Saw V is the first and last film in the franchise directed by David Hackl and continues right where Saw IV left off with Agent Peter Strahm locked in Jigsaw’s death room. Saw V focuses on a lot but predominantly on Detective Hoffman who is being hailed a hero after “surviving” the events of the last film and Special Agent Peter Strahm who has grown very suspicious of Hoffman and his involvement in the Jigsaw cases. Meanwhile a group of five victims have been placed in a new series of deadly traps, however here it seems that the traps take a definitive back seat in favour of advancing and explaining the plot. At this point all of the main players in the story have been established except for Special Agent Sony Erickson (Mark Rolston) who is introduced here. The individual stories and side plots are engaging and a lot of interesting events take place, but they are arranged, edited, and balanced very poorly.
I will start off with the directorial efforts of David Hackl and why it just didn’t work here. This was the directorial debut for David Hackl, the production designer of Saw II, III, and IV, so despite being familiar with the franchise his inexperience in directing feature films shows very clearly. The film follows a large number of core characters and core storylines (some of which are more featured than others) including seperate but connected plots following Hoffman, Strahm, the main trap, Jill Tuck, and a series of flashback sequences. All of this content is engaging in its own right but the arrangement of all these stories is very poorly executed. There is a lot of jumping around and it makes everything feel very busy as you have to keep track and remember all of these events happening concurrently and it gets a little overwhelming. I honestly wouldn’t blame you if you forgot Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell) is even in this film as her crucial and important scenes are thrown in here at random moments.
But despite these issues, the most prominent plot; the conflict between Hoffman and Strahm is very engaging and takes twists and turns here and there that will have you fighting with yourself as you don’t know which character you want to root for as both are set up so well. The main trap that pits 5 victims seemingly against each other is one of the better set ups mainly because it is a very intelligent trap as well as being a bloody one. Much like this entire film it says something about human nature, and understanding human nature which is actually an interesting idea in here that is severely overlooked by viewers. Once again flashbacks are a big part of the main plot and crucial in understanding events of the past also here they are implemented much better than they were in Saw IV and include some juicy information.
So in the end Saw V is the beginning of the ultimate downfall of the Saw franchise. It includes 5 very interesting storylines that intersect and crossover to some degree and are engaging and fun to follow. But the way they are arranged into one feature length film is executed poorly and it has to do with David Hackl’s inexperience in the realm of directing. The performances by the actors outside of the trap are strong and believable enough whereas the performances by those in the traps are quite silly and over-exaggerated…… but performances aren’t why you watch Saw. Saw V sets the franchise on its home stretch and whilst it still maintains the familiar formula from its predecessors it is clear the plot-lines are beginning to take over as it takes a lot of time to explain and justify the various twists.
Spoilers for Saw V and beyond to follow…
So just a few spoiler filled things I want to mention I will briefly discuss below. The trap situated right after the cold open is one of my favourite traps in the entire franchise, it’s a shame it was an inescapable trap but I still loved it nonetheless. It gave us the name Seth Baxter which for whatever reason is a name I cannot forget and it also introduces us to the infamous line “Right now you are feeling helpless” which if you have seen Saw VI you will know of its importance. Also the presence of the glow in the dark paint used on the tiles in Jigsaw’s death room is a neat callback to the use of the paint in the original film. Jill’s scenes were some of the more intriguing and mysterious scenes of the film, specifically the scene in which she receives a large box from John. It is clear she is up to something and knows more than she is letting on and that is the case as you find out in Saw VI but as of right now you don’t know her motivation.
The new game I really like due to the intelligent aspect behind its rules and its connection to Jigsaw’s core lesson that the entire film is referencing. When put in a room with 4 other people where it appears that one person has to die human nature takes over and it becomes a survival of the fittest when it doesn’t have to be. There is a line in the tape which introduces the victims to the traps which states “five will become one”, it suggests that only one will survive but it has a higher meaning essentially saying that they must put their five minds together to become one unit and they can all beat this. But as Jigsaw expertly anticipates the human mind he knows exactly what the outcome will be. This is the lesson that Jigsaw is trying to teach and seemingly successfully teaches Hoffman during all of the flashback scenes. He is trying to get Hoffman to realise that if you can anticipate the human mind you can predict the outcome of certain events and plan for that. And that is how Hoffman ultimately gets one up over Strahm, he knows Strahm will follow him, and he knows that Strahm won’t follow any orders given to him, so he could anticipate that when presented the opportunity to get in the glass coffin he wouldn’t comply and instead throw Hoffman in. Truly genius if you ask me.
There were a few more cool throwbacks here and there, such as seeing the glass coffin used in a trap, the same coffin seen in a Saw IV flashback. We also get a cool moment in which Hoffman lures Strahm into the trap house from Saw II, once again getting a quick walkthrough of a familiar bringing back the memories. Also it was really cool to find out when Hoffman met John and that throughout all of the previous Saw films Hoffman has been literally just off camera. He was actually Jigsaw’s first accomplice, not Amanda.