This review of Saw V is part of the Saw Franchise Retrospective series in anticipation of this month’s release of Jigsaw.
Continuing in the tradition of the Saw franchise, which somewhere along the way became more of a police procedural than a horror series, Saw V follows the exploits of Jigsaw’s protege (Costas Mandylor) as he corners in on the FBI agent who is cornering in on him, Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson).
Strahm finds himself early on in a trap which, unlike other Jigsaw traps, is not designed to have a feasible escape. With some quick thinking and a pen, he is able to save himself. Immediately, he continues his pursuit of the serial killer despite being taken off the case by his superior.
Meanwhile, Jigsaw has set up a new game. It has no bearing on the whole Strahm thing, but this is a Saw movie isn’t it? That means there is a quota of torture to be filled. This time, there are five people trapped together, and seemingly one must beat out the rest in the series of gory trials.
To be frank, I find some guilty pleasure in the payoff of this conceit. The traps are bloody and leave nothing to the imagination, playing more for laughs than for thrills, but it leads to a satisfying conclusion. If nothing else, it is nice to see connective tissue with the traps that lead to a surprising result. This makes the film come off more like the first Saw film than the sequels that came after, where the connection between set pieces was a thin veneer linked to some character that has no personality.
What is less intriguing about Saw V is its attempt to remain true to the continuity of the series. Costas Mandylor and Betsy Russell are no replacement for Tobin Bell, bringing a lifelessness to the film that is hard to stomach. Patterson is fun to watch, his croaky voice somehow managing to bring more energy to the script than the other actors in the film.
But the mythology of Saw ran its course after three films. That the series feels the need to continue explaining the necessity of its torture is a signal to how tired and played out the series premise is. It is surprising that it took until the 2017 reboot to make the villain a copycat (of course, the film is not yet released, and it isn’t out of the question that the film’s twist will be that John Kramer was inexplicably alive the whole time or that the killer is Eric Matthews’ son or some nonsense like that).
David Hackl, who served as a production designer on the previous three Saw films, directs Saw V. Largely, it looks exactly the same as the others, save for this one being more blue than grotesque shades of yellow. While this color choice is less off-putting, the other film’s were color graded to be intentionally off-putting. If anything, Saw V appears more dull in comparison.
Saw V clutters itself with backstory and flashbacks, doing what it can to continue the hyper-connectivity of the franchise. This pads the runtime enough for the film to be feature length, but it is by no means engaging. The only engaging aspect is the B-plot series of traps, if only for the payoff. That this subplot is not connected to the main story at all shows how desperate the execs at Lionsgate were to continue milking their franchise for all it was worth.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)