No one expects the fourth sequel to a horror film to be any good, but the “Saw” series has grown particularly redundant. “Saw V” is as rote and mechanical as one of Jigsaw’s traps, though at least Jigsaw’s traps are suspenseful and ingenious. The movie is neither of those things.
It begins immediately after the events of “Saw IV,” which the movie assumes you have watched quite recently. It definitely does not assume that you watched the movie once, a year ago, and forgot everything about it once you had written your review. You may remember (or maybe Wikipedia has reminded you) that a cop named Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) was revealed to be an accomplice to Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), the gravel-voiced trickster whose fiendishly clever devices have killed dozens and entertained millions. Now Hoffman is accepting commendations for solving the case, but FBI Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) is starting to catch on that he, Hoffman, is actually a bad guy.
Strahm, who was injured in Jigsaw’s final orchestration, follows his hunch and pores over the old Jigsaw case files. As he does this, the film shows us flashbacks to Jigsaw and Hoffman’s prior interactions, thus allowing Jigsaw — the franchise’s central figure — to continue to be a major character even though his death occurred way back in “Saw III.” (Flashbacks are how he managed to be all over “Saw IV,” too.) After we are shown these vignettes, Strahm always deduces something new about Hoffman, something he could only deduce if he had seen the flashbacks along with us. I don’t know how he’s doing that, but it’s a pretty neat skill for a detective to have.
Meanwhile, five strangers are trapped in a series of Jigsaw-style games, forced to work together (or slowly kill one another) in order to survive. Two of them are played by Julie Benz and Meagan Good. IMDB says their characters are named Brit and Luba, but I don’t think the movie ever tells us that. I’m pretty sure I would remember if someone had been called “Luba.”
Anyway, did I mention it’s all pretty routine by now? Whatever wit or cleverness this series had has long since dried up. Even viewers who keep coming back for the blood ‘n’ gore are liable to be disappointed: While there’s plenty of it, it’s rarely the result of anything creative or “fun.” It’s like the movie isn’t even trying to appeal to its most devoted fanbase. I do admire the ability to keep retroactively adding information to the story — oh, it turns out that while THIS was happening, so was this OTHER thing! — but that device works best when there was a master plan in place at the outset, not when you’re making it up as you go.
The first-time director is David Hackl, who worked as assistant director on the last two entries and evidently learned plenty from his bosses. I might as well quote my review of “Saw IV,” since it’s still applicable: “[His] preference is to shoot everything as if he were a film student making a Nine Inch Nails video. You get that metallic swooshing sound effect over everything, jittery jump cuts in the middle of people’s sentences, and eerie, atonal music playing almost constantly. All of these devices are employed even in the non-suspenseful scenes in the hopes of creating a false sense of intensity.”
The film’s promotional tagline is “You won’t believe how it ends.” And it’s true: I was expecting one of those trademark “Saw” surprise twists, and instead I got an anti-climax that made me say “So what?” Is that what they meant? Is the series over now? The faux-intellectual moralizing is beyond absurd, Jigsaw is a joke who’s been dead for two films, and none of the other surviving characters are even slightly interesting. Set the timer and let this thing explode, would you?
D (1 hr., 28 min.; )