All sorts of interesting thoughts can go through your head while watching a movie as intellectually cheesy as Saw V. Most notably for this reviewer is the notion of Saw traps as art. With devices as meticulously designed and executed as these, you can't deny their artistic value, even though they're designed to rip a sucker's face off, so to speak.
At this stage in the Saw game (an Energizer Bunny on steroids of a franchise) it's hard to avoid spoilers in a review, so if you're at all in the dark, please skip this, and the next paragraph. Saw V finds the remarkably resilient Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and his cute puppet offering people the usual choice: die, or volunteer to crush your own hands. The trick of course is that Jigsaw died like, three movies ago or something? How does he do it? It's pretty much a moot point, since Saw IV was so freaking convoluted and incomprehensible that a good deal of V is taken up with even more disorienting explanatory flashbacks-within-flashbacks. Even hardened fans have completely given up on understanding what's going on. With all due respect, probably most Saw fans just want tension-cranking set pieces that end with intestinal tracts exposed and arterial spray splashing the screen.
Saw V starts so promisingly, with a pit and the pendulum homage that induces peals of horrified laughter and jaw-dropping joy. Oh yes, there will be disemboweling. But the super-stylized thrill ride of gore trundles quickly into empty shock-edits, uninspired Jacob's Ladder/ MTV-type goofing and silly soap opera drama in an attempt to further the Jigsaw ethos with logical integrity. Returns on the 'live or die' fund are diminishing. Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor, an odd cross between Harry Connick Jr. and Troy Aikman) seems to be getting a little too close to Jigsaw, but while he's suitably nasty, he's got the personality of a doorknob. And frankly, Jigsaw's saintly "I never killed anyone" line is now as lame and 'distasteful' as Charles Manson's defense.
What's left then are the traps, which take a distinctive turn towards Tales From The Crypt, as five people are encouraged to work together to avoid being shredded by nail-bombs. But in the end, most traps are simple variations on keys inside glass cubes, and getting pulled apart by chains is standard punishment. Only hardcore gore can save us. The unrated Saw V cut ranks somewhere in the middle on the gore score, but its peaks and valleys structure - tension-filled trap sequence followed by lots of talk-talk where people try to explain what the hell is going on - lacks innovation.
Saw V, and indeed most of the series, is flawed but still a lot of fun. The formula's foundation is a little flimsly now, but you know what you'll get without fail: grimy atmosphere, exuberant gore, tense trap sequences, and a whole lot of corny BS involving pseudo-philosophical messages; love your life or risk having some whack-job force you to rip your own rib-cage out. Saw V feels a little heavy on the melodrama, but should still satisfy the bloodlust of anyone who delights in that age-old question: live or die, make your choice.
Saw V cuts up the screen in a 1.78:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen transfer that's nicely sharp, clear, and enhanced for your 16 x 9 TV screen. Colors seem accurate and true to super-stylish Saw standards; good blood reds, queasy greens, grim grays and fairly inky blacks. Basically, Saw V looks great, with nothing to complain about as far as compression artifacts or other digital tortures are concerned.
Dolby Digital 5.1 EX English Audio is active and evocative, as much as my poor little system could ascertain, that is. Of course dialog, even the corny parts - and there are a few - is all mixed well and understandable. The best part is that tortured screams and cries aren't so pumped up that they necessitate remote riding to even them out with the rest of the action.
From the semi-goofy clear plastic slip case (I understand the image used, I just don't get it) to a pair of commentary tracks, five featurettes and loads of trailers, Saw V represents a standard level of extras one expects from a studio release DVD. That said, sometimes standard is just ... standard. The Director's Commentary Track includes David Hackl and first AD Steve Webb. The pair contributes a fairly entertaining running account that ranges from the mundane - pointing out what you're seeing happening on screen - to more juicy bits about taking over and trying to add more vigor to the franchise. A Producer's Commentary Track takes a more global view, while presumably trying to drum up business and goodwill for the series, with Saw VI on the horizon.
Three featurettes pimp EPK style for these traps: The Pendulum Trap, The Cube Trap and The Coffin Trap. Each featurette runs about 5 minutes, while covering the usual behind the scenes bits involved in invention, design and 'execution.' The Fatal Five takes eleven minutes in giving the same treatment to traps bedeviling five unfortunates on the receiving end of most of the torture. Slicing The Cube: Editing The Cube Trap takes around seven minutes to go even more in depth on creating the unique look the cube trap sequence has on film. It's a pretty engaging look at the thought process behind this actually dorky but well loved by its creators sequence. Closed Captioning, English and Spanish Subtitles and the Saw V Theatrical Trailer complete the relatively substantial but none-too-special package.
Saw V atones for many of its predecessor's sins, even while nonetheless existing in a flashback-infused netherworld of time-shifts that may still have you asking exactly who's killing who. A deliriously splashy first kill (in this unrated cut) segues into standard variations on the Saw theme, with lawyerly, cops-n-robbers soap opera melodrama filling the spaces in between. For Saw fans, (and that's probably a good cross-section of all horror fans) Saw V is Recommended. Aside from disingenuous 'love, don't kill' messages that really need to be super-charged or chucked, Saw V is more mindless fun from Jigsaw's lair, good for a decent amount of blood, sweat and tears.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com