If you watch as many of these kinds of movies as I do, the ending may not be as entirely beyond belief as the ads suggest. In spite of that, the Saw franchise continues to provide at least one decent horror film to look forward to at Halloween.
Jigsaw (Tobin Bell ) is dead, but his last apprentice, Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) has come under suspicion by Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson). As five new players find themselves playing a new game originally designed for them by the late Jigsaw, Hoffman and Strahm play a game of cat and mouse that only one will survive. But don’t worry, because the secrets of the sixth and reportedly final Saw film are safely in a box that may as well be labeled “Pandora.”
Overplotting, dread anticipation, and graphically gory payoffs are the hallmark of Lionsgate’s Saw franchise, and this fifth installment is no exception. The “distraction” plot this time concerns five not-so-unconnected strangers, but this tale is told much better than the disjointed storytelling which made Saw II so tedious. The main story, of course, is a combination of what Jigsaw’s last apprentice is up to and how he came to work for him. And just as soon as all the exposition starts getting dull, a new Jigsaw-branded puzzle-of-doom is introduced to move everything along.
While plenty of critics talk about the “torture porn” elements of Saw and other horror franchises such as Touristas and Hostel, the Saw films have always stood out in my mind because of the motivations of “the villain” and the means with which the “games” are presented. From purely a horror standpoint, potential victims with a mysterious back story to be revealed are shown painful-looking devices before being given an ultimatum to survive; afterward, we are treated to the reality of that anticipation while being rewarded with more information about the victims. We may not really care about them, but the reasons they are being made to suffer are a nice substitute. It took the first three films to perfect the formula, but it works, purportedly leaving only one last visit remaining into the mind of Jigsaw.
It goes without saying that fans of the series are rewarded for their patronage with more and more back story on John/Jigsaw, but the sacrifice is that the films can no longer stand entirely on their own. But who cares? Fans will keep pouring money in as long as the imagination remains, but it’s also getting to be time to close the book as well. The seeds for the last film are in place, and the fifth movie makes very little effort to hide those clues. If the final film resolves everything nicely and finally closes the book on Jigsaw, the filmmakers should be able to credit themselves for a franchise well-done rather than than running it into the ground (hint hint).
(a three skull recommendation out of four)