Film Review: Saw V

The 'Saw' franchise promises elaborate torture devices, gory deaths and the spectacle of madman Jigsaw's diabolical "games," which offer players a choice between self-mutilation and death. And that's exactly what the fourth sequel delivers.

Written by the same team who penned Saw IV, the fifth installment of the Halloween horror franchise picks up where that film left off: Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is dead in a makeshift hospital room concealed within an abandoned meat-packing plant filled with the cruel tools of his trade: extreme rehabilitation through baroque torture. The floor is covered with gore and trapped FBI agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) is forced to endure yet another of the late killer's tests of masochistic ingenuity. Strahm survives, only to be censured for professional recklessness, put on mandatory sick leave and forced to watch local detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) get a promotion and glowing accolades for having done little more than waltz into the crime scene after everything was over.

Actually, it's not strictly true that Hoffman just showed up. Strahm soon deduces what Saw IV veterans already know: Hoffman was in cahoots with Jigsaw and is committed to carrying on his grisly work. He's already started a new game, bringing together five individuals who, unbeknownst to them, are all connected to a crime that killed eight people. Their various tests, involving nail bombs, decapitating collars, circular saws, electrodes and other unpleasant items, require teamwork, something at which none of them is particularly good.

Meanwhile, Strahm, working unofficially, is piecing together evidence that will prove Hoffman's guilt, and his visits to old crime scenes prompt a flurry of flashbacks to earlier films combined with new footage that elaborate on Hoffman's involvement. They also ensure that Jigsaw gets a hefty chunk of screen time from beyond the grave, which is a good thing, but the already convoluted story is further complicated by the shifts between past and present, which demand the kind of attention more commonly associated with esoteric art films. A working knowledge of the first three films and total recall of Saw IV are a plus.

Beyond entertaining fans with variations on the life-or-death challenges that seemed so startlingly fresh a mere four years ago, Saw V's primary purpose seems to be setting up a new series of films featuring Hoffman as the evil puppet-master. Whether a Saw film can succeed without Bell's Jigsaw remains to be seen.