(2008) Horror (Lionsgate) Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Mark Rolston, Carlo Rota, Julie Benz, Greg Bryk, Laura Gordon, Meagan Good, Joris Jarsky, Mike Butters, Samantha Lemole, Niamh Wilson. Directed by David Hackl
As we continue to plumb the depths of human depravity in the Saw series, the question is not how low will human beings sink to. No, the more prevalent question is whether or not the Saw series has enough steam to continue.
A serial killer meets a gruesome end, observed by a mysterious figure. A hero cop turns out to be not so heroic after all. A real estate deal turned deadly finds the principals locked together in a deadly game of elimination. A horribly injured detective looks to clear his name and find out who the accomplice of a serial killer is. The wife of that serial killer discovers something game-changing in her safety deposit box.
What do all these things have in common? They’re part of the plot elements of the fifth installation of the Saw series. Former director Darren Lynn Bousman is out and art director of the past three movies David Hackl is in, making his feature directing debut. While most of the rest of the behind-the-scenes crew are back (including writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, as well as series creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell in production roles), the familiar faces of the series in front of the character are seen mainly in flashback.
The whole point of the film is essentially to establish how Detective Mark Hoffman (Mandylor) became the apprentice for Jigsaw (Bell). Much of the movie is done in flashback (as is Bell’s participation) and therein lies the issue. Jigsaw is one of the most memorable villains of the 21st century and certainly right up there with Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees in terms of all time horror film serial killers.
Killing him off has robbed the series of much of its vitality. While Bell is a presence when onscreen, he is not an active one. Jigsaw’s participation is essentially that of a memory, motivating the actions of Hoffman who is far less interesting and far less charismatic than his mentor.
The result is a movie that while still possessed of the clever traps the series is noted for, possesses less impact than the others. I will say that going back to group traps as the series did in the first and second films was a smart move – that nets the movie much of the goodwill I’m willing to give it.
Both Mandylor and Patterson (as Detective Strahm, who barely escapes by giving himself a tracheotomy in one of the more gruesome scenes) are pretty decent actors, but their characters are so loosely drawn with so little personality that they wind up disappointing as leads. The supporting characters generally wander around and those who are in traps look terrified and scream a lot, while those who aren’t look befuddled and frown a lot.
There are hints at a larger story that this is all a part of, and hopefully that will be the case. For the most part, this feels like a redo of things in the saga they’ve already done and better. Maybe this is meant to be a more transitional movie as they build up to a climax. I hope so – I’d rather see this series go out with a bang rather than a whimper.
WHY RENT THIS: There are some pretty delicious traps here.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The first four movies of the series are way better. The story doesn’t have any Oomph.
FAMILY VALUES: All the gore and blood that anyone could ask for and some brief nudity as well. The language is coarse which is understandable given the situation.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the scene where Detective Hoffman meets Jigsaw for the first time on an elevator, screenwriters Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton are both briefly glimpsed as passengers on the same elevator.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $113.9M on a $10.8M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.
FINAL RATING: 5/10
TOMORROW: Arlington Road