Dir. David Hackl (2008)
With Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) revealed as the successor to Jigsaw, another agent is on his trail and seeks to stop the next grisly game before its conclusion.
Five films into the series, it's not hard to believe that the franchise would be winding down. This time, series writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton are tasked with paving the way for newcomer director David Hackl, who helms a film with a newly established villain with the potential to rewrite the rules of the game and refresh the series as a whole. While Saw V doesn't completely accomplish these goals, it winds up being a watchable film that fills a bunch of holes from the previous films while delivering one of the most clever traps of the series.
Detective Hoffman (Mandylor) has been firmly established as the new Jigsaw Killer after the shocker at the end of the previous film. On his trail is Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson), who is, himself, being framed by Hoffman for the series of grisly murders. As five new participants, each having something to do with a mysterious fire at a rundown apartment building, play Jigsaw's game, Hoffman and Strahm are at work in a behind-the-scenes cat-and-mouse game to carry on the legacy of John Kramer or eliminate it altogether.
The downside, once again, of jamming so many explanations of previous events into a film that is supposed to be new is that it is not, in fact, new. A lot of the plot is shoehorned clarifications of Saws II, III, and IV. While this certainly helps to add to the lore, it makes Saw V itself a bit less compelling from a story perspective. It really becomes more of an expository device, with the background game more to bridge the gap between digressions on Hoffman and Strahm. Unlike the other installments of the series, which had enough standalone value to be worth watching by themselves, V is the first film in the series in which watching the previous films is an absolute requirement.
Whether the film's "filler" status is a bad thing is dependent upon your view of the Saw series. If you're a big fan, there's nothing wrong with a movie that serves simply to fill in the gaps while still presenting a watchable movie. If you just randomly want to pick up a horror movie to watch, however, Saw V is not the one to choose. It does speak a little to the errors in the writing and filmmaking process that those watching Saw V and Saw V alone would be completely lost: you still have to have something for everyone, regardless of the franchise's track record. Sadly, that's not the case with this one, no matter how clever the central trap's premise may be.
At the end of the day, if you came for a Saw movie, you get one... to a point. The acting is decent, the blood is reliably entertaining, and while the overreliance on bombs within the central trap is a little disheartening in its lack of creativity, the overall concept is sound. The detective story within is decent and twisty, as can be expected from the series, but it's lacking in comparison to the previous films. For a series ranking, Saw V is clearly in last place at this point in the series, which could arguably speak to the solid filmmaking as a whole as well. Either way, it's a necessary film to take in all of the Saw lore, but it feels like a bit of a stopgap more than anything.
Who this movie is for: Saw enthusiasts, Trap fans, People looking for detective noirs with a little extra gore
Bottom line: Saw V does the job and nothing more. It helps to fill in some of the missing information from the previous films and is therefore a must watch for fans of the series, but it doesn't have a lot of standalone value. The trap at the center of the story is intriguing and the first-of-its-kind in the series, but a lot of the main gore is downplayed compared to previous installments. It's still got the Saw payoff, of course, and as such is definitely one you want to watch if you're a completionist who wants a story resolution.