I was ready for the Saw series to be finished after the third film. The fourth felt like a cash-grab. This fifth installment, which also doesn’t need to exist, comes across like a celebration — a “Greatest Hits” of the franchise thus far. One of its many storylines involves a character visiting the locations of some of the most memorable scenes, and having revelatory flashbacks that explain how things “truly” were. “Truly,” at least until another film comes out and tells us that we still didn’t know what was going on.
Does it matter anymore? If Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) had another apprentice — Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), which is what we learned at the end of the last film — who cares? All it does is allow for more sequels, and have the first three films’ legacy tarnished. I don’t want a Jigsaw imitator; that’s why they killed off the one who was being prepped to take that position. Now we’re learning that there was another one? Why? So that the studio can keep making their $10 million film that is guaranteed to rake in $100 million at the box office.
For those who still care, one of the stories of Saw V involves FBI Agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) going from place to place and somehow “re-living” the events in earlier films, but with the added knowledge that Hoffman was Jigsaw’s little helper for the entire time. Hoffman, meanwhile, is continuing his master’s legacy, by both showing us why he took on the job, letting a new “game” play out, and also trying to cover his tracks and eliminate Agent Strahm.
That game goes back to the roots of Saw II. There are five people, all of whom are connected in some way — although more tangentially and unclearly this time, as the writing has taken a drastic dip in quality — who are going to be put through trials and tribulations in order to escape with their lives. The ones this time around are more down-to-Earth, and quite frankly not that impressive. There’s an art to some of the puzzles in earlier Saw films, sadistic as that might sound, but these ones could be made by a high schooler.
Of course, the lack of flair to the traps is explained away by the lesson that the characters have to learn. I don’t really want to ruin it, but suffice to say that it’s something that high school sports coaches attempt to teach their players. Or, you know those movies about outcasts banding together to overcome the odds? It’s kind of like that. This is how far the Saw movies have fallen. They haven’t necessarily been the smartest films, but they used to be better than this.
They’re not scary at all anymore. Saw IV wasn’t scary and neither is the fifth film. There’s a little mystery work, but most of the “horror” scenes are spent putting the victims through torturous situations which involve the loss of blood, limbs, and possibly life. Once Jigsaw died, it seemed like the writers gave up. Even though the now-famous character “planned” this film’s game, it’s not the same. The behind-the-scenes creativity is gone, and the film seems obligatory, made because it makes money and not because anyone wants to do it.
The storyline becomes more convoluted with each new chapter, too, which isn’t a point in its favor. How many more times can we revisit the same scene, with only a slightly different look, and with a touch more information? When does it become too implausible for even the most devoted fan to wrap his or her head around? And when can we just do the prequel so that Tobin Bell can be in the whole movie? It seems that we’re headed in that direction anyway, as random, meaningless flashbacks attempt to include the actor as often as possible.
In some ways, despite having that “Greatest Hits” sort of feeling, Saw V also comes across as a film that exists to set-up a sixth movie. Not a whole lot is actually accomplished in this chapter, save for attempting to establish Hoffman as a true villain (which it doesn’t actually do very well). It’s transitional, hoping that we’ll accept this new villain over Jigsaw — despite acting just like Jigsaw, I guess — so that future films don’t have to keep linking back to the earlier ones.
None of the actors manage to leave a mark, save for Bell who could probably play Jigsaw in his sleep at this point. Both Mandylor, who reminded me of a worse Sylvester Stallone, and Patterson are completely flat, and the victims of the game don’t get to live long enough or do anything that doesn’t involve screaming in order to turn in performances that matter. The good actors are all dead at this point.
Saw V is a bad movie and even if you liked the earlier movies in the franchise, it’s hard to see anyone getting terribly excited about it. The traps aren’t creative, the story is convoluted and confusing, the acting is nothing impressive, there’s no actual horror, and there’s very little reason to even watch it, save for the completionists out there who have already seen 1-4. Once the roman numerals start reaching this high, it’s rare that quality is still of the greatest importance. Saw V is an obligation, made to make money and nothing more.