At the insane rate the Saw movies were being put out (one a year since 2004!!), it’s frankly amazing the series’ level of quality didn’t dip far earlier; but then, when you’re talking about a string of films involving almost non-stop torture and mutilation I guess the term “quality” is subjective. That being said, by the time we got to this fifth episode, the wheels on the rusty, pointy Saw-mobile were noticably about to fall off. Not one but two of it’s antagonists were very, very dead and the ever more knotted plot line had blatantly forced itself into a corner it couldn’t get out of without dolloping even more flashbacks and twists on us when all we wanted is – like most of Jigsaw’s victims – was to be set free and enjoy the rest of our lives. Even franchise regular Darren Lynn Bousman, who had directed parts II to IV had jumped ship with the promice of helming something that didn’t contain a shot lead of pig masks and creepy little dolls on tricycles and series production designer David Hackl was drafted in to make his debut. Could he make this entry a game people would think would be worth playing?
After the dual revelation that not only exposed Detective Mark Hoffman as being an acolyte of Jigsaw all along, but that the plots of the third and forth movies where actually occuring simultaneously, it seems that the lion’s share of dangling story threads have finally been tied off like a severed artery leaving everybody connected to the Jigsaw murders dead regardless of what side of the law they were on. Emerging from the chaos with the kidnapped daughter of Jeff Reinhart in his atms (a holdover from part III), Hoffman is hailed as a hero and even given a promotion, but before he can start celebrating and then trying to figure out how the fuck he’ll managed to balance police work with carrying on Jigsaw’s wishes, a massive buzz kill arrises in the form of FBI agent Peter Strahm, a man who somehow survived a supposedly inescapable trap he was left in.
Meanwhile Jigsaw’s widow, Jill Tuck, receives a mysterious box in her husband’s will which would most likely pay off in a future sequel (if nothing else, the Saw movies were super confident) and as she mulls over what this could possibly mean Hoffman is plagued with trademark Saw flashbacks that insert him fully into Jigsaw’s back story like a murderous piece of lego. It seems he murdered the man who brutally killed his sister by forging a rigged trap of his own and tried to pass the whole thing off as a Jigsaw killing which succeeded in covering his tracks, but also drew the attention of a curious John Kramer who blackmailed him into joining his cause.
In the present day, however, Hoffman has to figure out a way to get the obsessed Strahm off his back while still orchestrating a group trap that’s testing the teamwork of yet another bunch of morally vacant victims like some psychotic work place retreat. Can he do the double, cement his legacy as Jigsaw’s successor and still get off Scott free?
Less a coherent string of sequels and more a drawn out Halloween tradition at this point, the cracks in the Saw movies were really starting show at this point as the writers strained to stop the entire franchise disappearing up it’s own arse like a masochistic tapeworm but expecting first time director Hackl to be the one to straighten things out was probably too much to ask.
The main problem here is Jigsaw, or more accurately, the lack of him. While he’s still pulling strings and manipulating people like gangly, cowering puppets from the relative safety of copious flashbacks, you can’t avoid the simple fact that the character of Hoffman just isn’t interesting enough when compared to the maniacal worldview of John Kramer. Kramer does what he does (or at least did; as he’s deader than dogshit at this point) due to a twisted view of the world spawned from the double whammy of losing an unborn child and gaining a fatal heaping of cancer which made him want to force his victims into appreciating the life they’ve been gifted. Hoffman on the other hand has a murdered sister (who he’s avenged) and is just a slippery prick in general and expecting an audience to be cool with it is like making a Halloween movie with a buddy from Michael Myers’ work standing in for him due to the villain having to attend a couple of weeks doing jury duty (man, I’d watch that movie).
Shifting the dynamic of an utterly committed madman enforcing his will to a corrupt Detective trying to cover his tracks simply isn’t a scary or particularly interesting road to go down but at this point the series was committed whether we liked it or not.
Usually in these circumstances we’d rely on the torture scenes to dubiously shake us out of our funk, but aside from an early trap spectacularly paying homage to half of The Pit And The Pendulum (surely the greatest of all of cinema’s death machines), even the moments of protracted bloodletting has lost a fair bit of steam with even such familiar faces as Buffy’s Julie Benz failing to raise much interest.
By now it was plain to see that the main focus of Saw had shifted from the victims of the death traps over to the perpetrators which leads to a rather bizarre conundrum: if we’re not supposed to care about the victims anymore (they’re pretty much all corrupt assholes by this point) are we really supposed to have a vested interest in the people who put them there? Surely Hoffman (aided in killing all of his work mates to avoid suspicion) and previous acolyte Amanda Young (rigged traps in order to guaranteed the victims failed) aren’t that much better than the people they go after so it raises the question: who are we supposed to be watching this movie for exactly?
Apart from the entertaining blip that was part VI, the writing (usually scrawled in red) was pretty much on the wall and the inevitable spiral was in full effect as a yet another horror franchise quickly succumbed to flagging interest and a noticable lack of new ideas (the trapped squabbling group thing had already been done in Saw II).
Do I still want to play a game? Not until you brush up on the rules a little, yeah?