New gimmick, same old claptrap with a bonkers ending.
After six years, seven films and countless loony plot twists, the Saw series has finally come to what appears to be its end. Following the disappointing box office performance of Saw VI last year (which, despite being surprisingly good, was trounced by the far superior Paranormal Activity), the projected plots of two subsequent sequels have been truncated into one awkward, messy, barmy, series-capping finale, in Saw 3D.
Saw VI rather successfully set the scene for the final battle over Jigsaw’s (Tobin Bell) legacy between his wife, Jill (Betsy Russell) and the new Jigsaw, Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Saw 3D has a desperate Jill turning to the police to capture Hoffman, while Hoffman offers the cops a tempting deal; if they hand Jill over to him, he guarantees that Jigsaw’s murderous rampage will stop. Meanwhile, self-help guru Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery), who has made a career out of exploiting his surviving one of Jigsaw’s traps, is the focus of Jigsaw’s latest game; he has an hour to make his way through several traps to get to his wife, though as ever, things are not what they seem.
Despite the law of diminishing returns finally hitting the series hard, there has been a massive air of doubt about whether Saw 3D is really the “final act”. Though one wouldn’t put it past the unscrupulous writers to flog a dead, mutilated horse beyond flagellation (as if that hasn’t happened already), there is a certain finality to the film’s events (namely the batshit crazy ending), suggesting that yes, finally, the Saw saga has come to an end. Unsurprisingly, though, the addition of some pretty uninspired 3D fails to bring flavour to this bookending instalment, and save for the nutty climax, this is the most generic and stilted entry in the series behind the dire fifth film.
The sense of self-deprecatory, self-aware humour present in the sixth film implied a knowing new direction for the series to see its way out, yet it is strictly self-serious business as usual here, relying on a procedural “previously on Saw” flashback format, complete with a lazy investigative plot, and most depressingly, overly familiar traps that only occasionally satisfy. The opening trap – in which two young men trapped in a love triangle must choose whether to fight over a duplicitous floozie or walk away and let her die – is silly enough in its tacit sense of “morality” that it suggests a continuation of the sixth film’s kitschy tone, but the blood-letting becomes increasingly generic in form, eventually devolving into abandoning invention entirely and resorting to tiresome slasher tactics.
Unfortunately, series writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan seem oddly content with not wringing more out of the series’ mythology in this final entry. Several agonising questions – such as the whereabouts and state of Dr. Gordon (the finally returning Cary Elwes), and quite what was in that mysterious package that Jill delivered – are thankfully answered, though the revelatory moments are generally relegated to brief scenes peppered throughout. Without saying too much (it would be a crime to spoil anything after fans have fronted so much time and money getting to number seven), for all of the film’s 89 minutes, there are ten excellent ones, and the rest is pure rehash fodder.
The epic, game-changing twist of an ending which brings the series effectively full circle, is so ridiculously, even laughably over-the-top and off-the-rails that it feels more akin to the quirky, self-aware tone set by the last film. It does not seem to make entire sense upon first viewing, but it is nothing if not a crowd-pleaser, and limits the possibilities considerably for any sort of sequel (maybe a spin-off, though).
Saw 3D is not a good film. In fact, it is pretty bad; most of the traps are generic and recycled, there’s not a whole lot of gore (nothing on the level of last year’s sausage-link intestines and severed limbs), the acting is spotty (Chad Donella is especially atrocious as Detective Gibson), the script feels like it was written over a weekend, and the 3D works well neither to accentuate depth nor spray the screen with guts.
Saw 3D does, however, unleash an insane corker of an ending which, while sure to baffle as many as it excites, delivers pretty much the exact sort of closure that the net nerds have been calling for since the first film became a smash hit. It is strictly for fans only, but perspective is important; by their seventh entries, the A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Halloween series had plumbed depths far deeper than this.
Saw 3D is in cinema’s now.