- Rated R
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All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by David Medsker
he best thing that can be said for “Saw V” is that it doesn’t have one of those ridiculous house-of-cards endings that plagued the previous two installments in Lionsgate’s cash cow. However, the transition from one Jigsaw to the next has proved to be quite taxing on the series’ visceral impact. Does anyone even care anymore what the movies’ victims have done to deserve their punishment? What started as a clever, if grisly, conceit has created Justice Fatigue.
The movie begins with a man strapped to a table while a blade-shaped pendulum slowly descends towards his midsection. His choice: allow his hands to be crushed, or die. He complies, but the machine kills him anyway. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is “credited” for the murder (this takes place around the time of the original “Saw”), but it was in fact the work of Lieutenant Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), seeking revenge on the man that murdered his sister. Jump to the present – which is to say, the endings of both “Saw III” and “Saw IV” – where Hoffman tries to get Agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) to quit chasing Jigsaw. Hoffman puts Strahm in a trap, but Strahm survives and is more determined than ever to uncover who could be assisting Jigsaw. Meanwhile, five people wake up in a series of sewer tunnels with a message from Jigsaw urging them to fight their instincts and work together to escape their dilemma (bound by the neck to a pulley, guillotine blades behind them). They, of course, do not listen, and turn on each other in order to live long enough to make it to the next room.
Tobin Bell is barely in “Saw V,” which makes sense considering the fact that he died two movies ago, but his lack of screen time shows just how important his character is to the series’ likeability. The five subjects in the sewer tunnels all have a dirty secret, yes, but would they have even appeared on the original Jigsaw’s radar? It makes sense that the moral center of the films would change somewhat as Hoffman assumes control of the Jigsaw legacy, but something’s missing. Jigsaw was a bogeyman; Hoffman is more of a sadistic Punisher, the good cop turned vigilante. It doesn’t carry the same weight that Jigsaw’s games did.
The setup for “Saw V” is far too similar to “Saw II” – which began as an original script that was later retro-fitted for the “Saw” franchise – and that, combined with Bell’s lack of screen time and the most ho-hum traps in the movie’s history (except for the final two traps, which are just brutal), result in the flattest “Saw” movie to date. The predicament of the five in the sewers actually feels like a B-story to Strahm’s pursuit of Hoffman. The most valuable contribution the story makes to the “Saw” mythology is the scene where Jigsaw’s wife Jill (Betsy Russell) receives a box per the conditions of Jigaw’s last will and testament. It’s a great tease, but I thought to myself: have they even decided what is in the box, or will they figure it out later and rewrite history to make it work?
If the previous two “Saw” movies saw inspiration in other popular horror titles – namely “Hostel” and “Final Destination” – “Saw V” marks the first time that the series is simply uninspired. Lionsgate has to know that the series is running on fumes (the worldwide box office for “Saw V” was $35 million less than “Saw IV,” though both movies still printed money), and if they’re smart, they’ll wrap everything up with the next installment, give Jigsaw the ending he deserves, and allow the rest of us to move on.
Unrated Collector's Edition DVD Review:
We’ll say this for the “Saw” crew: they do not skimp on the bonus materials. The traps all receive lots of love in the featurettes, with the production crew and makeup artists pitching in to describe their contributions. The director and assistant director do an audio commentary, and the movie’s producers do a separate commentary. Wikipedia makes mention of an additional 14 minutes of footage that would be featured in the director’s cut, but that idea appears to have been scrapped for the time being. Look for it to appear when they re-issue the movie in six months.