Jigsaw’s back for the final time but does Saw 3D prove to be a satisfying ending?
*This review contains spoilers of the Saw series up to Saw VI*
And so we come to the (supposed) final instalment in Lionsgate’s annual Halloween cash-cow Saw and, by now, you either love or hate the franchise – or fell out of love after the risible Saw V and back in love at Saw VI – so there’s no real point approaching a review of Saw 3D in the conventional way. There won’t be many whose first experience of Saw will be this seventh film so by now, it’s all for the purists and there are a few select elements that fans will expect from their annual gorefest, such as ingenious traps and a twist ending. However, Saw 3D comes with the added pressure of finality as fans would expect some sense of complete closure with all major dangling questions tied up. To that extent, Saw 3D succeeds and would be a satisfying experience if just viewed with that in mind; add in the other expected elements though and things are a little less satisfactory.
Carrying on immediately where Saw VI ended with Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) having just escaped the reverse beartrap put on him by Jigsaw’s ex Jill (Betsy Russell), Saw 3D partly focuses on Hoffman’s quest for vengeance. It wouldn’t be a Saw film without some other character fighting their way through a series of traps to realise the error of their ways though, and the victim this time is Bobby (Sean Patrick Flanery). Bobby made the unfortunate error of proclaiming to be a Jigsaw survivor in order to become famous and rich, so he has to undergo a series of tests involving people also in on the scam in order to rescue his innocent wife.
An original plot has never been one of Saw’s strong points and Saw 3D is no exception with Bobby’s thread essentially being an rehash of both Saw III and Saw VI, which both concerned one character undergoing Jigsaw’s tests to save a loved one. However the one thing that the Saw series should be commended for is that instead of in other long-running horror franchises, such as Friday The 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street, each film hasn’t just been another set-up of victims who run across the wrong person at the very wrong time. Instead there has always been a rich backstory weaved throughout each instalment which, however convoluted or logic-defying it became, always managed to reward the long-running fan with references and answers to the many questions raised.
Saw 3D promised to go all-out on this last aspect with the claim of being the film containing the most returning characters, not to mention the much-mooted return of Dr Gordon (Cary Elwes), last seen pulling his way out of one of Jigsaw’s traps after amputating his foot back in the original Saw. Unfortunately, Dr Gordon ends up only being in a couple of scenes and the one golden opportunity to bring back recognised survivors when Bobby hosts a survivors therapy session is completely squandered, despite it being one of the only new angles raised in the film – the other being the use of the franchise’s only outside trap in the opening scene.
Instead, the focus falls too much on the ‘been there, done that’ plot thread of Bobby which, even putting aside the expected dodgy acting, is just dull. The traps generally deliver the expected gore but tend to overuse sharp poles as the killing instrument – perhaps a result of the 3D aspect to the film as the traps are the only real time you notice the film is in 3D – and while that does bring back the lo-fi feel of the traps in the first film, they result in the traps feeling a bit repetitive. Arguably the one trap that is ingenious in its design is the one that shows the least amount of gore where Bobby has to extract a key from the stomach of another person; only problem is that the string ends in a fish hook and the louder the person is, the quicker the spikes move. It’s effective in its simplicity and, much like the image of someone’s nail being ripped off, is deliciously squirm-inducing.
So with the failed impact of the main plot thread, it falls to the secondary thread of Hoffman seeking his revenge to save the film and it doesn’t quite cut the mustard either. The main problem here though is the fact that Hoffman is no longer the anti-hero that Jigsaw was, he’s just an unsympathetic murderer who can get out-acted by a plank of wood. However, it is this side of the film that will be the most satisfactory for Saw aficionados as it resolves the one main plot thread hanging over from Saw VI – just who did Jill deliver a video to – and we do finally get to see how the results of that trap. Unfortunately though, these crowd pleasers aren’t enough to rescue the film as a whole.
The final scenes of the film can be taken one of two ways: either they represent a nicely wrapped up end to the series effectively bringing things round full circle; or they could quite easily be used to spin off another annual instalment. Hopefully the former will be the case as Saw 3D proves that Saw VI was just the final defiant flicker of the franchise’s dying flame. However, given that it’s resulted in a series high opening weekend in the UK, the doubts do start to surface as to just how final this “final chapter” will prove to be.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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