At this point in the Saw series, reviews really don't matter. Frankly, this is one of the few fright franchises where audiences don't care about character development, directorial flair, or narrative invention. Instead, they want more Tobin Bell as Jigsaw, more illogical puzzle kills, and a reverse referencing that makes unimportant characters major players in later installments. To that extent, Saw V is definitely no different. Unfortunately, whatever made the first four films tolerable has been whisked away by unimaginative writing and even more pedestrian direction.
Since the death of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), FBI agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) has been trying to track down his "other" accomplice. With female helper Amanda (Shawnee Smith) also dead, all leads point to Det. Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). New agency head Dan Erickson (Mark Rolston) isn't so sure, however, and becomes suspicious. In the meantime, a new "game" has commenced. Five people -- a fire inspector, a building permit bureaucrat, a trust fund baby/drug addict, an investigative journalist, and a property developer -- find themselves locked in a life or death struggle to see who can survive, and who will be sacrificed. As well, Jigsaw's ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell) receives a mysterious box. Article continues below
It seems odd to say this, but Saw V deeply misses Darren Lynn Bousman. The guiding light for three-fifths of this franchise (installments II through IV) brought a real sense of shock value and a way with plot point intricacy that new helmer David Hackl just doesn’t have. While lengthy credits as a production designer should indicate some basic level of cinematic skill, the novice can't find a way to make his first feature film work. Just as we are enjoying the Saw mythos backfilling -- by now a standard in the series -- Hackl forces us back to the weak five-characters-in-search-of-a-clue motif. It's the same trapped rats story that undermined Saw II.
Screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan are also no help. Brought on to take Saw IV into post-trilogy territory, their hit or miss designs derail anything remotely resembling suspense. And then they foreshadow the necessity of Saw VI with all their open-ended, unexplained elements (that secret package our villain's ex walks away with, the "big picture" connection to the five people in the puzzle). In fact, if you took away all the sideways subplots and dangling narrative threads, we'd be left with Strahm vs. Hoffman, with one of them destined to go down -- and that's not a tale worth telling.
The final failure comes from the actors. Mandylor appears to be sleepwalking through the part, while Patterson's only highlight comes via a self-induced tracheotomy. The rest of the returning horde -- including snippets from victims long ago dispensed -- are really nothing special, and Betsy Russell's Jill is reduced to a red herring. About the only actor getting a chance is Bell, and though he is limited to playing flashback versions of the fiend, he brings a brilliant gravitas to the role. Too bad then that Melton and Dunstan give him God-awful gobbledygook to say. Several of his speeches sound like a failed philosopher after an all-night beer bash.
For longtime fans of James Wan and Leigh Whannell's original Sundance stunner, Saw V is the weakest installment so far. It can't claim part two's brutality, part three's closure, or part four's intriguing reboot. Instead, it's the first effort that fails to capitalize on all the invention that came before. Instead of striking out in new or unusual ways, it merely recycles information and individuals we thought we were already done with. If you like the broadening of the Jigsaw scenario, you'll end up partially satisfied. Everything else here is just subpar scares.