Dir: David Hackl. US. 2008. 92 mins.
Halloween staple Saw's serial killer Jigsaw died two episodes ago, so Saw V is forced to move supporting characters to centre stage and supply new twists to events that occurred in previous films, making it mostly of interest to franchise fans. In some ways, it's impressive that first-time director David Hackl has managed to pick enough meat off these old bones for another go-round, but at the same time, one has to wonder when diminishing box-office results will finally force the grisly franchise into retirement.
Saw V took approximately $30.5m in its first weekend, a small drop-off from previous installments (all of which managed at least $31.7m after the first took $18.2m). Fall-off in subsequent frames will determine the series' continued commercial potency; the previous two films in the Saw series have performed better overseas than domestically (Saw III's worldwide tally was $165m), and Saw V may need to rely on international audiences to make up for shortfalls in US grosses.
Saw V focuses on FBI agent Peter Strahm (Patterson) as he tries to prove that police detective Mark Hoffman (Mandylor) has been assisting Jigsaw (Bell) in the execution of his murderous puzzle games. Meanwhile, Jigsaw has captured five more victims, who must complete his latest game if they want to make it out alive.
Since Saw premiered in October 2004, the franchise's core creative team has remained relatively intact, reliably releasing a sequel each subsequent Halloween. Director David Hackl, who served as production designer and second unit director on previous editions, works with veteran Saw cinematographer David A. Armstrong and editor Kevin Greutert to ensure that Saw V demonstrates a visual style and overall foreboding tone that's in keeping with previous editions.
Unfortunately, another reason Saw V so closely resembles its predecessors is because the film spends a decent amount of its thin running time circling back into the narratives of earlier Saw films. Wanting to keep Tobin Bell's popular Jigsaw villain in the story, but having to deal with the reality that the character died at the end of Saw III, the filmmakers have placed subsequent sequels during the same time frame as Saw III, creating a sense of dejà vu for hardcore fans while alienating those new to the franchise.
Ironically, the need to juggle storylines and timeframes detracts from the main selling point for many horror fans: the gore. While it's still a terribly gruesome affair, Saw V's obligatory scenes of carnage aren't as pronounced or inspired. But the film's most noticeable shortcoming is the absence of Bell, who is relegated to little more than an extended cameo. Even with little screen time, though, it's amazing how magnetic his performance remains - his low-key intensity easily outshines those around him. But it also draws attention to the corner the filmmakers have painted themselves into: The Saw series isn't nearly as interesting without Jigsaw, but it's getting harder and harder to find ways to include him in increasingly-desperate sequels.
David A. Armstrong