Judge Dennis Prince knows how it will end. He offers no spoilers but, if you see Ron Palillo in Part VI, it's over.
Our review of Saw V (Blu-Ray), published February 13th, 2009, is also available.
You won't believe how it ends.
It's an unfortunate tagline, really, because upon a viewing of Saw V: Director's Cut, you just might wish it would end.
It's a funny thing about going back to the buffet for second and third helpings. Although the food often tastes the same, it's palate-pleasing quality has clearly diminished. Sometimes we've had our fill and are merely "eating more but enjoying it less." Other times, however, we return to favorite dining table but the food simply isn't as tasty, no matter that we're properly hungry to indulge in more. Was there a change in the kitchen? Possibly. In the case of our return to the table of the cleverly calculating Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), we find him still serving the meal but what the new chef has prepared simply lacks flavor.
The new chef is David Hackl, director of Saw V. His interpretation of the franchise recipe clearly suffers from proper application of the ingredients. Oh, the ingredients are here as is the attending sous chef, franchise Film Editor Kevin Greutert, yet Hackl mishandles the volume and timing of the ingredients' application. The result is a bowl of rather tepid gruel.
Facts of the Case
Although the police commissioner proudly has proclaimed the "Jigsaw murder case" officially closed, the unfortunate Seth Baxter (Joris Jarsky, Toronto Stories) might beg to differ. Then again, his recent begging for his life didn't help him escape a grisly death beneath a swinging pendulum blade. The recently promoted Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor, Toxic), now Lieutenant Detective, continues in his work as Jigsaw's clandestine student of retributive murder. However, as FBI agent Strahm (Scott Patterson, Gilmore Girls) has just narrowly escaped an insidious head trap modeled after Jigsaw's handiwork, the detective closes in on Hoffman to expose him as the man behind then ensuing killings. Meanwhile, five individuals awake in a decrepit room, their necks harnessed to wire cables. Each cable leads into threatening head-height V-blades behind them while five glass cases containing keys stand just out of reach in front of them. In the room, a familiar television crackles to life, its static giving way to the terrifying puppet that explains how these individuals, all related in a despicable chain of events, must work together to liberate themselves from a gruesome demise. The test, of course, is whether they can put aside their own self-interest in order to collaborate and save their own lives. The game is about to begin. How will it end?
Actually, the proper question to pose at this time is not "how will it end" but, rather, "how can we keep it going?" Without a doubt, Saw V is a purely conjunctive installment in the lucrative series, one that's meant to grab the annual October box office receipts and drop a few more hints for next year's release. Even though it has already been proven to be an uneven string of films, the Saw franchise still draws in crowds, if just on name merit alone. Always able to fill seats with the promise of agonizingly slow and explicit on-screen deaths, the folk behind the Saw films never disappoint to that end. Saw V delivers more of the same though each crew at the helm hopes they've found a way to outdo all that has gone before. Clearly, the opening pendulum trap is centerpiece of this picture, so much so the team is unable to contain a premature ejaculation of sorts, this one spurting across the screen in apparent impatience to unleash the blood and guts before five minutes has elapsed. Talk about a "quickie." After the diabolical deed is done, viewers will be shown flashback clips and still views of the setting, the coroners presumably on vacation and thereby leaving the vivisected victim untouched for what seems like days.
The "head trap" that graces the DVD's cover seems to be a compelling predicament for the returning Agent Strahm though it doesn't deliver the sort of squirming and flinching we've come to expect from the series' wicked set pieces. It does, however, provide more incentive for Strahm to stalk and expose the Jigsaw protege, Hoffman. Very procedural in execution, this section of the story is intended to leave a trail of breadcrumbs that can be exploited for Saws VI through VIII. Here the narrative becomes frustrating in that it's strictly self-fulfilling in its series-extending intent yet never clever in delivering startling revelations that audiences equally crave as much as the sanguinary stuff. As previously mentioned, this is a bridging installment of sorts, writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan desperate to keep their Saw-based income flowing. Perhaps this is the reason the "fatal five" are treated as just that—five ducks on the pond, one that's intentionally stocked to give the viewers something to shoot at (passively, that is, vis-a-vis the terrible traps they're eager to see unleashed). With that, its unintentionally humorous that each trap these five dupes have to withstand are all bounded by a timer, reminding us that, after this dispatching, you'll need to be patient for about 10 minutes before the bloodshed resumes. By this method, the victims are meaningless to us and their threadbare connection in an unconscionable land deal hardly evokes our care or contempt. We know them as lambs for the slaughter, nothing more, and unless we're paused properly to develop an understanding for their presence besides bloody grist for the mill, they're merely fodder. With that approach, these body-count excursions become tedious and viewers become increasingly impatient for something "real good" to happen.
Saw V is an exercise in controlling impatience. It's not certain whether all in attendance will survive. Through the misdirection at hand, it now appears the most dangerous trap to be revealed might be that which resembles an ordinary theater chair. Do you have the guts to sit in it?
So, just as we've come to expect the October arrival of the next Saw installment, so too do we anticipate the late-winter unveiling of the subsequent DVD release, that in the recognizable clear outer slipcase with the complimentarily silk-screened disc inside. This unrated director's cut is contained on the single disc, the feature being about four minutes longer than the theatrical cut (with added expository scenes and briefly extended sequences of gore). Presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen format, the image is crisp and clean, just like we'd expect. We can't expect a life-like rendering here since the series' production design is intentionally muted and drained. Black levels and shadow detail, however, are well managed, something that was troublesome for compression artists some years ago though now handled with seemingly routine competence (and that's still to be applauded since this sort of visual presentation could just as easily be botched by an apathetic transfer engineer). Audio is excellent thanks to the vigorous Dolby Digital EX 5.1 Surround mix that delivers discrete sound elements around the soundstage with surgical precision. Technically, this Saw V disc is a worthy entry into the canon.
When it comes to extras, the material available here flatly undermines the filmmaker's intentions. Two audio commentaries are available, one with director Hackl and Assistant Director Steve Webb, the other with a gaggle of four producers. Both tracks are lively and informative, offering insight into the inarguable hard work that goes into a Saw film. Naturally, these tracks lean to the self-congratulatory side (as we'd expect) since each is seemingly treated as another one-off accomplishment similar to anthology horror shows of the past where guest directors took their try in the kitchen. It's the five featurettes that take the steam out of the broth, though. Each explores the different trap sequences of the film and, when viewed end to end (roughly 30 minutes worth), you realize you could elect to watch these and garner the same enjoyment as if you watched the main feature itself. Pity. Lastly, another brief featurette reveals the editing process for the Cube Trap sequence while a teaser trailer also features the cube. Beware, the disc opens with a staggering eight trailers/previews for other Lionsgate releases.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Without question, the Saw films continue since each handily recoups its original production investment and profits in order to bankroll the next entry. Saw VI is slated to begin production in March of 2009 and will feature aforementioned Film Editor Kevin Greutert in the director's chair. Screenwriters Melton and Dunstan are back, hopefully with something more engaging than this by-the-numbers exercise. Frankly, all are hopeful that the franchise can continue since it attends to the crowd titillated by visceral indulgences and serves as a viable social vent, just as a horror film should. Emphasis upon the cathartic matters will help invigorate audiences' allegiance to the series and provide sensible closure to the many open-ended plot gaps. Here's hoping, anyway.
Saw V surely goes through the motions but fails to properly appreciate the gift of life the franchise enjoys. Therefore, those involved here should be duly tested, determining just how much each values the immeasurable value of the Saw series. The details of that test are pending. For now, we'll hand down a verdict of "guilty."
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