Before I start, I'll endeavour to avoid any specific naming of characters and spoilers that might mar the watching of this film or for that matter the rest in the series.
The law of diminishing returns is apparent in most genres, but profoundly so in that of horror. It is a type of film that spawns more sequels than most and as such can become rather formulaic very quickly into its lifespan. Most franchises pace out their continued offerings to the cinema going public but this often doesn't apply to films whose primary concern is making its audience squirm. Thus, Saw V comes to the screen as the fifth in a series that has so far managed to impressively release a sequel annually on every Halloween since the original first gained a theatrical debut in 2004. This abundant productivity of a new commodity can be viewed as either a positive or a negative in terms of artistic creativity, but the benefits in purely financial terms have been great. With each making back its investors money and a substantial profit on top, it isn't hard to see why those behind the productions have continued to drain the well so routinely. A small budget (in terms of mainstream Hollywood), subsequent sizeable profit and a market base of fans that are eager for more of the same, must surely be every movie executive's dream?
However, as with any such repetition, change must come. The first Saw was helmed by James Wan, with the next three instalments being taken over by Darren Lynn Bousman. Similarly, the writing staff has also changed several times. Thus there are two ways that fans traditionally view these permutations; some feel that to evolve the story and create new tensions, fresh ideas must be introduced by way of new blood. Others find this to be more akin to the dilution of a fine wine and decry the loss of those who created the spark of originality in the first place. There is at least some semblance of order here though that will appease to some extent both parties. The direction has been handed to a first timer, David Hackl, but he knows the rules of the series' success through his experience as a production designer on numbers 2, 3 and 4 of the thus far quintuplet. Script duties are being tackled by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunston who have already penned the fourth. So, as one can see, there is enough fresh vigour injected into the mix whilst at least maintaining a thread which runs through the blood splattered dynasty.
The film itself sticks fairly closely to the key principles and structure that have made its predecessors such a resounding success with a horde of followers. Since the reveal at the end of the first film, the following instalments have adhered to a system that might seem restrictive to some but has proven to work. Each new chapter in the works of the Jigsaw killer will involve a healthy dose of gore, ingeniously sadistic traps, a few answers to questions that have previously arisen and a final moment that seeks to twist the mind of the viewer with its revelation. So, does Saw V stick to these primary tenets? The answer is, for the most part, yes. We get to see a veritable host of flashbacks that skew the timeline of what otherwise would be a fairly linear film, to the point where one walks away pondering on when particular events actually happened in relation to the series as a whole. Such is the problem I suppose of having killed off such a main character so early, that in order to continue their screen presence and thus keep your throng of fans enthralled, harking back to when they were alive is the only realistic solution.
It is here, though, that we see the first real flaw with the film. Whilst it endeavours to create fresh mystery around a presence that looms over the proceedings, we cannot escape the inevitable fact that the character is deceased. Hence, the amount of fresh twists and plots that can be weaved with him intertwined within becomes either brilliant or stretching the material too thinly, dependant on how much of a fan the individual passing judgement is. Unfortunately, I am of the latter opinion. The constant reappearance of what should be merely a ghost or a whisper of a plot device continues to hold centre stage, and is still seemingly behind every turn of the narrative - of which there is little. Unlike the previous instalments, the fifth of the series only really serves as a stop gap to this year's Halloween offering. At least that is what I hope, as by itself it falls down at almost every hurdle. The people selected to play the latest game of Jigsaw's are almost painfully two dimensional and if that weren't enough, the final story that they piece together is meaningless to the rest of the plot. It is used only once in any kind of effective way, and that comes towards the end of a cat and mouse chase between the two primary characters. However, unlike cinematic classic pursuits such as those of Heat and Infernal Affairs, here the man hunting is painfully slow, yet somehow not as slow as the rest of the world who fail to spot any flaws in the killer's disguised persona.
To criticise a horror piece for poor plotting feels a little unjust though, as the best of the genre has never been exactly high calibre in that area. Analyze any serial killer/slasher movie and there will be holes in the plot you can drive a bus through with fuzzy logic which does not stand up to cross examination. The problem is that the Saw films have always hung themselves on two very specific moments in their narrative, by which they either stand or fall. One is the ingenuity of the traps, and the other is that of the final revelatory scene that leaves the punter still slack jawed as he walks out of the cinema. Saw V is bereft of both these ingredients. The traps are pedestrian by the standards of the film's siblings and are more likely to stress the viewer through sheer exasperation and exhaustion due to screaming at the character's stupidity, rather than the ensuing gore. That the film carries the tagline “you won't believe how it ends” is fitting but in the wrong way as unlike the previous four, this lacks any kind of eureka moment and simply ends, leaving you wondering where the payoff is while the credits start to roll.
I'm sure if you're a firm Saw devotee then this review will be meaningless anyway, as you'll no doubt already be so captivated by the continuing saga, that to miss out on a key chapter would not be an option. For those less enamoured, the film cannot unfortunately be viewed by itself as it is so packed with references to the previous four in the series that it will likely be fairly incomprehensible, or at least the majority of the twists and turns will be lost on you. Some see it as a return to form for the franchise, others bemoan it as a misstep. Personally, whilst I can't hold it aloft as a paragon of the genre, it serves a function. It fills in numerous minor gaps and swells out a back-story of a central character, who is sure to play a major part in the next instalment. Thus, it seems to have achieved what it set out to do - appeal to fans and continue the ball rolling. Plot, acting and characterization all fall short of the first, but it progresses the story and raises more questions for the devoted to mull over - all wrapped up in one blood soaked package.
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