Looking back at the Halloween of my youth, I know there was candy I looked forward to seeing in my trick-or-treat bag every year. I’m talking about candy that only showed up at Halloween time, or didn’t taste as sweet the rest of the year when it wasn’t in a convenient trick-or-treat size. Sadly, as an adult, I’ve started to discover that the candy of my memory isn’t actually all that great as all.
Even more sadly, I’ve started to realize the same thing about the trick-or-treat movie offering at Halloween time: Saw. For five years now, Saw has terrorized audiences with an annual update in the story of the Jigsaw killer and his victims, morally corrupt people who the killer traps in elaborate creations devised to rehabilitate or execute the intended prey. This year’s offering, however, just doesn’t live up to the enjoyment I remember getting out of the previous chapters.
Like its predecessors, Saw V, begins with a bang, killing one of Jigsaw’s victims in one of his elaborate traps, although there is one major difference. This time, the victim of the trap does what is required to free himself from the trap, mashing his own hands into a crippled state. But the trap doesn’t stop. The victim is still executed, and the message is made clear - this isn’t the same Jigsaw killer we’ve been exposed to in previous years. And why should it be? The real Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) was killed two movies ago, and while Saw IV managed to tell a pretty good story despite an absentee villain, Saw V doesn’t do quite as well.
Each chapter of the franchise has pulled back the curtain a little further, exposing more about the Jigsaw killer, even giving a pretty good backstory on Tobin Bell’s character with the last movie. With the initial killer pretty much fully explored at this point, however, it’s time for some new blood. The story inserts Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), the only surviving character from the previous chapters, into the role of yet another of Jigsaw’s aids. That’s right - the one remaining cop was playing for the other side all along. In order to prove this too us, the movie begins to show a revisionist history of the previous storylines that doesn’t gel very well and feels more like it’s cheating the stories of all of the movies instead of developing something new.
On top of that, the whole thing just isn’t presented very well. In the past I’ve only caught every other Saw movie, and still had no trouble following the overall story arc. Even though I’ve seen Saw IV, I had trouble figuring out just how Saw V tied into the franchise through a lot of the movie. Admittedly, it’s been a year since I’ve seen the previous chapter, but considering two years and a whole added chapter had occurred between Saw II and IV and I had no trouble following the story then, why does Saw V feel like a piece of a completely different jigsaw puzzle?
Even worse a problem is that not only does the story of Saw V not mesh well with the previous chapters, but it doesn’t even work well within itself. The movie returns to the proven formula of a group of people trapped inside a series of rooms, each with one of Jigsaw’s traps designed to play off their weaknesses. As the people proceed (and die) inside, outside of the chamber the police and FBI go through a vigorous hunt. Only this time, the two storylines are completely unrelated. Nobody is searching for the missing people, nor are they really tied to the other characters outside of the chamber. Hell, nobody even seems to know the five would-be victims are even missing. The ongoing investigation in the outside world is about Hoffman, not about any missing persons. The separate stories barely even intersect, and never manage to form a cohesive story for the movie as a whole.
Leaving Saw V, I couldn’t help but think that maybe the Saw franchise has run its course, and is now out of decent ideas of where to go with the story. Between the revisionist history, the disconnected storylines, and traps that really don’t feel up to the same disturbed creative level of the previous chapters, Saw V is a disappointing Halloween treat. Either that, or it’s that same adult reminder that the candy of years past was never as good as we thought it was when we first enjoyed it.