In what is only the fifth film of the Saw series released over its five year Halloween run at the box office, this latest installation suffers from the same detrimental qualities that made number four slightly disappointing for fans and casual audiences alike. Making his directorial debut here, all eyes are cast upon David Hackl to see if he can either bring something new, or at least keep the momentum going for the popular franchise. The good news for some is that Saw V feels natural and consistent to its recent predecessors helmed by Bousman, yet for many others this won't be something to get excited about. Insofar as the movie itself goes; this is mostly typical Saw material throughout, going through the motions almost. This of course will please those looking for a continuation of the previous instalments, but it will undoubtedly feel too stagnant and jaded to interest anyone else. Nevertheless, for his first feature film at the reins, Hackl proves he can live up to Bousman's style that has been engrained in the series thus far, creating yet another engaging and loyal sequel that will be sure to cater to those craving more twisted games.
For many fans and casual watchers of the series, Saw figuratively died when lead character and focus for the film Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) eventually succumbed to his cancer in film number three. Yet just as instalment IV managed to incorporate the mastermind into its story, as does V in the same manner; through flashbacks. Playing a game of two sides and narratives that eventually collide, Saw V first and foremost continues on where we left from IV, detailing the continuation of Jigsaw's work through forensics expert Hoffman and how he eventually has to tie up all loose ends regarding the deaths of those in III and IV. This narrative, although a little tiresome in its approach of filling in every detail and hole in previous features, nevertheless provides as the real meat of the script. Characters are again rather shallow, and motives are less than clear, yet much of this goes out the window when Mr. Bell graces the screen with his presence. As he has proved time and time again, it is within the character of Jigsaw that Saw's real heart lays, and with plenty of reminiscing going on here in regards to numbers I-IV, there's enough material and characterisation work here to satisfy hardcore fans of the series.
On the other side of the pitch however is a much less character/dialogue driven narrative which focuses solely on another unlucky five as they work their way through the latest of Jigsaws traps, this time set up by successor Hoffman. For those who attend screenings of the latest Saw movies only to watch people get their comeuppance through a series of bloody and grisly tests, then this will be where your thirst is quenched. Taking on a tone that is strikingly similar to instalment two, the challenges presented here are graphic and extremely cerebral, shot in the same berserk ways so far explored in the series (although, the blending scene segment style incorporated in IV is gone) which add to the movie's intense ability to draw you in.
A consistently forceful element of the series, cinematographer David A. Armstrong here follows the movie's mantra of "don't fix what isn't broke", and the film's sense of coherency and embodiment of the script's themes works just as well here as it did in previous features. Sure enough, Saw wouldn't be Saw without its morally challenging undercurrent squirming underneath all the corpses and violence, and in this regard V does well to incorporate the same subtext. Of course as has been the case with all the sequels thus far, the message isn't quite as clear here as it was in the original, and the ideas always seem to be justifying the gore rather than the other -more appropriate- way around, but there's enough here to stop the whole ordeal boiling down to a silly slasher flick with no fibre to it at all.
Needless to say there are many audiences out there who outwardly oppose everything the Saw series stands for, be it involving the gore, the message, or just the tacky horror-movie-sequel feel in general. Yet as I have been witness to many the genre has to offer so far this year I can safely say that while Saw V is by no means a masterpiece nor as significant as its first production, it still beats out most of the competition by quite some distance.
In the end, the entire ordeal feels more like an add-on; a tid-bit of flavour designed to tie up the loose ends left dangling from all the other features, and in this respect V will feel a little underwhelming; even to rabid fans of the series. And yet, it's the fans that will make up most of Saw V's audience. I recommend V, but only to fans, and only because there's hope that VI (which the door is left wide open to here) might get the ball rolling again and begin to tell a new story. So by all means, if you can appreciate the series' unmatched ability to make you squirm, to have you question your moral code, and to fascinate you with its lurid, engrossing world made of cogs, puzzle pieces and of course, saws, then you can't go wrong here. Saw V is everything that fans of the series as a whole will want, but a lack of progression in narrative and its disregard for relevancy to anyone outside of its core audience inevitably cuts it short; not enough for anyone else, but fans should enjoy it for the most part.