Saw V 6/10
You have to give credit to the Saw team: five films in five years from a standing start, they’re fast and they’re efficient.
Coming in to this hit horror franchise at this late stage is a bit like starting The Da Vinci Code on the penultimate chapter – there’s a lot of catching up to do. On the other hand, as the movie spends a lot of its 88 minute running time explaining itself, it’s by no means impossible.
I’ve avoided the previous Saw movies because, well, graphic dismemberment isn’t my cup of tea. And Saw V’s opening scene – in which we see just what a steel pendulum can do to a man’s intestines – didn’t exactly whet my appetite either. But maybe I should have been paying closer attention, because what followed wasn’t the undiluted torture porn I’d been expecting. Yeah, there’s lots of mental and physical distress, all sorts of arcane and unpleasant ways to sever an artery or bank some blood, but the movie has a gamey side to it as well, a series of narrative trapdoors that open up into a mysterious, carnivalesque house of horror. As far as that side of it goes, Saw is surprisingly engaging, more in the mould of classic TV puzzles like The Prisoner, Twin Peaks or The X Files.
Not as good, mind. As one group of ne’er do wells was put through a series of deadly tests I also found myself thinking of reality shows like Big Brother and I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! – shows that might actually be improved with a spot of sudden death.
Anybody wondering where the series had left to go after the death of puppet-master Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) shouldn’t worry – he’s still pulling the strings from the beyond, and there’s more than enough flashbackery to ensure that Bell remains a commanding presence. He’s easily the most charismatic of the actors on show here. Why the producers have stuck us with matching mediocrities Costas Mandylor and Scott Patterson as investigators Hoffman and Strahm is one mystery I couldn’t fathom.
No expense has been lavished on the production values either. I counted two blink-and-you-miss-em exteriors in the whole movie; everything else might have been shot in the art director’s basement. It’s dark and damp and cramped. Even the score sounds like bad plumbing.
Is it scary? There are a couple of tense moments but no, the horror is surprisingly muted, largely because we don’t give a fig about the victims. Still, the macabre methods of dispatch are eye-catching. My favourite comes early on: a character wakes up with his head in an airtight glass box – it looks like an old fashioned oil lamp, save for the tubes coming into from the top, which are attached to water coolers. As it fills up with water, he begins to drown – until, that is, he finds what could be a pen in his pocket, stabs it into his neck, and breathes through that. Awesome survival tip! But would it really work I wonder…? And how long was he stuck like that before the cops arrived… ? Perhaps we’ll find out next Halloween in Saw VI.