One of my signature reviews on Pajiba was a review I did for Captivity in July of last year, and it probably gave the impression that I loathe horror flicks. Not true. I loathe torture porn, specifically the kind of flick that exploits the prolonged brutality of women to achieve some sort of erotic satisfaction. Captivity was just worst of the sub-sub-genre, a disturbingly distasteful brand of movie godfathered by Eli Roth and his Hostel films. But if you look at the Pajiba archives, some may have difficulty squaring that Captivity review with my positive review of the original Saw film back in 2004. But the difference, in my mind, is clear: Saw was nihilistic and gory, but it was only titillating for the sickest kind of fucks of humanity. In my opinion, if a horror movie can’t terrify you (an extreme rarity these days), then the next best thing is nihilism and gore. Just don’t sexualize it, or drag out the torture unnecessarily, and your horror film will get a pass from me, at least on those aspects.
Having only seen the original Saw and now the fifth one, on those elements, the franchise gets a pass. Boobs are not sliced, women are not objectified, and the actual torture — though painful — is quick and brutal. You may hide your eyes or grit your teeth, but the Saw franchise is not one that will prompt Frat Boy America to roll their eyes in the back of their head as they get off on the idea of a woman being tortured into submission.
Indeed, the problem with Saw V is not the level of gore, or the sliced flesh, it’s in how stale and recycled it all is. When the first Saw debuted four years ago, it wasn’t exactly original, but it was the first mainstream horror film to take a lot of the snuff elements we saw in movies like Silence of the Lambs and Se7en and concentrate them. It was blood and cracked bones turbo-charged, set to an industrial score, and wrapped around the flimsiest of plots. But it pushed our tolerance for violence to such an extent that the only way to quench our need for shock was to amp it up and sexualize it, which is where Eli Roth, et. al came in. Saw, meanwhile, stuck with its gimmick — choose between one pound of flesh or 175 — and changed the forms of brutality, but didn’t really push the levels of pain much further. And the result, four years later, is that the Saw franchise is sort of the Disney of the genre. And I’m OK with that — a quick dismemberment or a hand smashed in a vice is about as much as I can stomach, anyway.
Here’s an incredibly strained metaphor for how I feel about Saw V. In 1987, I was 12 when Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet debuted. That album was an amalgamation of a lot of crappy music before it, concentrated into one helluva great, anthemic pop album that lacked anything remotely resembling creativity or originality. The unnecessary byproduct, unfortunately, was the explosion of hair metal bands, which — like torture porn between 2004 and 2007 — lit up the sky before quickly flaming out. And the only band that really survived was Bon Jovi. Oh, sure: They’re absolutely terrible now, recycling the same riffs with slightly different idiomatic refrains, but as far as bubblegum metal goes, they’re still listenable.
The same can be said for Saw V: It’s terrible, and at its core, it’s not much different than the original movie, but it’s watchable. It doesn’t elicit much shock, and the characters are no more likable or sympathetic than they ever have been, but it’s got a fun little hook, and the riffs will still make you flinch.
Moreover, having not seen Saw II through IV is not much of a hindrance to viewing Saw V. In fact, it may be a slight help, as it takes a few disorienting minutes to figure out the back story of the Jigsaw Murderer, which keeps you slightly focused. He’s still dead. And, again, everything flashes back to reveal that the Jigsaw Murderer implausibly had yet another accomplice. This time, the last film’s hero, Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandalor), had actually helped the Jigsaw Murderer orchestrate the events of the that film. And now — on advice of the Jigsaw Murderer on his death bed — has set a new chain of torturous events into motion, putting five more people through four wringers of death (winner take all) and set a trap for a tertiary character in the last film, FBI Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson, minus the “Gilmore Girls’” backwards cap) to unwittingly fall into.
The plot, as is routine, is atrociously ludicrous, stupid as brain-damaged kittens with socks over their head, and completely beside the point. The point: Who of the five will survive, and how will the others meet their demise? In fact, the Saw franchise, going ahead, may do just as well excising its feeble plot attempts and turn the whole thing into a blood-drenched faux-documentary set in motion by Jeff Probst. Absolutely no one gives a shit about anything but the form of death and whether or not it makes you squeamish. Saw V, for all its stupidity, for all its implausibility, staleness, lack of originality, and repetition — does the trick. It’s like a contemporary Bon Jovi song: Bland and mediocre, but catchy and occasionally fist-pumping. And in a world where Hershey’s has replaced its milk chocolate with vegetable oil, it’s about all you can expect for Halloween.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives withi his wife and son in Portland, Maine You can reach him via email, or leave a comment below.
Saw V / Dustin Rowles
Film | October 24, 2008 | Comments ()