Saw 5

Well, it is now official the “Saw” franchise has without question reached the shameful level that most horror franchises reside upon, meaning every subsequent film will be worse than its predecessor. After viewing “Saw 4” I was really gaining the sense that this series was descending into mediocrity, and existed solely for the purpose of providing more blood and gore, with little to no story in the process. With “Saw 5” my suspicions have been proven correct, and the series is officially standing still in my opinion; offering no true chills or interesting storytelling, devolving into just another a run-of-the-mill horror franchise at best.

“Saw 5” does what all the previous sequels have done, which is pick up directly where its predecessor left off. Special Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) is investigating the grisly murder scenes left in Jigsaw’s bloody wake; and the deeper he digs the darker the revelations become. Attempting to put an end to Agent Strahm’s investigation is Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), who just so happens to have been one of Jigsaw’s twisted accomplices all along. As these two men close in on each other, a new batch of subjects are fighting for their very lives amidst a series of traps that Jigsaw set into motion prior to his death. Who will make it out alive? Only time will tell… Let the games begin, again.

As far as most horror movies go, the story is generally not focused upon all that much past the initial film, as the series generally becomes all about the mayhem and the murder in the sequels. However, when the first film in the “Saw” franchise hacked its way into theaters in 2004, boasting a much smarter script than most of its kind; it appeared that perhaps the story was going to have a much more equal share of the screen time as the blood and gore in this series. This stayed true through a majority of the first three films, but by the time “Saw 4” was released to theaters in 2007, the story was quickly becoming quite thin and stagnant.

With “Saw 5” the writing duo of Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, the same writers that penned the previous installment, took the very thin, new layer of story that they had applied in “Saw 4” and attempted to build upon it in hopes of stabilizing this weakened series. Instead of moving forward they keep this new story revolving around the very same events that were chronicled in the previous films. Since the groundwork for their new story was laid in “Saw 4”, this time all they are trying to do is add a new piece into an already far too convoluted and increasingly ridiculous puzzle, by expounding on yet another accomplice to Jigsaw. Along with this new accomplice, who by the way we hadn’t seen prior to the fourth film in the series, we are also supposed to believe that Jigsaw had also set into motion another group of people to be tested while he was going to be most likely murdered by one of his test subjects (watch “Saw 3” for better understanding on this plot development). Do the writers really expect us to just continue going along believing that this man really planned all of these events into a several day period, while at the same time preparing for the inevitability of his own murder? Apparently so, but the thought process behind this plot isn’t working for me anymore.

Not to mention, the usage of coincidence as a plot device is being implemented far too liberally in this film. This problem began creeping its way into the series with “Saw 4”, but by the time we get through “Saw 5” it is essentially the main crux of the story, and the only way this storyline is even continuing. I guess it’s just further evidence that the writers are just plain lazy and unwilling to actually commit any real thought into creating a truly intriguing story; instead they take the approach of beating an already dead horse until it is virtually unrecognizable.

For those that have stuck with the “Saw” series from the beginning one staple of the franchise is the usage of very unique and inventive death traps that the victims are required to survive if they hope to regain their life. Over the course of the previous films the traps have consistently remained sick, yet undeniably creative in design. However, in this film the story isn’t the only thing that seems haphazardly thrown together, the traps themselves are the most unimaginative in the series. I’m sure to some this may seem like a strange complaint for a movie, but if you have seen any of the previous films in the franchise, then you know where I’m coming from on this. I’m not complaining that the film had less torture than its predecessors, just that the traps are apparently another example of the series’ steady decline in creativity and freshness.

The cast of “Saw 5” continues the tradition that began in “Saw 2” which was gather together a bunch of unknown or relatively unknown actors and actresses to play the parts of the would-be victims, while the more recognizable actors that had at least been established in one of the previous films provides the link to past installments. Returning cast members Costas Mandylor and Scott Patterson (“Saw 4”) provide most of the stronger moments within the film, but even that’s not saying a whole lot for the movie. Actor Scott Patterson reprises his role as Agent Strahm, and this time he appears to be giving a somewhat stronger performance than his last outing; yet he still appears too wooden in several scenes, so his portrayal looks forced and makes for a difficult time believing him in this type of role. Costas Mandylor seems to be unable to decide if he wants to commit to the role and give us a decent performance (as he does in a few spots) or if he’s just going to phone it in (as he appears to do a majority of the time). For the supposed replacement of Jigsaw, Costas’ character of Detective Hoffman isn’t nearly as interesting as his mentor.

Speaking of Hoffman’s mentor, the one true highlight of these last couple of sequels is the inclusion of Tobin Bell’s character Jigsaw in flashback sequences. Besides his brief voiceovers, that are used in the various tape-recordings delivering the instructions for how to survive the death traps, Bell only appears in the film approximately five to ten minutes tops. Even with his role being relegated to cameo status, Tobin generally does the best he can in the small amount of time he’s given, but even his performance isn’t above criticism. Unlike his appearances in the previous four movies, Tobin seems to be enjoying his role less and less; perhaps this has something to do with the realization that the only reason he is even in these films any longer is to keep some measure of stability within the dying series. If I were Tobin, I’d consider letting the character’s involvement die out soon, especially since the character’s actual death occurred two films back.

As for those chosen to embody the new crop of victims in Jigsaw’s twisted game, at least the casting was a little better than the last couple of films. Most of these people I hadn’t seen in any other film and/or television show, except for actress Julie Benz (“Rambo”); but at least they all tried to put a little effort into their roles. Even though Julie is a much more established talent than most of the victims of this film or any of its predecessors (not counting the first film which had a better cast); Julie doesn’t really get to do all that much in her role. It seems to me that the victims are now viewed as nothing more than fodder for the traps by the series’ writers, unlike in the first film where the victims had a much more developed story arc. In “Saw” time was devoted within the script to fleshing out the victimized characters so the audience could be able to invest in them to an extent, but since then less and less time and thought has been put into character development (a major pitfall for almost every single horror franchise).

Uninterested in correcting the mistakes of the previous films that have been leading the series into mediocrity, the writers, and their director David Hackl (second unit director on “Saw 3” and “Saw 4”), go to great lengths to stay the course, to the point that the franchise is essentially a pointless mess of unoriginality and laziness. The only other attribute I can apply to this film is that it has taken the title of “Weakest Film in the Franchise” from the previous installment, so congratulations on that achievement.

“Saw 5” is available in rated R and unrated editions both contain violence, gore, and language.

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