David Hackl | 91 mins | TV | 18 / R
And so the never-ending Saw franchise trundles on to its fifth part. Indeed, Saw Part 5 might be a more apt moniker for this film: it picks up directly from the end of Saw IV — which, you may remember, took place concurrently with Saw III, ultimately appending about 30 seconds to that film’s climax. Even if you wanted to start your Saw viewing here, you wouldn’t have a hope of following what’s going on.
For a large part, Saw V’s plot is an exercise in retconning. For the uninitiated, “retcon” is short for “retroactive continuity”, essentially the act of adding something to a previous story in a series that changes its meaning or one’s perspective on it or what have you. I believe the term was coined in relation to comics, a medium that commonly has to explain why a dead character’s sudden resurrection really made sense all along, honest. Saw V’s retcon, then, is to demonstrate that Detective Hoffman was Jigsaw’s accomplice throughout all the previous Saw movies, not just the ones that actually featured him. This means yet more flashbacks, which as you may remember were the blight of Saws III and IV.
But what Saw V suffers in backstory it makes up for with simplicity. Whereas IV was convoluted to the point of dullness, Hoffman’s involvement is quite easily depicted. A working knowledge of the preceding films is essential, true, but with that in hand one can actually follow the story easily this time. Indeed, one might even argue it’s too easy: Hoffman’s involvement is so straightforward that the amount of time devoted to it pushes into the realms of the pointless, while the present-time ‘thriller’ thread (where Special Agent Strahm figures it all out) serves barely any function. The film includes the usual standalone game alongside this, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.
One of the franchise’s Big Things has always been the last-minute twist. Signalled by the Saw theme beginning to play and emphasised with an explosion of very brief flashbacks to earlier in the film, the twist shows us what we’ve missed all along and turns the story on its head. The first film had a great one, the second’s was pretty clever, the third had a mixture of good and bad, while the fourth’s got muddled by the rest of the film. Here, we get the music, and the flashbacks, but I swear there wasn’t a single twist among them. Most of the plot was as obvious as it appeared, while what I suppose was meant as a twist in the final room just seemed obvious — I’m sure the viewer is too familiar with Jigsaw’s methods by now to fall for something as simple as that (unlike Strahm, it would seem).
And even after all that retconning and whatnot, it’s clear that the series’ ongoing story is far from over. It’s not just the existence of (at least) two more films that tells us this, nor even a proper cliffhanger (this time, there isn’t one), but a handful of blatantly unresolved plot points. It’s an annoying habit of perennial Saw screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan to drop in an element that they have no intention of using in this film, but exists purely to pay off something in the next. This time it’s a box delivered to Jigsaw’s ex-wife. Goodness knows what’s in it; hopefully Saw VI reveals all.
Alongside the incessant arc there’s the usual standalone ‘game’, presumably retained to both guarantee the gore content and hold the interest of anyone dragged along to see the film who hadn’t bothered with preceding instalments. This one isn’t bad but, relegated to a subplot alongside the Hoffman palaver, it’s little more than a sketchily-drawn short film. Some of the traps are inventive, dodging the torture porn levels of gore displayed in III and the gratuitous medical gore of both III and IV without skimping on the blood and guts (literally. Twice.) In fact, it’s this side of the film that holds a bigger and better twist than the highlighted arc plot one, though some viewers may miss its significance as it goes so unheralded. (Arguably this ease with which it might be missed says something about how significant it is; equally, perhaps I’m assuming a lack of intelligence on the part of Saw’s regular audience by implying they would miss it.)
And so Saw lives to fight another day. In some respects this entry is an up-tick in form after the convoluted fourth entry; conversely, it’s perhaps over-simplified, definitely over-reliant on its prequels, and lacks any meat on its plot’s bones — Hoffman assisted Jigsaw, this is how, and that’s all the film has to say. And you know, I can be a bit of wuss when it comes to horror films, but this one isn’t scary in the slightest; gory, unquestionably, but even the jump-scares didn’t make me jump.
Sometimes I feel the Saw series deserves congratulating for trying to be as much a thriller as a gore-fest, for having an on-going plot across all the films rather than just providing standalone identikit Jigsaw-games each entry. Other times, I think I’d quite like the latter, as both the third and fifth films have left me wishing for more of the original story and less of the arc plot. And still other times, it seems a waste of time to be thinking so much about Saw.
Once again I watched the Unrated/Extreme extended cut of Saw V, and once again the differences are numerous but minimal. A thorough list of additions and alterations can be found here, though there’s a briefer overview here.