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Saw V

Not many “horror” franchises have enjoyed the success that the Saw series of films has.  Oh, sure, there were the classic slasher films of the 70’s and 80’s, where one could count on almost yearly doses of gore and mayhem courtesy of such immortal movie killers like Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers or Leatherface.

But the truth is, despite recent attempts to resurrect some of those same classic titles (Hellraiser and Friday the 13th are both getting reboots in early 2009), if you get down to it, most of those films were indistinguishable from each other.  I mean, seriously, could you really describe how Part Three of the Nightmare On Elm Street saga was different from Part Four?

Now, I’m not saying that the Saw series is markedly better.  Years from now, it may be just as tough to remember what happened in which chapter.  However, I do give the folks at Lionsgate for trying, at least adding to the substance of the story with a new angle or perspective each time around.  It’s very intricate (sometimes overly so) the way the events of the past connect with the events of the present…provided that you can tell which is which, of course.  But if you can, and as long as people continue to flock to see them, there’s no reason this series can’t go on indefinitely.

Saw V begins as many of the previous installments has:  with some poor dirtbag being “tested”.  This man, a convicted murderer let out of prison early on a technicality, is given a choice:  destroy his hands or be cut in half by a quickly-lowering razor-sharp pendulum.  The significance of this one test is explained rather quickly, and that’s when we are reintroduced to the character of forensics expert Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor).

If you saw Saw IV last year, this character emerged as a kind of successor to Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), who is now dead.  Through numerous flashbacks, we learn that he has actually been involved since the very beginning, as we see behind-the-scenes looks at events of all of the previous chapters.  But they are interspersed with scenes from the present, as two other plotlines play out:  Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) remains doggedly convinced that Hoffman is up to his eyeballs in this messy business, while meanwhile, five more seemingly random people are given tests of their own to survive.

Bottom line: if you’ve liked this series so far, you will probably like this one as well.  There are no shockingly new or earth-shattering revelations in store, despite the movie’s tagline (which, by the way, is the detail that I take the most umbrage with):  “You won’t believe how it ends”.  Uh, yeah.  “Ends?”   Let you in on a little secret: I’d be very surprised if Saw VI didn’t grace theaters one year from now.

Some people like brainless horror, which is fine:  gore and screams aplenty have enraptured audiences for decades.  I, however, like there to be a modicum of intelligence behind any storyline, and on that count, neither Saw nor any of its sequels has ever disappointed.  Still, one wonders just how high the Roman numerals will go before the franchise runs out of juice.

3 ½ / 5 stars