[Review] Saw 3D (Saw 7, Saw VII)

While we can’t be for sure until the box office receipts are counted and some time has gone by, Saw 3D is supposedly the final chapter in the series, which is the first franchise to ever deliver a record 7 movies in 7 years (not counting pornos, I guess). But more importantly, it never really drastically altered its MO the way other series did. No supernatural nonsense, no “new directions”, no “well let’s ignore the last couple movies” like other franchises – while they may not agree with some of the storytelling choices, I think James Wan and/or Leigh Whannell can turn on any of the recent Saw sequels (they haven’t been involved since Saw III) and recognize it as part of their series.

Of course, on the other hand, that means that this, the 7th and “final” film, is pretty much a fans-only affair. I think Saw VI works as a stand-alone film beyond some minor references and revelations that won’t mean anything to a newcomer (i.e. that Amanda was responsible for Cecil’s drug-fueled outburst that killed John and Jill’s unborn son), but even though 3D follows a similar structure as its immediate predecessor, and much effort has been made to keep it newcomer-friendly, the new story isn’t really all that compelling, and everything else is largely concerned with wrapping up the power struggle between Hoffman and Jill.

(NOTE – SPOILERS AHEAD!!!)

And even their battle isn’t really all that jaw-dropping; it’s not until the final reel that it kicks into high gear, with Hoffman going on a crazy killing spree trying to reach Jill (think The Terminator). For the bulk of the film, Jill is just sitting in a police cell (under protection) while Hoffman leaves cryptic clues for Gibson, an IA officer that he has an old grudge with. Since it’s the final film, I would have liked to have spent more time with old “friends” instead of new folks. Hell, even Tobin barely appears this time around, it’s the least amount of screen-time he’s has since Saw 1 (unless you count his motionless body on the floor in 1 as “screen-time”, then it’s the least ever).

The “traps/game” story largely concerns Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery), a survivor of Jigsaw who is being truly tested after being kidnapped after a promotional appearance for his book, which details how he survived and how it changed his life. Like Jeff from III or William from VI, his game often requires him to hurt himself to prevent the trapped person from dying, a method that usually fails. But the similarities to those superior films renders a lot of this stuff sort of dull, because his test is more about Jigsaw getting back at him rather than something that might improve his life, and thus less dramatically satisfying. Jeff and William were flawed individuals – Bobby’s just a spineless jerk.

Luckily, the traps are crazy awesome in this one, and Kevin Greutert and co apparently have been watching some Fulci films for inspiration. The auto shop trap seen in the trailers (featuring Chester from Linkin Park and “Scream Queens” winner Gabby West) offers some of the most gonzo awesome kills in the series’ history, and the “be quiet” trap is impressively unique but also something that Argento might applaud (and curse himself for not doing it first). It also offers some of the more cringe-worthy self-mutilation “requirements”; even I had to look away at one point, as a character does something that finally justifies the suggestions of the Saw III poster.

It also brings some humor to the series, which has been largely absent for a while now. Gibson in particular is a delight, and Tobin’s first scene has a wonderfully dry opening when he has to spell his name (he’s at one of Dagen’s book signings – it’s a flashback, obviously). And due to the 3D aspect, the kills themselves are much less icky (save for the self mutilations) and more into over-the-top territory, which means you can laugh and cheer instead of going “ewwww…”

Ah yes, the 3D. I’m sort of on the fence. It’s technically great – this movie opens things up a bit (an outside trap, several exterior shots) and even the traps themselves are larger, so if any of the movies HAD to be in 3D, it would be this one. And it was SHOT in 3D (not a convert) so it automatically looks better than most of what we’re seeing. But I’m not sure it’s the right fit for this particular franchise – it felt sort of weird to have characters throwing things at you, as if they were sort of having fun too. Not that I always want a grim-fest, but it feels a bit campy at times. You may disagree, but I’ve always felt the series is much more intelligent than its given credit for, however this stuff gives it a slightly goofy tone, like a Final Destination movie more than Saw one.

However, one thing is certain – Marcus, Patrick, and the rest of the gang have done right by the fans here. All issues have been resolved, Dagen’s AA-style survivors’ meeting brings back a lot of familiar faces, and, while they don’t beat you over the head with it, you do get the strongest sense yet of what Jigsaw was trying to accomplish with his “method” and more importantly, whether or not it worked. And ultimately, it’s a Saw movie. They didn’t pull a Jason Goes To Hell and completely change their MO for the finale – apart from the 3D aspect, there’s nothing here that would seem out of place in another entry.

I’m glad the series ended on a relative high note. It’s not one of the best ones, but it’s better than IV or V, which would put it about in the middle of the pack – and keep in mind I like all of them (even V, the worst one, I’d give a C+). And it will certainly have a longer shelf life than the lazy Paranormal Activity 2, so Kevin Greutert should be ironically happy about the situation – he ended up doing the better film. I know I had some concerns, but it’s ultimately a good time at the movies, and the minor pacing/story issues are pretty much forgotten once that final reel kicks in and Charlie Clouser’s amazing theme plays that one last time as the series truly comes full circle.

I’ll miss you, Saw.

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Official Score