The tagline for "Saw V" is straightforward and genius: "You won't believe how it ends." This will no doubt draw the same viewers into theaters who sat through 2004's "Saw
," 2005's "Saw II
," 2006's "Saw III
," and 2007's "Saw IV
." But not so fast. To set a film up with such lofty expectations right from the get-go is almost an invitation of doom, lest the filmmakers have concocted a doozy of an ending to end all doozy endings. First-time director David Hackl and screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan deliver upon the tagline's claim, but not quite in the way intended.
Yes, viewers walking out of "Saw V" won't believe the ending, and that's because the so-called "twist" is such a deflating non-event that it can hardly be called a twist at all. The other "Saw" movieswell, at least the first three of themtoyed with audiences, building corkscrew upon corkscrew until the penultimate "ah-ha" moment where the plot's seemingly disparate threads all came together like a well-conceived puzzle. By now, the "Saw" sequels have become such vacant, convoluted nonsense that they can't even be bothered to provide a surprise. The ending of "Saw V," blatantly obvious from the first fifteen minutes, follows a whole lot of much ado about nothing.
With Jigsaw Killer John Kramer (Tobin Bell) and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) dead, Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is the final surviving accomplice in a series of ruthlessly designed Rube Goldberg devices that have claimed the lives of dozens of victims. Hoffman believes he has gotten off scot-free, but doesn't anticipate that Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) will manage to survive the trap set for him. As Hoffman's past is revisited in flashbacks, detailing how he came to work for Jigsaw, Strahm sets out to investigate the loose ends of the case. Meanwhile, a new game has already been put into motion. Five people who have abused the advantages they have been given, all of them connected in ways they do not yet know, are put through a series of diabolical tests. With each one, a single victim will be claimed until there is to be only one person left standing.
"Saw V" opens with a man strapped down to a table. As a large pendulum swings above him, slowly lowering, he must crush his hands in order to escape before it slices him in half. He doesn't, and much gore is to be had. It's a queasy scene, somewhat suspenseful, and it's about as effective as the film ever gets. The problem is that we've seen it all before. The original "Saw
" played a major part in introducing the genre term "torture porn," and here we are four years later, already on a fifth installment that follows the same tricks but isn't half as inspired. The traps that follow are forgettable and, comparatively speaking, rather restrained in their violence. They are still safely R-rated, to be sure, but some of them, such as a climactic one involving real estate developer Brit (Julie Benz) and Mallick (Greg Bryk), are so amateurishly shot and edited that it isn't clear what is going on until the end of the scene.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the series should have ended with "Saw III
," which seemed to wrap up all the loose ends and would have been a fitting finale to a trilogy. The plot has gone past intriguing now, and into a desperate realm worthy of ridicule. There is nothing scary about the goings-on, nothing disturbing, and nothing even all that gross, if getting a turned stomach is your thing. Costas Mandylor (2007's "Beowulf
") looks pensive and acts brain-dead as new villain Hoffman. He isn't threatening, that's for sure. The rest of the performances aren't anything to write home about, with lead protagonist Julie Benz (2008's "Rambo
") outacted by a laughably artificial wig. The "Saw" franchise has long since run its course, and the pitifully trite "Saw V" is just about the final nail in its coffin. The cancer-stricken Jigsaw was put out of his misery two movies ago. Lionsgate might want to consider doing this misbegotten series the same favor.