The answer is five. That's it. Five. Now for the question: how many time can the producers of the Saw series go back to the original narrative (Jigsaw's complex game oriented vengeance) and fill in the blanks and bald spots before the plotline simply implodes. And how many times will true fans accept the overdone intricacies before they start to give up? The answer, is five. As a huge, HUGE fan of the movies, this critic has loved all previous installments - even Part 2 with its house of hackneyed caricatures approach. Darren Lynn Bousman has taken Leigh Whannell and James Wan's original suspense thriller and bloodied the mofo beyond all recognition. But there's someone new behind the lens this time around, and as a result, Saw V suffers from severe separation anxiety. Almost nothing about this fourth sequel works - not the constant backfilling of the killer's legacy, not the creation of a new serial savant, not the linear game involving five corrupt individuals and the deadly land deal they all mastermined. So five is where the entire franchise stops being relevant. Sigh.
With Jigsaw dead and the case seemingly closed, FBI Agent Strahm is still trying to link police detective Mark Hoffman to the murderer as an accomplice. Before he can, however, he gets locked in a watery cube that almost kills him. After surviving, he is suspended from the force by newcomer Dan Erickson. Seems the higher up is convinced that something is wrong with Strahm. In the meantime, Hoffman is fulfilling Jigsaw's last wish, and setting up a game involving five individuals - a trust fund tweaker, a strident real estate broker, an egotistical investigative journalist, a corrupt city official, and a fire inspector. Their connections seems tenuous at best, but as Strahm pushes ever closer to finding out about Hoffman and his connection to the crimes, we soon learn the method to this killer's madness.
There is nothing worse than following a franchise for four sensational installments, only to have a change of talent and narrative approach cheapen everything you loved about the cinematic journey so far. Like inaccurately gauging the tensile strength of a piece of guide wire, Saw V breaks the series in a manner from which it may never recover. There are clues throughout the film that this fourth sequel is somehow connected to a much bigger storyline. Before he dies (yes, in flashback) Jigsaw explains that the busted land deal, the quintet in the latest 'game', the box he left his gal pal Jill, and the continuing "education" of Detective Hoffman, are all part of some larger concept that, when revealed, will bring everything together. God, one hopes so, or almost everything that happens in Saw V was a pointless endeavor in copycatting. The group torture comes straight out of Part 2, the revelation of more plugged pot holes comes from Parts 3 and 4, and the notion that someone else was working with Jigsaw (aside from Amanda, that is) is one of the mythology's mainstay story points. But newbie David Hackl can't handle the complexities. Instead, his novice status as a director really shows.
When he handled multiple concepts and interconnections, Darren Lynn Bousman never forgot to include the audience. His style may have been jumpy and a tad erratic, but he sure kept his narrative engaging and moving forward. For Hackl, the individual "tricks" within the game are nothing short of time sucks. We sit around as characters quarrel, someone picks up a weapon and subdues a subject, and the others escape as the victim gets vivisected (or some other manner of unexceptional death blow). Wham bam booooring! Unlike previous installments, the murder mannerisms here are just dull. The drowning cube? Tedious. The razor lockers? Poorly utilized. The musical tunnels? Tepid. The electric bath? Uninteresting. Even the last challenge, requiring our remaining participants to literally saw their arms in half, fails to ignite our interest. There's such a "been there, done that" quality to the carnage that no amount of "Unrated" material can salvage it. That's right, we are dealing with a "Director's Cut" DVD here, which means there is a small amount of added exposition, and a lot more MPAA edited gore. The bloodletting is quite nasty, but only from a mainstream standpoint. There are several competing films that have bigger - and better - body counts.
So where did it all go wrong? Why does a devoted fan of the series like yours truly - and from reading several Saw related messageboards, many others - find this film so lacking? The answer could be inherent in the original movie itself. When the first Saw came out, we were more interested in the give and take between Dr. Gordon and Adam. Jigsaw was tertiary in the mix. Bousmann changed all that with Part 2, making the games the center of attention. It was an idea carried over to Parts 3 and 4, but there was also enough returning characters and reconfigured loyalties that it all felt new. Now, by the third torture test and the seventh storyline shift, we're no longer excited. Instead, we want some got-damn answers. What's in Jill's box? Why was the death of eight people in the land deal so important? Why does Hoffman set up Strahm, and will last girl/woman real estate executive Ashley survive? And most importantly, what part will Agent Erickson play in Saw VI (oh yes, they're still chucking these babies out on a yearly basis for the foreseeable future). Because it is too derivative and far too open ended, Saw V plays like an incomplete 'linking verb' installment. That probably explains its equally deficient entertainment value.
Lionsgate usually goes all out for their DVD releases of this title, but don't bet on seeing something like Saw V: The Three Disc Original Theatrical Cut Special Edition anytime soon. This Unrated Director's Cut (approximately four minutes longer than the 92 minute big screen version) appears to be how the studio plans on releasing these titles for the foreseeable future. The transfer, for the most part, is terrific. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is clean, crisp, lacking significant edge enhancement, and grim without being too dark or unwatchable. Many of the murder scenes seem lighter and more visually viable than their far murkier silver screen counterparts. Overall, the picture is polished and very professional.
On the sound side of things, there is an excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix that's just amazing at times. In one office scene, you can literally hear an off camera secretary tapping away at her computer keyboard as the main characters talk. Sure, things get a little excessive whenever the games begin. Hackl apparently believes in the scream and shout method of scaring audiences when it comes to horror movie ambience. Still, the sonics are well maintained. As always, the dialogue is easily discernible and the subtitles are striking and simple to read.
It's a regular commentary fest with this release of Saw V: Unrated Director's Cut. First up is a chat with director Hackl and first Assistant Director Steve Webb. It's an engaging and witty conversation that explains many of the challenges facing the franchise and how both men felt intimidated taking over for Bousman. It's loaded with lots of information and insights. On the other side of the discussion are the producers - Oren Koules, Mark Burg, Peter Block, and Jason Constantine. Theirs is a more "insiders" commentary. They talk about the franchise overall. They discuss the departure of Bousman (don't worry - it's all good), they mention the new approach to the material, and marvel at Tobin Bell. While slightly sycophantic, it's still a wonderful bit of behind the scenes gossiping. As for the rest of the added content, this DVD is sorely lacking. Lionsgate actually has more trailers than featurettes here - and there are still five of the latter. We are walked through the basics of the pendulum trap, the cube trap, and the coffin trap. We learn more about the 'fatal five', and there's even more backstage stuff on how the aforementioned cube sequence was edited. Along with the plethora of advertisements, the digital package of Saw V has its ups and downs.
It needs to be reinforced - this critic HATES slamming this film. An overview of his rating for each of the previous Saw films sees only Part 2 getting anything lower than a Highly Recommended (and that was at least a Recommended). At present, Saw V sinks even lower. We are clearly looking at a Rent It for most macabre lovers. Fans will have to own it as a matter of terror trust. But if you only sort of liked what Leigh Whannell and James Wan created (as well as all the differing transformations since then), there is nothing here that will excite or entertain you. Since VH-1 announced the arrival of Saw VI as part of their pathetic Scream Queens reality show (Debbie Rochon, Linnea Quigley, and Brinke Stevens should get together and sue), this fan hopes that something can be done to salvage what little is left of the franchise. On a positive note, the current tagline reads "Game Over", which means we might get an epic wrap-up to all things Jigsaw. Even better, Hackl won't be back. Instead, editor Kevin Greutert will be sitting behind the lens. Things can only improve, right? Guess we'll have to wait until October 2009 to see.
Want more Gibron Goodness?
Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here