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Saw V (2008)

DVD Released: 1/20/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/19/2009

In my review for Saw IV, I praised the makers of the series for having the guts to produce what is essentially a feature-film serial. By giving each movie a "cliffhanger" ending, the movie is asking the audience to wait a year (or less if you catch it on DVD) to see what happens next. In today's ADD world, that is a tall order, but judging by the box-office returns for each movie, filmgoers are willing to play along. Taking this approach has made the movies which followed the original feel less like sequels than simply a continuation of a large story. All of that changes with Saw V, an entry which throws the series off of its game, and threatens the loyalty of the franchise's viewers.

(Editor's Note: In order to discuss the events of Saw V, the finale of Saw IV must be discussed. If you haven't seen Saw IV and want to surprised, read with caution.) As Saw IV drew to a close, only a few things were certain, one of which was that Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) was dead. Police Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) had been investigating the Jigsaw murders and was overseeing Jigsaw's autopsy (where, surprise, surprise, a small cassette tape was found). Meanwhile, FBI Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) has been investigating the carnage where Jigsaw died and barely escapes with his life. Hoffman is hailed as a hero, and Strahm is told to take time off due to his injuries. But, Strahm is convinced that the case isn't over and begins to dig deeper. His suspicions appear to be justified, when five people awaken in a room to find that they are chained to the wall. From there, they must try to survive four rooms with increasingly difficult traps. As we watch this group dwindle, Strahm digs through the Jigsaw case files trying to find a new angle on the case.

As noted above, the Saw series feels like a true series, and the succession of a story which grows with each film, as opposed to a group of sequels which are loosely linked. Each of the films ends with a shocking, "cliffhanger" ending, and the movies love to play with time in order to keep the audience guessing. This approach clearly works, as the first four films grossed about $285 million at the U.S. box office. Saw is often credited with starting the torture-porn sub-genre, but I like to think that it jump-started the kind of thinking which leads to truly shocking twist endings.

So, the question must be asked, "Why monkey with the formula?" Typically we applaud a film series which wants to move in a new direction, but that doesn't work with Saw V. For one thing, the element of playing with time (which really made Saw IV work) goes out the window as Jigsaw is still prominently featured in the film, and we know that he's dead, so these scenes must be flashbacks. Although, I'm not sure how other people approached the film, but based on what has transpired in the earlier films, I tried to guess which other scenes in the film may be taking place in the past. The movie also stumbles by focusing too much on the police procedural. The Saw films have always featured detectives who are trying to crack the Jigsaw case, but here we have far too many scenes of Strahm pouring over police files and thinking aloud. Is that exciting? And then we have the ending. Saw V ends with a very minor twist, and honestly, if you don't see it coming then you haven't been paying attention. And there's not much of a cliffhanger here either. The audience isn't left with much desire to run out and see Saw VI.

However, my biggest problem with Saw V is that we've seen it all before. This movie takes the approach of taking events and situations from the previous films and inserting new characters and information into them. Essentially, we learn that Jigsaw had another accomplice in the earlier stories. But, they did the exact same thing with Amanda (Shawnee Smith) from Saw. Starting with Saw II, they showed how she had worked with Jigsaw and implied that she was just off-frame during some earlier on-screen incidents. We get the exact same thing here, but with another character, and it just doesn't feel fresh. So, if you've always wondered how Jigsaw was able to do it all alone...he didn't. Also, the situation with the five trapped strangers may offer new puzzles and traps, but it also feels a lot like the similar plot in Saw II.

It's impossible for a film series to maintain its momentum forever, and Saw must be applauded for going strong through four movies. But, things sputter out on Saw V. First-time feature film Director David Hackl, who served as production designer on the previous three films, gives the movie a nice look, but the story is slow, lacks suspense, and feels old. We know that Saw VI is already in production, but maybe after that, they'll cut the cord.

Saw V attempts to suffocate or crush or electrocute us on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 (although, I would guess that the movie was projected at 1.85:1 in theaters) and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source material, but it also has some issues. Thanks to the development process used to create the film's look, we are left with visible grain in every shot. Also, the image is a tad too dark at times. The dark look also renders the movie flat looking. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital EX 5.1 audio track which delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The track provides good stereo effects which show nice separation and come into play with the trapped strangers. The surround sound effects are good, most notably during the opening scene. The movie loves to throw us the "boom" sound effect for shocking moments, and this gives the subwoofer a lot of exercise.

The Saw V DVD contains a number of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director David Hackl and First Assistant Director Steve Webb. This is a very detailed chat where the two speak-at-length about the film's production. They talk about the sets, actors, story, and the changes from the theatrical cut. As individuals who were on-set at all times, they have a lot of information to share. There is then a second COMMENTARY with Producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules and Executive Producers Peter Block and Jason Constantine. This is an OK talk, as it duplicates some of the information from the first commentary. This group clear gets along well, and their talk is jovial, but they also focus on a lot of the behind-the-scene business decisions and don't offer as much info on the creative side. We are then treated to three featurettes which examines three of the main traps from the movie. "The Pendulum Trap" (6 minutes), "The Cube Trap" (5 minutes), and "The Coffin Trap" (6 minutes) each contain comments from the director and the writers on the ideas behind the traps, and we also get on-set footage showing the traps in motion. "The Fatal Five" (12 minutes) examines the plot-line with the five strangers. As with the previous featurettes, the piece looks at the ideas behind the traps and then explores how they were made. "Slicing the Cube: Editing the Cube Trap" (5 minutes) contains comments from Director David Hackl and Editor Kevin Greutert on how this scene was created. It contains home video footage of Hackl testing his ideas on his 9-year old son. ("Daddy, can you drive me to therapy now?") The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long