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I like to think of the Saw franchise as the ultimate product of the mortgage bubble. The first Saw installment was released in 2004, at the height of the housing bubble; it was a dark dose of medieval grand guignol in the middle of sunny times. People were buying their homes with all the thought and care they put into buying a new pair of shoes, taking on mortgages that, deep down, they knew they couldn't afford. Between 1997 and 2006, home prices increased by 124% and you were a fool not to drink the Kool Aid. In the same way, it was fun to take a sip of the dark stuff every year from the Saw franchise, like a little shot of torture porn that vaccinated you and let you have a few safe shivers. Now that the subprime mortgage mess has exploded and it's been revealed what we thought were the good times were actually the bad, the Saw franchise seems equally threadbare and sour. Let's hope that with the crash of the economy, the franchise will pack up its deathtraps and turn out the lights -- because I can't imagine it continuing.
Saw V picks up immediately after the end of Saw IV, and you need to have re-watched the previous installments to have any clue as to what's happening on screen: Two cops chasing each other in and around a bunch of flashbacks. These flashbacks take up almost a third of the movie, so that this installment feels like a cow chewing its cud, coughing up the same scenes again and again, only to swallow them and then regurgitate them in an endless loop. FBI Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) escapes from a death trap early on and must walk down many dark hallways holding his gun and his flashlight while trying to clear his name. FBI Agent Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) also walks down dark hallways holding his gun and flashlight trying to frame him. Meanwhile, their boss (Mark Rolston) is also walking down dark hallways trying to figure out what's going on.
There are some death traps at the beginning of the movie that show a bit of sadistic invention, and one at the end that's pretty disgusting. In between lies a bromance between Hoffman and Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) that all takes place in flashback as Bell grooms Hoffman to be his successor. Bell owns the film, turning in a nice low-key performance, but that's about all it has to recommend it. The two men spend the movie tying each other up, working on home improvement projects together and hiding in closets watching fat, naked men die -- it's like date night for the serial killer set. As in most of the previous Saw movies, there are also people being herded through a maze of death traps while Jigsaw hectors them about their character flaws. But their acting is as bad as the yawn-inducing fates that await them, and ultimately, it's very, very hard to care.
To its credit, this is the fifth Saw movie. Friday the 13th Part 5: the New Beginning turned its lead character into little more than a red herring, Nightmare on Elm Street 5: the Dream Child saw Freddy Krueger turned into a baby and Halloween 5: the Revenge of Michael Myers was the least successful of the Halloween movies. So you have to give some credit to Saw for sticking to its guns for so long without getting Jigsaw pregnant, having him develop telekinesis, or introducing druids. But that's about all it's got going for it, and on an ominous note, a subplot involving Jigsaw's wife is left hanging, hinting there's going to be a Saw VI unless, of course, the current economic mess completely destroys Hollywood. I don't know about you, but I'll be watching the markets and praying for them to continue falling. That's going to hurt a lot of people, but the idea of yet another flashback-padded installment in this tired series seems so much worse.
Grady Hendrix is one of the founders and programmers of the New York Asian Film Festival. He writes about Asian film for Variety at Kaiju Shakedown and should have found something better to do with his life by now.