would call this karma. I call it justice."
"If it's Halloween, it must be Saw," indeed. For the fifth year in a row, an installment of the popular franchise hits theaters with the promise that audiences "won't believe how it ends." After the somewhat lackluster Saw IV, I'll admit that the hype for Saw V drew me in during the past couple of weeks. Once again, I was left wondering just where the series could go from here, considering the main villains have been dead since the third film. Ultimately, I was just anticipating seeing the series move forward, as Saw IV really just felt like it only existed to set-up this film. So, after a year's wait and a decent amount of hype, does Saw V measure up, or is it almost time to take this franchise behind the barn and put it down?
As we learned in Saw IV, Jigsaw had another accomplice in addition to Amanda Young: Detective Hoffman, whom Jigsaw apparently intends to test from beyond the grave. After a rather memorable trap sequence to open the film, the main narrative of Saw V again takes us back to the infirmary set from the third film. Here, Hoffman attempts to tie up some loose ends, namely in the form of Agent Strahm, who stands as the only survivor besides Hoffman. Hoffman's plan goes awry, however, when Strahm manages to survive. Thus, our main conflict of the film is set into motion, as a cat and mouse game ensues between the two law enforcement officials. Meanwhile, Hoffman has also set up a new game involving five strangers who must work together to survive a house full of traps (not unlike Saw II). Of course, in true Saw fashion, both storylines end up converging into the signature climax that's been getting hyped for the past month or so.
So, first things first: does the ending live up to the hype? Surprisingly, no, and it's not even close. For the first time with this series, I felt like I knew exactly where the ending was going; sure, I didn't know the specifics, but, as the screen faded to the credits, I was left wondering, "that's it?". While a shocking twist ending isn't required to make a film effective, it's a bit bewildering that this one is so lackluster given the marketing. Of course, it's probably a bit unfair to judge a film based on the marketing, so I will give the ending a little bit of credit by admitting that it is pretty cool. Like I said, I knew what was going to happen, but now how exactly it was going to happen, and the film's final sequence does manage to be pretty memorable.
Alright, so the ending isn't quite up to par with the previous films, but what about the rest of the film? Basically, it's a decent entry that at least moves the series forward (unlike the fourth entry), but I can't help but feel that the series is running out of steam a bit. As is always the case with the Saw series, the fifth entry juggles multiple plot-lines; however, with this one, I actually found myself becoming bored with the traphouse segments for various reasons. For one, none of the characters were that interesting; in fact, I'm not even sure we ever learn the victims' names. I criticized the second film a bit for its shallow characters, but I find them to be much better when compared to the ones here. This is unfortunate, as both Carlo Rota and Julie Benz are fantastic actors that are pretty much wasted here. Secondly, the traps during these sequences are quite bland and lack imagination. In a series that's been built upon inventive trap sequences, it's surprising that we get some of the most lackluster ones for the fifth entry. Finally, for the first time in the series, the trap sequences feel entirely superfluous to the film because they're not in any way connected with the main characters (besides the fact that Hoffman is overseeing them). I have a sneaking suspicion that the characters and the game as a whole will take on a deeper meaning with the inevitable sixth film, but for now, I'm unsatisfied with this aspect of Saw V.
The meat of the story that I found to be far more interesting was the cat and mouse game between Strahm and Hoffman. Here, Strahm attempts to piece together Hoffman's past involvement with Jigsaw, and we're treated to some interesting flashbacks that let us know just how long their association has lasted. The character of Hoffman is fleshed out quite nicely here, and Tobin Bell once again shines as Jigsaw. He doesn't get much screen time here, but he is still undoubtedly the center of this franchise. While the traps and gore are no doubt a huge calling card for this franchise, the aspect of mystery has always held the films together, and Saw V is more of the same in this regard. It's just too bad that the traphouse sequences end up killing a lot of the momentum here, as the film does suffer a bit from pacing problems when it comes to juggling the two stories.
Thus, the film comes off as feeling a little bit disjointed because the two stories never really come together in a very meaningful way. Instead, it feels like the film really cares about the Hoffman and Strahm plot, and it provides the traphouse sequences as simple filler. Unfortunately, it's not even good filler, even if it does provide the only thematic weight in the film. Those familiar with the Saw series know that each film has a bit of a theme attached to it, and that's no different for this one; however, it's odd that it's anchored in the trap house sequences with a bunch of characters we don't spend that much time with. On the contrary, there's nothing thematic about Strahm and Hoffman's plot, as it's basically just a simple cat and mouse game that has no relevance to the traphouse and its victims.
Saw V does get a couple of things right, though. The opening trap sequence is among the most memorable in the franchise so far. Oddly enough, Saw V feels like the tamest entry so far in terms of gore, but you'd never guess that from the opening trap, which involves a man strapped down beneath a swinging pendulum blade. As previously mentioned, Carlo Rota and Julie Benz are good in their limited roles, and Costas Mandylor finally brings life to the character of Hoffman, who has been nothing more than a shady character in his first two appearances. The film also manages to bring some closure on a few issues; however, it also opens the doors for new questions that will be answered by the sixth film next October (go ahead and pencil in the Friday before Halloween on your calendar). Newcomer David Hackl does an admiral job taking the director's reigns here for his lone outing (Kevin Greutert will take over next). There's nothing particularly striking or innovative about Hackl's style, as it essentially looks and feels like his predecessors' styles (James Wan and Darren Lynn Bousman). In other words, it's just more of the same.
And that's pretty much how I'd sum up Saw V at this point: it's more of the same. Hoffman and Strahm's plot is especially reminiscent of the original film in terms of piecing together a plot, while the traphouse is of course a regurgitation of Saw II. I can't imagine what a sixth film will have to offer next year, but I hope it's at least something fresh and new, as, on the whole, Saw V just feels a little bit too bland. I wasn't exactly enamored with Saw IV, and this film hasn't done much to re-ignite my enthusiasm for the franchise. That said, I'll no doubt be there next year for Saw VI just to see where this thing goes from here. Fans of the franchise should definitely check this one out in theaters, but if you're only a casual fan, I can't imagine that it'd be worth a trip to the theaters. Instead, wait a few months for it to hit DVD and Blu-ray and Rent it!
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