When did movies about rehabilitation and redemption go from guardian angel Clarence taking us on a tour of a George Bailey-less world in "It's a Wonderful Life" to using force and violence to extract change in a person's behavior? "Phone Booth," for example, taught us that the penance for infidelity is to let a sniper take pot shots at you. The price for not truly appreciating the gift of life has spiked.
In "Saw V"- the latest installment in the now-tired horror franchise - Tobin Bell reprises his role (in flashbacks) as vigilante madman Jigsaw who, along with his apprentice Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), a cop, runs a seemingly random group of strangers through a maze of deadly "games."
But this scenario is almost a B-plot to the cat-and-mouse game between Hoffman and Straum (Scott Patterson), the FBI agent who goes rogue to track him down. The movie jarringly flashes between this chase and the triathlon from hell. We learn Hoffman was recruited by Jigsaw after he used the killer's M. O. to attempt a copycat murder of the lowlife who killed Hoffman's sister.
In the theater as I left "Saw V," I saw a poster for new release "Eagle Eye" with the tagline "If you want to live, you'll obey" and realized this coercion and manipulation is a theme among movies today.
Plopping a group of sinners in a room for some personal introspection is a common vehicle. Catholics do it - it's called Mass. Playwright Susan L. Zeder even did it in her book and play adaptation for kids called "In a Room Somewhere" - albeit with 100 percent less violence than "Saw."
But does redemption come faster from the barrel of a gun? Is it even redemption at that point? Claims that torture works to extract confessions are suspect. Shock therapy is less valuable than people reaching more fulfilling self-realizations on their own.
For these reasons, it is time for the "Saw" creators to close up shop. Jigsaw died two movies ago. It seems the only reason for more "Saw" movies is to one-up the previous one's gross-out factor by concocting more sinister deathtraps. Note to parents of sensitive under-17-yearolds: Don't let them near this one.
The movie is stylized to be sufficiently creepy - just in time for Halloween - but it falls where it tries to impart lessons about justice and righteousness.
George Bailey was put through the wringer on his path to salvation, too. He even shed blood ("My mouth's bleedin' Bert!") - though not to the extent that the unfortunate souls in "Saw" do. Redemption can't come any faster now as it did then but, in the horror movie genre anyway, it carries a hefty price tag.
2 stars (Out of four)
Thriller starring Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Meagan Good, left, Scott Patterson and Betsy Russell. 88 minutes.
Rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, language and brief nudity.
Opened Friday in area theaters.