Saw V (2008)
Reviewed by David Rosiak
Starring Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsey Russell
Directed by David Hackl
The tagline for Saw V reads “You won’t believe how it ends.” Actually, if you manage to stay awake during this incredibly dull installment of the dwindling Saw franchise, you’ll not only believe the ending, but you’ll see it coming miles away.
That’s one of the key problems five films into the Saw series; there are absolutely no surprises to be had. While James Wan’s first film had its share of problems (namely some over the top performances and an over reliance on flashy avid-fart editing) it still managed to coast by on a strong concept and a powerful sense of building dread. The sequels, however, are yearly proof of the law of diminishing returns and the series has lately been treading water by continually looping back in on itself and attempting to add new perspective to scenes from the previous films. Saw IV was particularly guilty of this, providing viewers with the revelation that its storyline was actually running concurrently with the events of Saw III. It was the narrative equivalent of running in place, and the only addition it made to the already convoluted storyline was the fact that FBI Agent Mark Hoffman (a pudgy Costas Mandylor) had been serving as yet another accomplice to the nefarious serial killer known as Jigsaw.
After the requisite prologue, this one involving a trap inspired by Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” that would have probably cost something in the neighborhood of a hundred thousand bucks to build, the fifth film picks up right where the fourth left off (which is also pretty much where the third film left off). Agent Peter Strahm (“Gilmore Girls” Scott Patterson) arrives on the scene of Saw III and mistakenly dispatches Jeff from the third film (Angus McFadyen, appearing only in old footage). Almost immediately, Strahm is cold cocked by a pig-masked Hoffman and plopped into his own death trap – the glass box that has been plastered all over the trailers. The trap itself is painfully lame and obvious; how Strahm manages to deal with it and ultimately survive is the only fun point of the film. Yes, he survives, and he’s soon obsessively trying to track down Jigsaw’s accomplice. Meanwhile, Hoffman is running a new game on a group of folks that seem like the second stringers who couldn’t make the casting cut for Saw II, the most notable of whom is “Dexter” star Julie Benz, whose most distinguishing characteristic is that she wears a hilarious black fright wig that seems to change styles in every scene.
So what we have is a cop trying to track down the new Jigsaw while various victims are killed in their attempts to escape traps. Wash, rinse, repeat. Since the characters are so poorly drawn, so completely interchangeable, there isn’t the slightest bit of suspense to be had. And make no mistake, these are the worst, most one-note characters to yet appear in this franchise, repeatedly making inanely stupid decisions that result in them being sliced, diced or blown up. Speaking of getting blown up, virtually every trap in the film involves explosives. Bombs go off so frequently in the film that it left me wondering why no one was calling 911 to report what undoubtedly sounded like a small-scale war going on down in the warehouse district.
The acting is atrocious across the board. Mandylor, despite being a veteran of dozens of television shows and movies of the week, is no Tobin Bell. But then, Bell himself is running on fumes here; his character only appears in flashbacks that try to awkwardly shoehorn Mandylor into scenes from the previous films. Hey, did you know that Hoffman helped Jigsaw rig the traps for Saw II and then manages to slip out a secret door just before Amanda (Shawnee Smith) showed up? Did you know that Hoffman was hanging out with Jigsaw during the early scenes in Saw III and exited through a secret door mere second before the characters of that film entered the scene? At this point, do you really care? Nah, me neither, but at least half the film is filled up with these ponderous flashbacks, inserted willy-nilly to pad the running time. Bell has never looked more bored and listless, repeating the same mantra of morality until he’s blue in the face.
Patterson fares even worse, as his Strahm spends nearly the entire movie in the role of Exposition Guy. Almost every scene consists of him talking to himself to repeatedly explain plot points that the audience has already figured out two scenes earlier. Seriously, he talks to himself for the entire film. He’s like a Greek Chorus for Dummies.
Betsy Russell is also back as Jill, Jigsaw’s ex-wife, for a total of two scenes --and those are two scenes too many. Russell, whose main claim to fame was shedding her clothes in 80’s teen sex flicks like Private School, Tomboy and Cheerleader Camp, takes home the prize for the film’s worst performance. We’re talking high school play level badness here, and I swear that I could see her eyes moving back and forth as she read cue cards. Her character here only exists to introduce a half-hearted mystery (plainly ripped off from both Seven and Pulp Fiction) that may play out in the next installment.
The script, written by seasoned genre scribes Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (Feast, Feast II: Sloppy Seconds) is bottom of the barrel. Characters only exist to react to situations and die, the traps are dull and require no ingenuity, plot is kept to a bare minimum, and there’s no structure at all, with flashbacks popping up randomly and grinding the film to a halt. When the dialogue isn’t monotonously explaining what we’ve already seen, it’s mostly of the “Fuck you,” “What the fuck!” and “Survival of the fittest, my ass” variety. There isn’t one single character worth following in this turgid mess of a film. And for a series known for its twist endings (although to be fair, they’ve grown more and more contrived) the ending of this one barely registers. Even hardcore viewers will be left scratching their heads and saying “that’s it?”
Direction is by David Hackl, who served as the production designer on the last three installments, and he proves that he has no rapport with actors nor any sort of visual flare beyond the most basic of camera setups. Saw V looks like a lifeless TV movie occasionally punctuated with unexciting gore. Say what you will about the music video excesses of the previous films, but they all at least had a sense of energetic movement; Saw V’s direction is as lifeless as its script.
This is unmistakably one of the worst horror films of the year. It’s the last dying gasp of a series that was already past its expiration date, following the same trajectory of the Friday the 13th series in the 80’s (the parallels are striking, right down to each series bringing in new villains for their fifth films). It’s lowest common denominator filmmaking, as is evidenced by the fact that VH1 is currently running a reality show in which female contestants compete for a role in next year’s Saw VI, which will be directed by the editor of the last few films – whoopee!
I’ll lay odds that we’re only a film or two away from seeing Saw in 3D and then, inevitably, outer space. Stick a fork in it. It’s done.
1/2 out of 5
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