The Saw franchise has become a weekend-before-Halloween tradition; ironically, though, it has ceased to be a horror series. Each new installment tells us more about John Kramer (Tobin Bell), the Jigsaw Killer (or “Jigsaw” for short), further diluting his mystique and piling on more justifications for what he and his accomplices do. If there’s a Saw VI, I fully expect it to delve into Jigsaw’s tragic childhood, perhaps tossing in a cute kitten or two. All that’s left is the moralistic Rube Goldberg diabolism that by now has become as dead as Jigsaw himself (he expired at the end of Saw III).
Unless this is your first Saw movie (and God help you if it is — completely inaccessible to the new viewer, these sequels fit inside each other like gory matryoshka dolls), the following is not a spoiler: The new Jigsaw, anointed while the original Jigsaw was alive and now continuing his work, is detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Why did this cop decide to throw in with Jigsaw? Saw V provides the answer, though not much else. Meanwhile, another cop, Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson), suspects Hoffman of his crimes, though anyone with the IQ of potato sticks could figure that out based on the available evidence.
Fully half the short movie is occupied with one cop stalking the other; it’s a damn internal-affairs drama, for Christ’s sake. The other half involves five people trapped in yet another Jigsaw game, seemingly unconnected to the cop-vs.-cop plot thread at all. All five have abused their city connections in order to do Bad Stuff. They’re told to work together to escape alive, but they don’t heed that advice, and in any case there’s no thematic reason for their fates or their decisions — there’s no method to this madness, and hardly any madness, either. The trap scenes are there to provide gore and shocks, but they feel tacked on.
Are we supposed to wait for this series to be finished so that we can witness the full ingenious splendor of its convoluted game-playing? The sequels have increasingly taken to raising large questions that go arrogantly unanswered, expecting us, of course, to attend the next session, which will answer the previous film’s questions but then dangle others, and on and on into infinity, or until the movies stop making money. Here, for instance, Jigsaw’s ex-wife (Betsy Russell) receives a mysterious box bequeathed to her by Jigsaw; she opens it and sees what’s inside, but we don’t. What’s in the box? Come back next Halloween for Saw VI and find out. Great, but will there be something remotely scary in that one? Some characterization — perhaps even some humor? At this stage in the game, that would be the only shocking thing the franchise could offer.