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John’s Horror Corner: Saw V (2008), just okay—I miss Leigh Whannell and characters that matter.

September 25, 2017

MY CALL:  I was entertained, but I miss the quality of parts I-III. This was just “okay.”  The characters were lame and, despite being thoughtfully elaborated, the story was ill-executed to the point that I never really cared…and I wanted to care!  MORE MOVIES LIKE Saw:  Well, after Saw (2004), Saw II (2005), Saw III (2006) and Saw IV (2007) there are sequels up to part VIII, Jigsaw (2017). Other torture porn for gory thrill-seekers would include Hostel I-II (2005, 2007; but not part III), Martyrs (2008; not the remake), The Human Centipede films (2009, 2011, 2015), the I Spit on Your Grave series (1978 original, 2010-2015), and even the Final Destination films (2000-2011; but skip part 4).

The “where are we now” SIDEBAR:  Part IV was a bit confusing, so let’s review.  Late in part IV we learn that during the events of part III, John Kramer (Tobin Bell; Boogeyman 2-3, Saw I-VII) had recruited the apprenticeship of Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor; Saw IV-VII, The Horde), unbeknownst to Amanda (Shawnee Smith; The Blob, Saw I-III/VI, The Grudge 3).  So essentially, sometime during part III’s timeline, part IV’s timeline begins to parallel it (e.g., Detective Kerry’s death), and the two timelines actually end at the same time when Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson; Saw IV-VI) kills Jeff (Angus Macfadyen; Saw III) after Jeff kills Jigsaw and Hoffman locks Strahm in with the bodies and strolls off!

The autopsy that opened part IV actually occurred at the end of the timeline for parts III and IV, showing Detective Hoffman playing the tape (swallowed in part III) revealing that, despite Jigsaw’s death and the completion of Hoffman’s assigned tasks, that this was all “only the beginning.”  Now part V begins the very night that Hoffman trapped Strahm…

Picking up after Darren Lynn Bousman’s (Saw II-IV, The Devil’s Carnival, Mother’s Day) mid-franchise trilogy, director David Hackl (production designer on Saw II-IV) boldly continues this brutal franchise by opening with a classically-inspired pendulum death…which was conceptually basic yet satisfying in its sloppy, chunky delicious gore.  And, I’m sorry to say, this was the best death scene in the movie.

Much like part IV, I can tell that this sequel and its filmmakers are trying, and admirably so.  But somehow the execution just never hits the mark from parts I-III (when Leigh Whannell was writing).  We continue to find new bold revelations that are tactfully reverse-engineered to befit the story of the entire franchise, but I’m simply less impressed with the delivery than I am with ideas themselves.  However, let me take off my “critic’s hat” for just one moment and speak as a fan: yes, I’m glad they continue to make these movies.  There, I said it.  “Critic’s hat” back on— while enjoyed watching this the first time (in theaters years ago), this film’s rewatchability is low.

Somehow escaping Hoffman and Kramer’s machinations, Agent Strahm is one Hell of a survivor!  Not only that, but one Hell of an investigator since he readily senses Hoffman’s involvement and digs his heels deep into the case.  That’s the focal point of the film: Strahm vs Hoffman.  But every saw movie has two parallel stories; part of their charm.

As a series of flashbacks add flavor to Hoffman’s relationship with Kramer, we likewise presently follow a group of victims who, not surprisingly, serve as each other’s own worst enemy as often as ally while trying to survive one death trap “game” after another.  The group dynamic is vaguely similar to that of part II (the deadly funhouse of horrors when everyone turned on each other).  Part V’s traps strike me as uninspired (although somewhat elaborate) and not very exciting to witness.  Despite likewise uninspired traps, even part IV’s (the first noticeable drop in franchise quality) games were somewhat entertaining to watch as they gorily unfold.  Part V’s are less so.

People beat each other to death, get decapitated, succumb to improvised explosives, get crushed in enclosing walls, suffer electrocution, and buzz saw their own limbs…and you know what, none of those scenes were cool.  The kills felt comparable to a SyFy Channel movie-of-the-week, and the characters were accordingly poorly written such as to cultivate not a care in the world (on our part) that they survive.  By far the best death scene was the pendulum opener, and that should not be the case in a franchise once known for gut-punching endings.

Look, this flick is entertaining and the filmmakers are still ambitious (even if they fail to impress). But the only reason I can muster to watch this is because you just saw the mediocre part IV and intend to power through.  This can be your evening opener or a Sunday afternoon hangover movie, just don’t make it your main event of the evening.  We’ll catch up more when I review part VI next week…

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