Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Sequences of Grisly Bloody Violence and Torture, Language and brief Nudity
Directed by: David Hackl
Written by: Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan
Starring: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Julie Benz, Meagan Good, Mark Rolston, Carlo Rota & Greg Bryk
SAW IV made a ton of cash in October 2007, so SAW V arrived in October 2008. However, this SAW was unlike the previous four entries, because Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw is very much dead by the time this fifth chapter begins (thanks to a half-baked twist from the fourth film that was really just a half-assed repeat of a major revelation from the far-superior SAW II). SAW V also sets itself apart from the rest of the movies in the SAW series by being boring and lame. The entire franchise was lacking in quality after SAW III concluded things with a bloody bombshell, but SAW V is hands-down the dullest point of the (so far) seven SAWs.
Picking up immediately after the events of SAW IV, FBI Agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) finds himself escaping from one of Jigsaw’s twisted traps and then winds up hot on the trail of Jigsaw’s latest accomplice. Meanwhile, Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) attempts to cover up his gore-soaked tracks and tries to shake the ever-vigilant Strahm off his back. While this bland cat-and-mouse game is occurring, five new victims find themselves in a new series of twisted games that were planned by Jigsaw before his death. We get traps, flashbacks, and convoluted continuity that muddies the waters of what made the first three SAWs so damn good in the first place.
SAW V’s best performance comes from Tobin Bell, who returns for a few brief flashbacks and delivers the only great scene of this fifth installment. One sequence sees Bell’s John Kramer and a captive Hoffman having a tense conversation, all whilst a hair-trigger shotgun trap is in play. This entire flashback is the only stand-out scene of SAW V. This five-minute clip is a brief shining moment in an otherwise tedious, boring, and uninspired sequel. Watching Strahm and Hoffman play cat-and-mouse with each other is like watching two cardboard cut-outs take up space for 90 minutes. It’s not exciting, riveting, or remotely fun to behold.
In my SAW IV review, I mentioned that Costas Mandylor is possibly the worst actor in the SAW franchise…which is almost impressive when you consider how many bad performances have occurred in the space of these seven films. Betsy Russell is still the terrible actress, but her role is thankfully brief in this fifth outing. Russell’s small on-screen tidbits consist of setting up vague clues for future installments and don’t relate to much of SAW V’s plot though. There’s the mysterious contents of a box, which would have probably been confiscated because her late-husband was a serial killer and his will seems to suggest that he wants his ex-wife to continue his “games.” There’s also a brief scene of her interacting with Mark Rolston’s head FBI agent (who’s clearly being set up for the eventual sixth film).
As far as SAW V’s victims go, there’s nobody really worth rooting for. There’s a bland blonde, Julie Benz in an Elvira wig, an annoying crackhead, a cocky reporter, and a smug housing developer. Their interactions are boring, their deaths are unremarkable, and they might be the dumbest group of Jigsaw victims to ever appear in the series (which is another remarkable achievement in stupidity). The viewer will likely figure out the big “twist” to these traps long before the players do. As a result, you don’t feel the least bit concerned when one of them bites it in a horrible way.
As for Jigsaw’s latest round of “games,” SAW V’s traps mostly revolve around the threat of timed nail bombs. The logic behind this decision is baffling because it means that this is a torture-porn flick with very little torture or gore. If nothing else, the SAW series had creative, ridiculous traps that usually filled the appetites of gorehounds. SAW V will disappoint even the most diehard SAW fan. The only two noteworthy traps are a bladed pendulum (clearly taken from a certain Edgar Allan Poe story) and a box that attempts to drown its victim in an unconventional way (which adorned the film’s poster and most of its marketing). The rest of these new “games” are just plain boring to sit through and the final trap is eye-rollingly stupid. Also, for a movie that sported the tagline “You won’t believe how it ends…,” nearly every audience member had likely guessed the predictable conclusion long before arrived.
SAW V’s flow is as follows: a lame trap, Strahm looking at a file, a flashback between Hoffman and Jigsaw, and Strahm speaking aloud to himself about the flashback that we just spent five minutes watching. This process repeats itself for near the entirety of the 92-minute running time. The result is the worst acted, most poorly written, and undeniably boring SAW yet. With a reboot on the way, I sincerely hope that SAW V remains the lowest point in the franchise. The only reason you should ever sit through SAW V is so you understand what the hell is even happening in the better-than-this-but-still-not-as-good-as-the-first-three SAW VI.