Saturday, October 25, 2008

Movies: Saw V

Halloween means different things to different people. To me, it means weeks of awesome scary movies on TV (I watched Final Destination 3 two and a half times last weekend on TNT, which is not at all sad, really) leading up to a kickass parade in Greenwich Village. For my friend Maria it means buying three bags of mini Snickers for trick or treaters and consuming two of them herself before the 31st. And for the folks at Lionsgate / Twisted Pictures, it means it’s time to unleash another chapter of that seemingly indefatigable torture porn franchise, Saw.

By the time most horror and slasher franchises hit movie number five, the back story is all but perfunctory, just an excuse for 80 minutes of hack and slash. After four outings with Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, does anyone really care about their childhood trauma anymore? Saw, on the other hand, gets more entrenched in its increasingly labyrinthine mythos with each installment. In fact, if you’re heading out to see Saw V this weekend, you might need to marathon the first four movies, or at least Saw III and Saw IV, if you want to have any hope of following what’s going on. And I hope you’re good with faces, because you’ll be expected to catch a brief glimpse of one and remember who it belongs to and how they fit into the Saw mythology.

Saw V makes use of the multiple storylines and non-linear narratives that have become the series’ trademarks. This time, however, the storylines echo what we’ve seen in the past. There’s one thread following Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson, reprising his role from Saw IV) as he hunts down Jigsaw’s successor. His stubborn and reckless pursuit ends about as well for him as did the stubborn and reckless cops from Saw II and Saw IV. Another thread uses flashbacks (the only way to keep Tobin Bell’s deceased-since-the-third-movie Jigsaw in the game) to show how Jigsaw mentored his new protégé, Saw IV's Detective Hoffman, in much the same way that Saw III showed how he mentored Amanda Young. I’m sure that by the time Saw VIII rolls around in 2011, another secret protégé will be revealed and we’ll have to revisit all the past movies via flashback to see how the new addition fits in. Saw IX in 2012 will be nothing but a string of clips cobbled together from past movies.

Finally, there’s the storyline of a group of connected strangers who have to make their way through a series of traps - that’s lifted straight from Saw II. This section actually works the best, is the most interesting and engaging, and unfortunately, it’s given far less screentime than the other two parts, much to the detriment of the film.

Scott Patterson does a great job as Agent Strahm, and it was nice to see genre fave Julie Benz pop up as one of the victims. In fact, the Saw movies are generally well-acted and this was no exception...mostly. Costas Mandylor as Detective Hoffman lacks the unhinged charisma of Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw and Shawnee Smith’s Amanda Young. He grits his teeth and stomps grimly around the movie like a less-coiffed Patrick Bateman. It’s sad to think that the genre rests on his bland shoulders. It was also a disappointment when some of the more interesting members of the group trap were among the first picked off, I think they could have been spared a little longer to liven things up.

Good news for the squeamish and bad news for torture porn aficionados, the deaths in Saw V are often quicker and less squicky than what’s typically seen in the genre. Most of the traps in the obstacle course are less elaborate, gruesome, and imaginative than audiences have come to expect from past Saw films, but then, they were created by a lesser serial killer so perhaps that’s to be expected. In fact, I have a low level of tolerance for really grisly deaths, and only the first and last ones in Saw V were bad enough to invoke my fingers-over-eyes defense.

Still, Saw V won’t disappoint fans of the franchise. While it’s not as good as the first and second installments, it does move along at a brisker pace than the third and fourth installments. And think, you only have to wait twelve more months for another chapter of this gory story. Here’s hoping the next outing is less weighed down by its own mythos and gets back to the imaginative traps of the earlier movies.


Sex Mahoney for President said...

Saw Schmaw. There's a new Friday the 13th installment coming out soon.

Sex Mahoney for President

smd said...

I know, I'm so excited! They actually had a teaser trailer for it attached to Saw V. It's interesting, but not surprising, that the F13 reboot looks like it's skipping Mrs. Voorhees entirely and going right to Jason as the killer right out of the gate.