Written by: Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan
Directed by: Kevin Greutert
Starring: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, and Betsy Russell
Reviewed by: Brett G.
When I emerged from the theater after seeing Saw in 2004, I was properly dazed, having been bludgeoned by ninety minutes of violence and wild plot twists. The last thing I ever expected was that I'd be sitting here six years later discussing the seventh, and supposedly, final entry in the series. Like so many horror franchises before it, Saw has managed to continue on, however improbably; indeed, not even the death of Jigsaw himself (4 movies ago!) has been able to slow it down. Even a diabolical puppet master able to pull strings from beyond the grave must meet his end, though, and Jigsaw's legacy aims to go out with a three-dimensional bang in the aptly titled Saw 3D. Reaching the end of a horror series is always a landmark event and brings a certain sense of anxiety because so many have gone out with more of a whimper instead. Has Jigsaw saved his best crazy-quilt of mutilation and moralistic comeuppance for last?
Picking up where the previous film left off, a scarred Hoffman is in hot pursuit of Jigsaw’s wife, Jill Tuck, and he’s not in a particularly good mood. The cat and mouse game that erupts between the two soon brings in police involvement; meanwhile, a new game has begun involving Jigsaw survivor Bobby Dagen, who has written a testimony about his previous ordeal. Now, Dagen will have to see if he truly has what it takes to survive when he is forced to save those in his inner circle that have protected his secrets.
In terms of sheer scope, Saw 3D is the biggest film in the franchise yet. Between the various plot threads and the assortment of trap sequences, a lot is packed into its 90 minute runtime. If you’ve been with the franchise this long, you know to expect plenty of twists and turns wrapped around visceral scenes of violence and gore. This entry doesn’t disappoint too much in either respect. Over the last few entries, it’d be more apt to refer to the series as a violent, bloody soap opera. Saw 3D is no different, as past and present continue to intertwine as the film’s complex (read: convoluted) story unfolds. While I can’t say it’s the best game that Jigsaw has concocted, it could very well be one of the most entertaining.
Even though the series carries the “torture porn” label, the elaborate plot really is the film’s calling card. The initiated know that previous films have left plenty of threads for this one to pick up and tie together, and it does so efficiently enough, though it certainly is a rush job. It gets off to a shaky start, as we’re bounced around from one place to another without any frame of reference, but once the story begins to settle in, it becomes compelling enough. The bad blood between Hoffman and Jill is easy enough to buy, considering how it’s been previously set up. The game involving Dagen feels familiar, as we’ve seen plenty of games now where someone is forced to navigate a labyrinth of terror in order to save others. Dagen’s story is developed just enough to be relevant, but the two main threads (and this is not to mention the police’s pursuit of Hoffman) don’t quite connect as well as one would like, making for a bit of a disjointed experience.
Of course, that meandering, disjointed experience is a bit of a series hallmark at this point. Luckily, however, this one is fun and suspenseful enough to keep you on the edge of your seat (when you’re not squirming in it). The returning Greutert (who found himself on this project after a series of behind-the-scenes twists and turns that rival the ones on screen) brings his trademark kinetic direction and rapid-fire editing to keep things moving at a breakneck pace. Lest you think the film is ready to calm down at any point, there’s an elaborate gore or chase sequence waiting around the corner to keep your attention. The movie is perhaps best compared to a giallo in the sense that you’ll really have to suspend your disbelief and take the twists and turns as they come; if you get caught questioning the logic, you might get left behind in the flurry of blood and guts.
Speaking of which, no Saw film is complete without all the requisite death and destruction. Saw 3D has this in spades, as it features the most trap sequences to date. Victims are dismembered, disemboweled, burned to death, ripped to shreds; if you can name it, Dunstan and Melton’s demented script probably brings it to life. We also see the return of a signature trap that gets put to use in a memorable and shocking sequence. There’s a lot of gore, and admittedly some of it isn’t at all necessary to the plot (the opening public trap sequence, while clever in its send-up of voyeurism in society, is irrelevant to the overall proceedings). While the film doesn’t quite fully venture into pure body-count territory, it does exhibit some characteristics of it, particularly when all the grue is splattered all over the fourth wall via the film’s spectacular 3D effects (which also provide an excellent sense of depth when they’re not flinging blood and guts at you). When it comes to pure violence, few films take more delight in hacking up a cast more than this one.
That probably sets off some red alarms for fans of the series, and admittedly, this one does feel more shallow than previous installments. Characters are jammed in here and there, many of whom show little depth; Sean Patrick Flannery is charismatic enough as the insecure, yet silver-tongued Dagen, but I’m not sure we care enough if his associates live or die. The familiar faces are also solid enough, though you might be shocked at how little screen time Bell, Russell, and Mandylor have here (the lack of Jigsaw himself especially hurts). This film also sees the re-emergence of the infamous, now one-footed Dr. Gordon (from the original film), as Cary Ewles returns to ham it up and chew all the scenery (though he’s hardly the only one). No one is going to mistake the film as a character drama, and there is a half-hearted attempt at an underlying moral theme (in short: dishonesty will earn you a one way ticket to a Jigsaw game), but this one is mostly about providing a thrill ride from start to finish.
Taken as just that, Saw 3D succeeds. Saw fans everywhere should be satisfied by the conclusion, as the final five minutes put a nice, hastily-tied bow on several unanswered questions and quite literally brings the series full circle. When the now famous “Hello Zepp” cue begins for the last time, you might well experience the same chills you experienced during Saw’s jaw-dropping climax. If this truly is “game over” for the series (and horror history tells us it likely isn’t), it’s hard to imagine a better way to leave things. Personally, it’s been a lot of fun growing up with the series; I was a 20 year old college sophomore back in 2004, and I’m nearly 27 and knee deep into the real world. My childhood featured the likes of Freddy, Jason, and Michael, all of whom were in decline during my formative years. I’ll likely look back on my 20s as a similarly memorable time, as John Kramer and company provided one hell of a fun puzzle that unfolded before my eyes on a yearly basis. And, while it’s certainly flawed, Saw 3D is a more than adequate final piece. Buy it!
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