The Great SAW Dialogue: SAW V

Britt and Brian take apart the franchise film by film.

Read them all here.

SAW V (2008)
Domestic Gross: 56m (series rank: #4)
R.I.P.: Seth (Pendulum Trap), Ashley (Decapitation Trap), Charles (exploded), Luba (Bathtub Trap), Strahm (Coffin Trap)
Answered Questions: When did Hoffman start helping Jigsaw? (as far back as the first film's events) What happened to Jeff's daughter? (Hoffman saves her)
One And Done: Julie Benz SHOULD have been in Saw 3D with the rest of the survivors, but she is MIA, making this her only Saw appearance. The three people who died during their game together, including Meagan Good, never show up again in any other context either.

Brian: Well, we knew it'd come to this - the "worst" Saw movie. But will it remain that way? My opinion of Saw 3D deflated a lot from my first to the second viewing, and I suspect my upcoming third might follow suit and end up taking the bottom slot. And hell, right now I'd even say this one ties with IV anyway. I think it benefits from a marathon viewing, as opposed to being a Saw movie we "waited" a year to see and had to fill our needs for the next year until the next one came along. Its crimes aren't that it's bad, just that it lacks punch, and divides its time between setting things up for the next movie while filling in some backstory. It's the Song of Susannah of the Saw series.

The main objective for Saw V is to explain how Hoffman came to be Jigsaw's ally and successor, since Amanda didn't work out. It might be the most flashback heavy of the series, and gives Tobin Bell a ton of screentime (not bad for a dead guy) as we see him throughout various stages of his later life - perfectly healthy, getting sick, on his deathbed, etc. Scenes that explain moments from all previous entries are just as common as present day scenes of people in traps, and while some of them are pointless (who cares about how the fat guy got into the razor wire trap in the first movie?), some are pretty interesting to see, like how Hoffman was actually in the room with John while Lynn and Amanda duked it out next door. I don't know how well any of it holds up to scrutiny with regards to the timeline (I'm sure Matt Thompson will let us know in the comments!), but it "works" in a general sense.

It also offers some sympathy for Hoffman, something new to the series as he's just been kind of thuggish so far. Here we learn that he had a sister, his only family, who was killed by a guy named Seth Baxter. Baxter got out of jail after 5 years because of a technicality, so to get revenge, Hoffman designed a Jigsaw-like trap, though like Amanda he made it impossible to escape - the guy did what the trap demanded (crushing his hands to stop a pendulum blade from slicing him in half) but he died anyway. This insults Jigsaw, who offers Hoffman a choice - be his apprentice, or go to jail for what he did (as Jigsaw has proof that Hoffman built the trap and killed the guy). Obviously he chose the former option, and so we see him setting up traps and doing all of the work for the current game, where five people must navigate a series of trapped rooms and figure out how they are related.

This is the biggest issue I've always had with the movie - this game simply isn't interesting. Maybe if the people were connected to anything we'd seen before it'd be a little more compelling, but even though most of them are played by recognizable faces (Meagan Good, Julie Benz, etc) I just cannot for the life of me find any reason to care about them or how it turns out. The reveal of how they were all connected (a shady real estate deal) doesn't mean anything to us, and the main plot of Hoffman vs Strahm doesn't really have a big twist to it either. After four movies we have been conditioned to expect a big reveal that makes us want to rewatch the movie under a different context, but that never happens here - something that's even more annoying when you consider the tagline for this entry: "You won't believe how it ends". Technically true, because when "Hello Zepp" started up I was like "Wait, what? This is the end? With no twist?"

However, to be fair, I did realize something on this viewing - they use the "Hello Zepp" montage not to show us what we missed along the way and how it all makes sense, but to show how Strahm's actions (some manipulated by Hoffman) will make it easy for Erickson and other law personnel to believe Strahm was Jigsaw's accomplice, shifting any potential suspicion away from Hoffman. So instead of a "this is how it worked" montage, it's a "this is how it WILL work" one, with Erickson (the sole remaining good guy at this point) having not even an inkling that Hoffman might be the guy he's after - everything points to Strahm, with his own behavior working against him. Pretty clever, but still - lacks that je ne sais quoi we've come to expect.

OK Britt, spill - did this one work for you at all, after disliking Saw IV so much?

Britt: I don't understand your Song of Susannah reference because I'm still on Wolves of the Calla! But I agree, way too much of Saw V feels like it's spinning its wheels, while at the same time providing even more exposition about a man who died two (!!!) movies ago. Jigsaw was never an actual boogeyman to begin with, but the more his motives and backstory are explained, the less scary he is as an antagonist, particularly one who doesn't exist anymore. This is a weird analogy to make, but maybe the Saw films should have taken a cue from Batman or other superheroes, but inverted and repurposed that approach: Jigsaw and his legacy should exist as a symbol, and the more you humanize and explain his existence and motives, and the more you remove the mystery, the less of a threat he becomes. The same with superheroes: once they've been unmasked and the general public sees them for the puny humans they really are, we no longer find them to be so super.

While the public at large has a morbid fascination with serial killers and a craving to know about every detail and inner working of their mundane lives, the same doesn't translate to films like the Saw franchise. Finding out he had cancer and tried to kill himself was enough. These relentless flashbacks are getting tiresome and John has become a hindrance to the series.

Saw V, aka Hoffman: Origins spends so much time giving us more John/Jigsaw and setting up how Hoffman will carry on the legacy, while also over-exerting itself to cleverly insert Hoffman into the previous narratives, that it treats the current trap and its test subjects as an afterthought. You're right -- they aren't interesting, and the reason for why they're being tested is equally boring. Rigg's test in IV was total nonsense, but the test in V just feels like an utter lack of creativity. At least this film does deliver some bigger name actors, but it gives them so little to work with. And I can't tell what's more hideous and distracting: Julie Benz's wig, or the music choices.

The plotting and pacing of this one is a little confusing, and not because I am an idiot who does not know how to watch a movie, but because the editing and sequencing aren't very smooth. Sometime around the fourth film, it seems as if they thought that audiences trying to decipher the timeline was a part of the gimmick, but that just doesn't feel fun. It's a needless distraction. The "reveal" that all of this was just a way to frame Strahm so Hoffman could carry on the legacy punctuates the film with a middle finger -- not from Hoffman to Strahm, but from the filmmakers to the audience, who have just wasted 90-something minutes on a new Saw film that did nothing but offer an exhaustive set-up to a film they'll just have to wait another year to see. I'm still not sure which one I dislike more: this one or the fourth one. Neither are good movies.

Brian: Yeah the pendulum trap is one of the very first things that has happened in this timeline so far, so it's an odd thing to start the movie off with when we don't know that it's a VERY old flashback until a while later in the film. It's this sort of thing that keeps our should-be protagonists (Benz and the others) from appearing in the movie until the 22 minute mark. And they only cut back to them when they're in a new trap, which is to say that they only have four scenes in the movie. And since they're not connected to anything, you could just remove these scenes entirely and it wouldn't matter in the slightest. No one's looking for them, Strahm is doing his own thing, and Erickson has no idea who Benz's character is when he encounters her at the very end. So who cares? No one in the movie does, that's for sure.

Another major problem is that we spend too much of the movie being ahead of its characters. Maybe we won't see the "They should have worked together!" thing coming (though even on my first viewing I wondered why someone couldn't get at least one other key when they went forward and smashed open a box - if they believed one person had to die, wouldn't someone have noticed that Jigsaw could have easily been beaten at this particular challenge?), but Strahm spends a lot of the movie just trying to figure out that Hoffman is a bad guy, which we know. It just gets worse on a second view - you can easily see that Erickson is being introduced to have a law presence in Saw VI since Strahm will be dead.

But there are just enough things in the movie I really like that make me want to defend it a bit. I LOVE Strahm beating his trap via self-tracheotomy - that is some badass shit. And clumsy as it may be, Marcus and Patrick's script and David Hackl's direction does try to be more in line with the original film, with the heavy use of flashbacks, slower pacing, and police procedural elements (in the original it was interrogations and inspecting evidence, here we have lots of files being pored over and crime scene walkthroughs). It's even got a lower body count than the original film, something I never realized until now. After the opener, the traps aren't particularly gory until the end - one person is electrocuted, another is blown up off-screen (though we do see his remains), and the beheading is practically played for laughs. Ironically, the goriest one in the game is the one where the two participants survive - the hand trap at the end. It's like someone rewatched the original film and told the others "Hey, these movies used to not be so gory!" And it's a small touch but we even see Hoffman with a cup of coffee - it's rare to see anyone in this series engaging in a universally human activity like eating or drinking. Unsuccessful as it may be, I have to give them respect for trying to re-humanize the series.

Was there anything you liked?

Britt: What's nuts is that the instructions the players are given all but explicitly tell them to work together. I've only seen this sequel once, but I picked up on it right away, and they don't spend much time trying to puzzle it out. The film is far too concerned with getting back to Hoffman and the flashbacks, and not enough time trying to make us care about these characters or tie them into the rest of the film in any meaningful way. The first film had the suspense, the second film gave us Amanda and at least had Matthews connected to the people in the house and caring what happened to his son, and the third film had the great premise with the grieving father. Since then, there's been no real emotional weight to these films. It died with Jigsaw.

Now that you mention it, this film is definitely less gory than previous outings, but I'm not sure that the less is more approach in terms of gore makes up for the more is more approach in terms of flashbacks and table-setting. The tracheotomy is something I did like, as are most of the traps. If there's one thing these films are good at, it's the traps, which are usually very inventive. If only the characters put in them this time around had been given the benefit of being more connected to the rest of the narrative! It's not the Meagan Good or Julie Benz are bad actresses, it's just that they weren't given characters worth a damn. Hell, I kind of like fake Stanley Tucci journalist guy chewing up all the scenery. I just wanted them to have a more compelling reason for being placed in the game. If they had been given more screen time, a more substantial backstory, and if they had been made the A-plot rather than the C-plot of the film, they could have been great. But that's "could have."

Strahm was a character with promise, and I know he had to be disposed of, but to make an entire film about the way that's done feels like a giant waste of time, and something that could have been taken care of in a fraction of that 90 minutes. There I go with "could have" again! I'm relentlessly punishing this film, and I want to find things I like about it, but all I can find to enjoy are the traps. I do sort of like Jill, who isn't all that she seems, and from what I recall, she gets to have a nutso cool moment in the next film, right? I still miss Amanda, and I feel like Jill could fill that void a little.

Brian: I forget if Jill's glory moment is in the next one or Saw 3D. It's been a while. I forgot that Erickson survived this one, actually. I guess if there's one series that lends itself to forgetting where this or that part happened, it's Saw... I also forgot that an important character in the next film is introduced here, but so vaguely that it seems like it's just an extra that the director (or editor) wanted to showcase and they ended up giving her a real role the next time to appear less skeevy. She's the blonde woman at the press conference who gets knowing closeups and I think one line, but isn't even identified I don't think.

Carlo Rota is definitely the best part of the game, so of course they kill him 2nd. The junkie guy is TERRIBLE but he not only survives but cements this stupid plot's existence by appearing in Saw 3D. Why couldn't they have switched actors, if they absolutely had to keep a junkie alive instead of a reporter? He was also Chloe's husband on 24 and was a bright spot of whatever bad season that was (the one where somehow DB Woodside's character was President), so he's got a knack for this sort of thing.

Sigh, I have nothing more to say about this one. It's well meaning, and has its moments, but it just never comes alive, like the traps in Saw 3D. It's not offensive or even poorly made enough to be BAD, it's just the one and only completely boring Saw movie. Shall we just move on to the superior Saw VI?

Britt: I wondered why they kept doing closeups of the reporter woman if they never reintroduced her. It seemed so obvious that they were focusing on her for some reason, like she was a Batman character in a Schumacher film. I keep mentioning Batman. I have no idea why. I also had no idea that the junkie guy returned in the last film, probably because I have only watched these last few films once, so I don't remember much about them at all. Jill does something nutty! Linkin Park! Healthcare merry-go-round! Something with a car in VII! Also, Strahm does a really terrible Burt Macklin impression. That was another thing I hated -- the way he just wandered around, grumbling these totally obvious observations like, "You set it up, you sonofabitch." So yes, I think we should just move on. My current ranking: I > III > II > Julie Benz's wig > IV - V (tie)

Next up: Saw VI lifts our spirits! For you guys: did you care at all about Hoffman's backstory? If so, does that make this one better for you than maybe some of the other entries?