SAW V - THE PIT OF HORROR REVIEW -- [Posted 24th October 2008]
You have to give it to the PR folks at Lionsgate. They chose a ballsy, pull-no-punches tagline for Saw V that matches the absence of subtlety in titling your movie Snakes On A Plane. The first time I read it, I laughed aloud. More about the tagline later.
Saw V is the second installment of the serrated series to be written by Patrick Melton and Mark Dunstan, who co-wrote the immediate predecessor and are now tasked with explaining just how FBI profiler Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) wound up in the position of being a Jigsaw accomplice. The ending of their previous effort left many confused and feeling cheated by a cheap twist, but the backstory of Hoffman's gradual possession by the manipulating moralizer is telegraphed remarkably well, and Hoffman's motivations are surprisingly well-conceived.
As is the formula of the Saw films, this one begins with a sort of cold open of yet another single Jigsaw victim (Joris Jarsky) in an impossibly cruel trap. And in an Amanda-like turn (too complicated to detail here, if you're unfamiliar with Saw territory, even when he musters the will to injure himself in order to live, the "Pit And The Pendulum"-like device proves to be unforgiving. Later in the film, this sequence holds the key to Hoffman's collusion with Jigsaw.
With Jigsaw himself deceased for two films now, his appearance this time (as with in Saw IV) is the product of expositional flashbacks. For a dead guy, he gets a decent amount of screen time, and Tobin Bell plays him with the usual relish, appearing in various stages of his illness. Also appearing is Betsy Russell as his ex-wife (and now widow) Jill, whose scenes are just cryptic enough to insure she will play a major part in the next sequel--which, it is purported, will be the series finale.
The bulk of this fifth foray into Jigsaw's masterplan juggles two storylines: surviving Agent Strahm's (Scott Patterson) distrust of Hoffman and eventual investigation of him; and five characters who--say it with me, class--"all have something in common" but aren't sure what, as they awaken, bound by neck collars with cables that threaten to facillitate their decapitations. It's the first of four icky tests designed to bring out the best and/or the worst of their characters. Altruism inevitably leads to salvation, while "fuck the others" leads to certain (and preferably painful) doom. And yes, the final one does involve spinning saw blades. What would a Saw picture be without those?
One of Saw IV's mis-steps was confusing jumps in the timeline. You weren't sure if the intersecting stories were happening concurrently or apart from one another until the end. Here, first-time director David Hackl, a production designer for other films in the series, makes restrained and much more logical use of the flashback device, using sepia-type lighting changes to indicate when we're suddenly going back to an earlier event. Strahm's habit of "thinking out loud" in order to move the plot along seems on the surface a bit cheap, but what the hell; if it gets the job done, so be it.
Other details that I'd be remiss not to mention include the fate of Corbett, the little girl from Saw III, finally revealed (fast answer: she is rescued); a nifty trap early on involving a character with a box on his head--you know, the one from the poster--and how he must use the chassis of a fountain pen to perform an impromptu tracheotomy after the box fills with water; the after-effects of one unlucky explosion victim, rendered to sloppy joe filling; and finally one trap which, let's just say, suggests what might have happened to our heroes in Star Wars had Artoo Detoo not shut down the trash compactor in time.
Now let's talk about that tagline: "You Won't Believe How It Ends." Does the ending actually warrant that? Well, if you're looking for a startling revelation or Shyamalan-like twist, so prevalent in previous installments, then no. But if you want a deliciously gruesome spectacle for one character with--as a bonus--a smirking "up yours" escape by another, then sure. Saw V is the shot in the arm the series needed in terms of storytelling and getting the series back on track with the series' larger agenda, rather than spending too much time on individual characters whose backstories constitute too much of a fiefdom to the overall narrative. If this is one is any indication, the concluding sixth film just may be the series' cinematic touchdown. And there is still that unfinished business with the Jill Tuck character and what she may or may not know....
To quote Brad Pitt from Se7en's climactic scene, "What's in the box ???!!!"
'SAW V' A Film by DAVID HACKL
Starring TOBIN BELL - COSTAS MANDYLOR - SCOTT PATTERSON - BETSY RUSSELL - MARK ROLSTON
Written by Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan. Directed by David Hackl.
[DISCUSS ON OUR FORUMS] [Review By Petch Lucas]
RUN TIME 98 mins (US)
CERT: USA, R