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Saw V

For A Few Dollars More

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars.

Jigsaw has seen better days. That’s saying a lot, considering he was last spotted in Saw IV on a mortuary slab, his rotting flesh a sickly shade of gray as a medical examiner nonchalantly sliced open his stomach. First-time director David Hackl has exhumed the macabre prankster’s corpse for Saw V, and rarely has the law of diminishing returns seemed more in evidence.

While the first three installments of the franchise frequently strained the limits of the imagination, they were informed by a twisted but durable logic, and they delivered on their promise of hair-raising chills. This time, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), presumed dead after suffering a power saw to the throat in Saw III, returns in an exhaustive series of flashbacks designed to clarify the logistics of his latest killing spree. Never before has a movie worked so hard to justify its own existence.

The appeal of those earlier Saw movies can largely be attributed to the ingenuity with which Jigsaw disposed of his victims, for whom the choice between life and death hinged on their tolerance for unspeakable pain and mind-bending puzzles. Here, Jigsaw’s traps are treated as an afterthought, and the five moral reprobates ensnared in them seem like concessions to an increasingly tired formula.

Judging from the nearly sold-out theater at a recent midnight screening of Saw V, there are still plenty of devotees who appreciate that formula, even as the once-proud franchise delves deeper into mediocrity. And according to Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed three previous sequels before wisely jumping ship, there may be no end in sight.

“There could be 19 Saw movies, and there probably will be,” he told me after Saw III. “The only way for this franchise to survive is to retain a certain integrity, to stay smart and on top of the horror genre. As long as I’m around, I plan to make sure that happens. So if I ever read a script and say, ‘This is awful, this could never happen,’ the producers will listen to me.”

Apparently, he never read Saw V.