Give the Saw franchise credit for sticking to its original vision, as repugnant and hypocritical as it is. Collectively, Saw's torture-porn series has grossed more than $500 million worldwide, yet its sequels still look like they cost the catering budget of a studio horror film. David Hackl, the production designer for Saw II, III, and IV, graduates from hurling buckets of slime all over the film's grimy torture-dungeon sets to directing, but at this point, the series pretty much writes and directs itself. The driving force is inertia and commercial calculation, not inspiration.
Scott Patterson stars as a hard-charging FBI agent who survives one of the nefarious traps set by the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell), then begins to investigate shadowy cop Costas Mandylor, a survivor of the bloodshed that ended Saw IV. For the audience's benefit, Patterson considerately announces the implications of every new clue he picks up, even when he's alone; apparently, he's unfamiliar with the concept of interior monologue. Patterson's investigation leads to plenty of flashbacks involving Bell, who, as in Saw IV, logs plenty of screen time even though he died two installments ago. Meanwhile, five hapless souls battle to survive another of Bell's sadistic games of death.
Saw V devotes so much time and energy to flashbacks and recycling footage from its predecessors that it threatens to implode. The film unwisely skimps on the gore in favor of endless scenes of Bell espousing his, um, unique philosophy of self improvement through surviving horrible ordeals—he's like the world's grisliest life coach—and the mystery plot grows less interesting with each passing frame. The death-trap scenes, always the franchise's money shots, feel like half-baked afterthoughts, and the plotting and deaths lack the scuzzy ingenuity of the film's predecessors. Saw V jumps back and forth in time in ways that are confusing to downright incoherent, but chronology isn't the only thing that's hopelessly muddled in this punishingly arbitrary retread.