Movie Review: Saw V
By Matthew Huntley
October 30, 2008
The Saw horror series seems to peak with every odd-numbered installment. Saw (2004) remains the best of the bunch and I would have been happy if the series ended right then and there, but it's blasphemy in Hollywood to not make endless sequels when there's money to be made. The original was stylish, creepy and generated more than a couple shuddering moments. Then came Saw II (2005), and from that point on, each sequel could only be judged by how tolerable it was, not by how well made it was. As with the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series, the Saw movies come off an assembly line of production. Only the victims seem to change.
The plot of Saw V is typical of the series, but it's actually pretty good: a protege of the late Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), that crazed kidnapper who places victims into situations where they must dismember themselves in order to break free, all because he wants them to learn a moral lesson, locks five strangers in a room. They are all related because they've somehow exploited their inherent wealth for their own personal gain. In the classic tradition of Saw, the five must play a series of deadly games in order to survive and move onto the next level. They'll have to avoid things like decapitation, bombs, electrical shocks, etc. If you've seen any Saw movie, you know the drill.
The protege this time is FBI Agent Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), whom you'll recall was revealed as the mastermind behind the plot of Saw IV (he also made an appearance in Saw III). Of course, we didn't know that until the end of the last movie. Also returning is Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson), who, at the beginning of Saw V, stumbles upon the end of the plot of Saw III while investigating the plot of Saw IV. Are you with me? I'd actually have to go back and watch every Saw movie to make sure, but they all seem to be connected.
After Strahm discovers Jigsaw is dead on the operating table, he's locked in and finds one of those handy dandy tape recorders that are so prolific in these movies (why do none of the victims ever choose to simply not press Play?). After he hears what he must do, he's attacked by Hoffman, who wears a pig costume, and wakes up with a cube device on his head that will eventually fill up with water so he'll drown. But Strahm does something surprisingly smart and stabs his trachea with a pen so he can continue breathing.
Hoffman, in the middle of telling his bogus statement to the police, discovers Strahm has survived. He must now find a way to eliminate him and monitor his own Jigsaw-like scheme with the five morally-challenged people in the dingy warehouse. The movie inter-cuts between Agent Strahm's own investigation, the five trapped people, and a series of flashbacks in which we learn how Hoffman and Jigsaw came to meet, what their motivations are, how they're connected, etc.
For the record, Saw V is the best sequel of the franchise, but that's not saying much since none of the sequels have ever been exceptional. Heck, even the original is nothing special outside its genre. What makes Saw V stand out from the rest is its pacing and editing. First time director David Hackl and longtime Saw editor Kevin Greutert move the feature along so we're always with it. They successfully balance the two parallel plots and flashbacks so that none becomes a liability and we remain, however slightly, invested in all three. It's probably because the entire movie only has a runtime of 90 minutes, so there isn't enough time for any story to become too much of something - too much bad acting, too much gratuitous gore, etc. And yes, the acting is bad and there is gratuitous violence.
I'm marginally recommending Saw V, but that could only be because I'm comparing it to the dreaded Saw IV. Next to that, almost anything seems good. But even if I am judging it on a curve, I still found Saw V entertaining. The only problem is it inevitably sets up Saw VI. There is a scene when Jigsaw's ex-wife (Betsy Russell) meets with an attorney, who presents her a tape and a box from her ex-husband. We get to see the tape but we don't get to see what's in the box. Its contents, I'm sure, will be revealed in the next movie. But if the even-numbered Saw movies are any indication of its quality, I have every reason to be nervous.