Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Fault, Dear Brutus, Is Not In The Saw, But In Ourselves

Year: 2008
Director: David Hackl
Cast: Scott Patterson, Costas Mandylor, Tobin Bell
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Strap yourselves into your metal cuffs, it's time for our fifth Saw marathon review! To begin, let's ignore how easy it is to make "hack" puns on director David Hackl's name and instead focus on how he came to be here. After production designing parts 2-4, he stepped up to the helm after series director Darren Lynn Bousman opted out, presumably in a last ditch attempt to save his soul. 

As so happens with these films, this means no discernible change in quality because 1) it was handed off to another member of the incestuous Saw family who undoubtedly knew what they were getting themselves into, and 2) pretty much all the films suck equally anyway. Essentially the only difference between Saw V and its queasy predecessors is that new production designer Tony Ianni splashes the sets with repellent yellow lights rather than repellent green ones. Oh, how fascinatingly nuanced these Saw films are.

Although the green does return for several cameo appearances to the comfort of absolutely no one.

And though the plots make increasingly less sense if you haven't closely inspected the previous films in the franchise, let's pull out its intestines and display them for the world to see. I would give a spoilers tag, but at this point, we're in too deep. I'm so very tired. So, we have Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), Jigsaw's (Tobin Bell) successor née apprentice, overseeing two very different tests.

The first (and best) involves five people forced to go through a gauntlet of grueling traps in order for them to learn how to work together in spite of their backstory having nothing to do with lack of teamwork. Of course, this is the Saw universe, so these people are venal and awful and destroy each other before they can even shake hands. The second involves Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) trying to uncover the mystery of who is carrying on Jigsaw's legacy while ignoring the constant tape recordings telling him to leave well enough alone. He finds himself in a series of vile traps and makes the wrong decision exactly always.

All this is intercut with flashbacks that are poorly shunted into place, not aided by the fact that Patterson and Mandylor look exactly the same. At first I was able to distinguish the two bland white men by the fact that the latter used a gravelly Batman voice and the former didn't. But when Strahm performs an emergency tracheotomy on himself (don't ask) and spends the rest of the film barking out his lines like he's coughing up marbles, the last vestige of my sanity is stripped away and I'm forced to give up even trying. 

Especially in the closing climactic fight sequence, it actually improves comprehension if - instead of watching two medium build white stunt doubles swipe at each other - you instead turn the TV off, go take a walk, and never return. There's an important distinction between encouraging an active viewer and drowning that viewer in quicksand. Saw V finally closes the gap.

At least the dastardly Slicker of Evil helps ease the tension from time to time.

It is here in Saw V that the flaws germinating with series writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan in their previous script flower into full bloom. The characters are irredeemably awful and Jigsaw's MO is inconsistent even by the incredibly lenient standards of the franchise. Despite his constant admonitions of Hoffman's more direct murder style ("Killing is distasteful!"), he is remarkably unwilling to give Strahm even the semblance of a chance of survival. 

I know his "tests" have grown increasingly arcane and dubious, but since when does sending someone in a pig mask to punch a guy who walks through a door count as a trap? And it doesn't seem entirely fair to then shove him into a box that slowly fills with water, completely bereft of instructions. It's one thing (an admittedly bad one) to set people up to learn lessons by mauling themselves, but these new ones are epically juvenile and petty with nary a comprehensible moral in sight. And one of them rips off The Pit and the Pendulum, assuming we're too stupid to notice. I dearly hope we aren't.

Also he claims that his traps "instantly rehabilitate" people. You know, like Amanda, the one survivor of his games, who continued to cut herself then instantly failed the very next test he put her through. Man, this guy has a worse track record than the Dentist from Little Shop of Horrors. At least that guy admitted that he was a sociopath.

And the ever-present clunky dialogue of the franchise rolls in like a square wheel from the very first line. I won't bother ruminating on this for too long, considering that my notes by themselves occupy about 200 words worth of space. But if "It needs blood. Our blood." or "Dr. Gordon, a healer who needs some healing," are the best lines we as a society can produce, we might as well just close the book on cinema as an art form.

If you imagine this cube filled with vodka, you have an accurate representation of the Saw V script's writing process.

Like the previous entries, one of the few saving graces of Saw V is that it's a veritable slop chute of mockery fodder. Why does every villain in existence seem to have an engineering major? How is Strahm extrapolating his clues from empty rooms? Why does one of the men in the gauntlet trap act with both hands simultaneously like he's trapped halfway through a mirror and his body is now forcibly symmetrical? I don't have answers to these questions, but I do have plenty of sardonic wit to pump into any willing ears.

The waterfall of dumb is plentiful, including but not limited to two separate reveals that (gasp) Jigsaw is, in fact, Jigsaw. Not even Charlie Clouser's "Hello Zepp" score (inexplicably rearranged into what sounds like a 74-year-old clergyman's xylophone solo) can save the film from its pure, unadulterated banality.

For fans of the franchise (and - woe is me - they exist), the gore is spicier than ever. Thankfully the frantic dubstep video cutting vanishes with Bousman, but the result is an unflinching gaze upon some immensely sickening grue. It would be supreme folly to suggest that Saw V is indicting our voyeurism of the first four films and punishing us with exactly what the audience was asking for, but I fervently wish this were the case. A cruel, vindictive, but moral Saw V is infinitely philosophically preferable than the wanton, wicked trifle that lies before us.

At least it was better than Saw III, I guess.

TL;DR: Saw V is gruesome, generic, and idiotic, only brought levity by scenes so dumb they transcend the genre of bad cinema.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1159
Reviews In This Series
Saw (Wan, 2004)
Saw II (Bousman, 2005)
Saw III (Bousman, 2006)
Saw IV (Bousman, 2007)
Saw V (Hackl, 2008)
Saw VI (Greutert, 2009)
Saw: The Final Chapter (Greutert, 2010)


  1. I swear, you keep saying they're awful, and every, single, word makes me want to buy the box set and sweat through all ten hours of the franchise.

    1. Honestly, I'm not despising this journey as much as I make it sound.

      If only because MST3K is one of my favorite shows and I have a lot of practice. But I wouldn't blame you for pursuing this particular monster. I'd love to hear your thoughts on their eternally dubious yet woefully smug "morality".

    2. Tough love, Brennan, it's tough love!

      I've seen the first two. I believe that I kind of love the first one (it's the Dumbassed Twist For All Time), but only saw the second once, recalling only 1)that it is even more scorchingly yellow than Enemy and 2)the drug dealer falls into a pit full of syringes, which freaked me out.

      I think part of the reason I haven't cleared the day to do it is that it can't be justified when there are so many Nightmares on Elm Street I haven't seen. That may be wishful thinking tho.