Each of you was born with certain advantages, a leg up, if you will, compared to the general population around you. And due to hilariously contrived avarice and consequence you have managed to squander this advantage. Look around you and you will see several fish tanks, each one filled with deadly electric eels, piranha fish, and poisoned bear traps. At the bottom of each tank is a key that may or may not unlock the collar around your neck. Your game is simple: make the most idiotic, stupid, and relentlessly wrongheaded decisions possible given the information at hand, like, say, pushing the button I just told you not to, under any circumstances, push. No really, don't push the button marked instant freedom, really, don't. It's red, and right here by the flashing sign with the arrow pointing down at the button, but don't push it...
Welcome to the world of Saw. If, like me, you passed on the previous 4 installments of this series, the best thing to do is probably break down and watch them, in order, a day or less before buying a ticket for Saw V. Otherwise, like the secondary cast of this film (who we'll discuss at some length below) you are doomed to a confusing and infuriating 90+ minutes.
What am I saying?
If, like me, you watch the preceding films the day before buying a ticket you'll still be confused and angry anyway. Therefore, given the choice between sitting through six hours of the Saw franchise just to try and make sense of the fifth entry and not doing that, well, you'll never get those six hours back, ever. And, the theme of the films (at least initially) was recognizing the short span of the human life, I think even Jigsaw would forgive you.
Hell, he'd probably forgive you for skipping this entry too.
Let's get down to brass tacks though. Is Saw V a good film?
Is Saw V a good fifth film in a series?
Is the Saw series even good?
Saw was a good film, one of the rare horror films that manages to break new ground in a creative manner, and even with a low budget, manages to attract A-list talent (Carey Elwes and Danny Glover) and some B-list talent (Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith). There was a nice M. Night Shamalamadingdong-esque twist that made the ending work too. This twist would become a focal point of the series, like with M. Night's movies, the preceding 90-110 minutes wouldn't seem to suck so much if in the last ten minutes you made the audience feel like morons. See also: Dario Argento's "Profundo Rosso".
Saw 2 missed the whole point of the first film (the preciousness of life, this time it's confronting your misdeeds), managed to score only 1 A-list star, Donny Wahlberg, and three B-listers (Shawnee Smith, Dina Meyer, and Tobin Bell). I described Saw 2 to Head Cheeze as "The worst movie I've ever watched in my entire life." This one has a twist too, a clever one, that elevates the material from Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warriors vs. Refugees from Afterschool Specials into Direct to DVD Sci Fi Channel Original Movie.
Saw 3 follows on with the plot elements of Saw 2 (death to crooked cops) and doesn't manage to land any A-listers. Instead we get make up the difference in F-list stars, you know, people you see in commercials for nasal allergy spray, or describing how they can ham-slam their fat, frigid, middle aged wives, because their new meds take away erectile dysfunction, or they have a costarring role in a CW network dramedy. If the Saw series is like eating a big bowl of hobo scrotum in a filthy subway bathroom, them Saw 3 is like eating that one piece of hobo scrotum that didn't fall into the overflowing urinal.
Saw 4 even further continues the idiocy of Saw 3. Our big star this time is Costas Mandylor! (though we also get Donny Wahlberg again who, when not in flashback, would have been able to film his entire collection of scenes in one afternoon so he doesn't count) Mandylor, if you can remember back far enough, made his big break into American cinema as Columbus back in 1992. His was the worse of the two awful films released that year to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus discovering the New World. The rest of the cast are either reality TV alternates, voice over actors, or the people who express their love for Shamwow! at the state fair.
Saw 5… Where to begin with Saw 5… Well, let's begin at the beginning.
Like all the later sequel films in the series, Saw 5 literally starts with the end of Saw 3, that is, the vengeance guy standing in the makeshift hospital room after killing Jigsaw, just as his wife's head blows off and Amanda dies. Remember, Saw 3 and 4 take place during only slightly shifted timelines. Everyone say welcome back to Agent Strahm (Scott "Gilmore Girls" Patterson). He bursts into the makeshift operating room and shoots vengeance guy. Someone closes the door and pegs it. This someone is revealed to Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) the second banana of the fourth film. This was also the big twist in the fourth film, for those keeping score. I know, big deal right? How the police couldn't figure out that someone in their department was a Jigsaw ally when the cops themselves or police work played a role for everyone who was put through these Rube Goldberg death devices is beyond me.
Jump to a skinhead guy tied down on a giant mechanical cast iron table. Above him hangs a pendulum. He learns from a VHS recording that in 60 seconds the pendulum will begin to swing, and if he sacrifices his hands by putting them into pneumatic/hydraulic crusher doodads he can save the rest of himself. Oh, he's a murderer out early on a technicality. So, like the sequel films, the death machine thing is a vengeance weapon. I don't get this though. I really did appreciate the motives of the Jigsaw character (less a character than an idea) in the original Saw than the other films, but even in the second film, the victims in the house have all hurt people with their drug issues/crime issues. So, it's harder to sympathize with them, worse too when it's revealed that the reason they are all related to Donny Wahlberg's storyline is that they were all originally convicted based on the evidence he planted. So they are like being double punished, the second time fatally, because Detective Donny Wahlberg was an asshole. But, in the logic of the film, it's more important that he reconnect with his son.
See, I really hated Saw 2…
Anyway, before I get off track. The guy is on the table, he crushes his hands and the pendulum doesn't stop and still cuts him in half. Before he dies the guy manages to look at the frosted glass door where an eye is looking back out at him.
Now, speaking not only as the movie reviewer who can suspend his disbelief at the mere uttering of the word "suitmation", and the man who spend 4 years in high school training to be a machinist, but also as a man with common sense who has been to Home Depot in the last ten years, I must ask – Just how much money does Jigsaw have? This pendulum device costs an easy fifty grand, the building it's in has to cost something, and we know the place has electricity. Also, the skinhead dude is pretty buff, how did sick old John Kramer (Tobin Bell) get the better of this guy? Wait… I think I feel a flashback coming on…
Actually, not a flashback, we haven't had our spate of those yet. What we've got here is a time-jump, a veritable quantum leap, if you will, back in time some two or three years or so, I am guessing, to events long before Jigsaw died, long before Costas Mandylor went all helping Jigsaw-crazy, and even before Jigsaw got Amanda to help him out.
And herein lies the problem with the Saw films: you either need to be Bill, Ted, Doc Brown, or Sam Beckett to make any sort of narrative sense out of the plot. Not only will be time-travel through all of the Saw films (Hi Danny Glover!) we'll travel to before and after Jigsaw's death. And atop all this seemingly random time-hopping we'll get flashbacks and flash forwards and time hops backwards just to flash forward and vice versa so that characters can remember events where they weren't present, or the film can redefine scenes from earlier films with new information that even in context don't make sense.
And, adding another layer of infuriating stupidness to this, is Agent Hoffman is also flashing backwards and forwards as he tries to keep Strahm from figuring out his role in many of the Jigsaw murders.
Even better, we also get to spend a few choice minutes with Jigsaw's former fiancé, so she can have even more awesome flashbacks of the events that turned engineer John Kramer into Jigsaw.
I think I traveled in time so much during Saw 5 that I actually left the theater ten minutes before I arrived to buy my ticket.
Yes, this is how the Saw franchise operates.
And like the other films we've got two films going on at once, at different times, the tale of Agent Strahm, who manages to escape from a Jigsaw trap in the beginning of Saw 5, trying to piece together a case that Agent Hoffman is Jigsaw's accomplice by visiting the sets from the previous films with the case files in hand and flashing back and forth through the films like Hunter S. Thompson on a mescaline and ether bender. The other story, which barely overlaps with this one, follows 5 people with ties to real estate awakening together to face a series of tests.
For what it's worth, none of the police seem to be looking for any of the missing real estate people, and no one even knows they are in the film (other than we trapped in the theater) until the very end of the movie. Oh, and their reason for being captured and trapped? They all colluded in one way or another in a real estate deal that left 8 innocent people dead. So, vengeance is again the motivator. They victims instantly realize they are in Jigsaw's domain, but not that every test seems to involve nail bombs this time. I don't know if they made this change just to show that Agent Hoffman was no Jigsaw, after all nail bombs are much less Rube Goldberg-ian, or that director David Hackyl couldn't get anyone to agree on what the tests and devices should be and just said "you know what, fuck it. Nail bombs for everyone."
And again, like the drug issue victims in Saw 2, we're asked to watch as the cast of Shamwow! fetishists immolate each other, or themselves, to get to the next room, and possibly freedom.
Okay, before I get depressed thinking about this movie, or the Saw series by typing about it any longer, here's the rub on the big twist in this one — If you've ever played Clue Jr. then you're probably too observant for Saw 5.