And here—in theory, mind you—we come to the end of the Saw saga with Saw 3D, which in reality is Saw VII. Of course, these days all the “end” means in terms of these cash-cow franchises is that they’ll pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again. But for the moment, let’s say that this really is the end of the line. In that case, it seems a wholly adequate finale to me. But then I’ve never been a fan of the series with its Howdy-Doody-from-hell puppet and its Rube Goldberg instruments of torture and murder.
The first Saw movie was a cheeky and clever bit of no-budget filmmaking, distinguished (if that’s the word) by Cary Elwes’ classically awful performance. The second installment seemed better made, but is memorable to me mostly because Ken Russell wouldn’t go with our group to see it, saying “I didn’t travel 5,000 miles to see Saw II.” The third is memorable for the “puree of rancid pig” sequence, and the fourth for its screwy time line. The fifth is notable simply for being bad and the sixth for being better than the fifth. And the seventh?
The best thing about the seventh Saw film—apart from 3-D flying viscera, which still isn’t as good as Udo Kier’s liver on the end of a spear in Paul Morissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein (1974)—is that it doesn’t try to bamboozle the viewer into thinking the whole thing has some kind of deep meaning. No, the movie is content to be what it is—a series of gory-death suspense scenes hooked together by continuing the saga’s one-note plot. Does it work? Not particularly, but it’s kind of amusing in the sheer silliness of its splattery shenanigans. I don’t think that was intended, but I’ll take whatever value I can get out of the thing. I’m a little amused, too, by the critical scorn heaped on the movie, especially the review from Anthony O’Connor (FILMINK), which states, “What Saw VII doesn’t have: a decent plot, characters you care about and an ounce of credulity. ” And how does that differ from the previous entries?
In typical Saw fashion, the film starts with a recap of the last one. (All these things lack to complete the sense that you’re watching a TV serial is a voice-over saying, “Previously on Saw.”) The recap doesn’t matter much apart from setting up the fact that the ersatz Jigsaw, Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), is cheesed because Jill (Betsy Russell), widow of the real Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), tried to kill him with one of Jigsaw’s jaw-removing gadgets (patent pending, one imagines) at the end of Saw VI. His annoyance is perhaps understandable.
Otherwise, the film is all about torturing Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery) for having claimed to have survived Jigsaw’s traps and then having written a popular book about his completely fabricated ordeal. This has annoyed both Hoffman and, according to a flashback, Jigsaw—even though this is the first we’ve heard of this. Oh, well, coherence has never mattered much to these movies. The idea appears to be to let Bobby actually live the ordeal he has lied about. The real idea, of course, is to let the audience enjoy vicarious torture, murder and the occasionally airborne intestine for the Halloween season. (Bobbing for apples is so passé.) In this regard, Saw 3D does what it sets out to do—however dubious that may be.
Granted, the only novelty at this point would be for one of the traps to malfunction and to watch a flustered evil genius have to rush in and make adjustments. We don’t get that, but we do finally get Cary Elwes as Dr. Gordon (survivor of the first movie), clomping about on his wooden foot. Wisely, he has been given very little dialogue to deliver, though that, of course, reduces his unintentional comedic value considerably.
Am I being too easy on Saw 3D? Perhaps. I certainly can’t deny that having sat through Paranormal Activity 2 last week probably plays into it. If nothing else, at least Saw 3D looks like a real movie, and things—however uninspired or absurd—actually happen in it. That alone gives Saw 3D the edge (so to speak). Still, I’d just seen the restored version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) the night before Saw 3D, and that has tended to put everything since then on a par with eating wax fruit. Even so, I didn’t especially mind Saw 3D and that’s saying something—even if not much. Rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and language.