Tobin Bell as Jigsaw
Costas Mandylor as Mark Hoffman
Scott Patterson as Agent Strahm
Betsy Russell as Jill
Julie Benz as Brit
Meagan Good as Luba
Directed by David Hackl
There's something damned refreshing about the Saw franchise's sheer tenacity. Five years after the first film opened to a sizeable box office and ushered in a wave of mainstream "torture porn", we're five films into a franchise that shows no signs of slowing down. Say what you will about the series' merits, there's a honesty you get from Saw V right down to its title. We're not being offered "The Final Chapter" or some other trick to pull attention away from the number. It's there and it's there proudly because Lionsgate is one of the few studios around that seems to understand that fans like to go see horror movies in October. To that end, I'm happy to report that Saw V is one for the fans.
Beginning right after the events of Saw IV, Lieutenant Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) remains alive to continue Jigsaw's legacy. Hailed as a hero after the events of part IV, Hoffman finds opposition from a man who he never planned to have survive: Detective Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) whose investigation into the Jigsaw murders takes us all the way back to their grisly beginnings. (Giving us a chance to see a fair amount of Tobin Bell, despite his having died two sequels ago).
Meanwhile, there's another game going on as five strangers (Julie Benz, Carlo Rota, Laura Gordon, Greg Bryk, and Megan Good) awaken in a room of deadly puzzles and are forced to figure out what connection has brought them together and what they need to do to survive.
Like the previous films, both stories play out simultaneously and we're treated to a fair amount of gore in each. This time, though, there's a slightly different feeling to a lot of the traps and they wind up requiring more creative solutions than outright horrific ones. Sometimes it works great (Strahm's solution to his first trap is fantastic, maybe the best in the whole series) but others are a bit of a stretch and you find yourself wishing the characters were just a little bit smarter. Then again, what's a horror film where you're not shouting at the screen?
David Hackl, the once-production designer of the series, takes the director's chair for this one and it's a pleasant, if unspectacular change. Hackl has got a director's eye and a lot of the film looks great but there are some pacing problems, particularly between the two stories. The whole film comes off as feeling a bit rushed and there's never really an appropriate bridge between the two plots. It winds up being the five new characters that suffer for the pacing issues; They never really get a chance to flesh out much of back story or interact as much as they should and it's a shame because they're an unlikely and interesting group that would have benefited from a little more time exploring group dynamics.
Thanks to a great many flashbacks, nearly everyone who has appeared in a Saw movie previously gets to make a cameo. Though mostly old footage, it's a nice touch and serves as a wink to the fans, given the series' ever-more complicated continuity.
Despite some surface flaws, Saw V shouldn't disappoint anyone who has made it this far into the franchise. (Especially those fans who gathered for last night's five-movie marathon) To everyone else, be sure to keep your eyes open; Part VI is already planned for next Halloween and there are more than a few threads left purposefully untied for more Jigsaw outings.