Everything has been leading to this. Or so you’d think. Let’s be frank, if we’ve learnt anything from our series of articles revisiting the Saw series over the last week, it’s that the franchise is so wrapped up in retcons, flashbacks and time-bending shenanigans that you couldn’t really be surprised if this one had turned out to take place in 2003, before even that very first film back in 2004.
At the very least, I assure you that we’re not looking at a prequel. This is very much a straight continuation from the end of Saw VI, and some time during the last year, we find Jigsaw’s ex, Jill Tuck, has lost a considerable amount of badass points from having vengefully trapped Jigsaw’s bungling successor, Hoffman, in a reverse bear trap. A year ago for us, moments ago for her, and yet, after witnessing Hoffman’s escape, she rushes to the police for protection.
Hoffman begins a reign of terror, taking games into broad daylight and into the heart of the already decimated police force, and he promises his old colleague, Detective Gibson, that the traps will continue until Jill is handed over to him. Ancillary to all of this, we meet self help entrepreneur Bobby Dagen, whose bestselling book about surviving one of Jigsaw’s traps gets him caught up in another game. The final game, perhaps.
A stalwart companion, who endured the Saw marathon along with me, came to see Saw 3D last night. Afterwards, he declared it the worst of the series, hands down. For him, this was the most disappointing and dissatisfying ending imaginable after all of the six films and all of the marketing hype around this being the series’ conclusion.
There’s certainly a group of hardcore fans, who haunt places like the IMDb forums, and who will declare Saw VII to be the very best of the series and a fitting conclusion. However, I personally find it difficult to imagine this being anybody’s favourite Saw film.
It suffers from the same symptoms of the franchise fatigue that plagued the fourth and fifth instalments. The story structure and the progression of the main game are disjointed and disaffecting, and aside from the opening sequence, the much anticipated public trap seen in the trailers, there’s the same old lack of imagination.
Most criminally, there’s barely any John Kramer to be had. The series has only survived to this, its seventh instalment, because death was not the end for Tobin Bell as Jigsaw. He’s the very best thing about this series, and we had a partial return to form with Saw VI because the focus was back on his machinations from beyond the grave.
Here, it’s pretty much Hoffman’s show, and with how much Costas Mandylor has previously paled in comparison with Bell, that’s really bloody boring. More than that, it’s a rip-off. Mandylor is reduced to a perpetual grimace as he chases poor Betsy Russell around. She deserved better than this too. Having bided her time as Jill for so many films, she’s reduced to the stock scream queen role here, running away and hiding behind cabinets.
Hell, most of the performances are wooden. What would a Saw film be without a little dramatic sawdust billowing around our B-movie players? In my revisit to Saw V, I gave Greg Bryk the dubious honour of being The Worst Actor In Saw, and for his trouble, he makes a small cameo appearance here in a support group for other survivors of Jigsaw. However, he now gets the bronze as two other newcomers make late, but impressively awful turns.
Firstly, there’s Dean Armstrong as Cale. Not to give away what goes on with his character, but he gets a silver medal for some acting that had people in the screening I attended laughing out loud. The new worst actor In Saw, however, is Chad Donella as Gibson. Golly, he’s bad. Not since Tommy Wiseau’s cult classic, The Room, have you seen overacting this stilted, or this far removed from human behaviour.
On the plus side, I really have to praise Cary Elwes. It’s been telegraphed by the filmmakers to all and sundry that he’s back in this one, finally reprising the role of Dr. Lawrence Gordon to bookend the franchise. He serves almost as the Mount Doom of the series. With him, Saw was made, and only with him can it be unmade. And frankly, he’s great in it, despite sounding decidedly closer to his native British accent than the last time he was Dr. Gordon.
On the other side of viewing Saw 3D, I really wish they had kept his involvement a secret until release. If they’d actually tried, it couldn’t have been too difficult to just keep his appearance as a surprise, and there’s little else in here to faze the gorehounds who’ve followed the series from the beginning. This is the seventh Saw film. If you’re not satisfying your fans at this point, you’re not satisfying anyone.
Personally, I’d prefer not to call it Saw 3D, not only for reasons of numbering-related pedantry that I assume fellow geeks can understand, but also because there’s no artistry or innovation in the stereoscopy at all. It’s simply there to inflate the box office takings. It might be shot in 3D, dodging the curse of the retro-fitted conversion, but it barely registers, except in the usual manner of forced ‘interactive’ moments, where someone points a gun from left to right or the trajectory of arterial spillages just happen to coincide with the audience. Saw VII it is, then.
The problem is, if the gross does add up, we might yet see Saw VIII. This supposedly final chapter might wrap up whatever loose ends fans want to see, but it only closes the door. Twisted Pictures could easily enough pry it open, and so this is my pledge: regardless of what happens next, this is my last Saw film. I’m done with the series, and after all this time, I’d like to think it’s done with me. I will not watch another Saw film.
As to my friend’s reaction, I can’t really disagree, except to say that’s it’s nowhere near the worst of the series. I’d say it’s the third worst overall, or to mark it positively, the fifth best. It is a disappointment, though, and a step backwards from the improvements we saw in Saw VI. The writers are just up to their old rubbish tricks, and director Kevin Greutert is on record saying he would rather have been directing Paranormal Activity 2 than another Saw sequel.
With fledgling horror franchises ready to take its place in the form of Paranormal Activity or even Piranha, it goes without saying that Saw 3D should be the last gasp of a franchise that’s been running on fumes for a while now. It suffers from the same problems as the worst of the sequels, but enough has been learnt that it’s more watchable than those earlier films.