Director: Kevin Greutert
Screenplay: Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan
The number one movie at the Halloween weekend box office was Saw 3D, knocking Paranormal Activity 2 out of the top spot. Adding the 3D gimmick and advertising itself as the movie in which “the traps come alive,” this seventh installment is purported to be the conclusion of the Saw franchise. Being a devoted fan of the series, I took it upon myself to check out this apparent finale.
The Saw movies differ from nearly every other horror film with multiple sequels. It’s generally easy to watch any of the late entries in the Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street series without having seen the prior entries and without feeling like you’re missing much, but it’s virtually impossible to jump into the Saw franchise midstream. Saw 1-7 really make up one big story about a growing (and often shrinking) cast of unfortunate people caught in a tangled and expanding web of horribleness. Each individual movie tends to add a bit to the ongoing mythos while going back and filling out details and solving little mysteries from the previous movies.
From the beginning, it’s clear that Saw 3D is firmly rooted in the major arc of the series and isn’t going to waste any time bringing newcomers up to speed. The movie opens with a few quick shots from the last scene in the very first Saw movie and then travels back to show us the fate of one of that movie’s key characters. Similar nods to the series’s heritage and to the fans pop up throughout Saw 3D as prior events gain new meaning and clarity through revelations and flashbacks, and previously minor characters reappear in new capacities. I’m being intentionally vague in describing the elements of this movie, as the Saw series thrives not on traditional startle scares but on twists and surprising plot turns. Revealing too much about this concluding chapter would rob the movie of any surprises it holds.
A large portion of Saw 3D is a revenge story that spins out of the events from the end of Saw 6. The current bearer of the Jigsaw mantle is on the hunt, not to teach someone a lesson, but just because he’s mad, scarred, and out for blood. This movie deviates from previous installments in this way by framing a large portion of the movie as a chase story, showing us the hunt both from the villain’s perspective and from his intended victim’s. The usual traps do appear throughout the film, but several of them are just one-offs that only service the gore seeking parts of the audience. Occasionally the traps do tie into the revenge story peripherally, but they’re mostly just there to keep the tension up and to keep the guts flying at the screen.
The second main story that runs concurrently through Saw 3D is one about the previous survivors of Jigsaw’s traps. We see several familiar faces from traps in earlier films, but the main survivor here is Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery) who has written a book about his experiences and who has become famous and wealthy. Jigsaw reacquires him, along with his wife, his best friend, his publicist, and his lawyer, and puts all of them into a big and elaborate trap in an insane asylum, reminiscent of the multiple person traps from many of the earlier Saw movies. Saw 3D follows Dagen as he wanders the asylum, encountering, and attempting to save his loved ones from increasingly brutal contraptions and situations.
The Dagen storyline takes up a lot of screentime but truthfully ends up feeling like it’s mostly filler. The real draw to this movie is seeing how the Jigsaw storyline plays out and where all the ongoing characters end up after seven movies of dodging and doling out terrible deaths. Tobin Bell does return for this film but doesn’t get much screentime. His performance and demeanor, however, pack enough menace to trump the dastardly doings of the current villain and to remind us out how awesome the Jigsaw character was in Bell’s capable hands and how big a mistake killing him off so early in the series was. I can only imagine where the series might have gone if Bell’s character had survived more than three installments.
In the end, the storylines do meet in a sort of convergence that provides closure for this movie and also potentially for the overall series. There are some late-game shocks that are true in tone to the traditional surprises that close all the other six movies, but the big twist here is less of an unexpected development and more of an expected inevitability that most Saw fans probably have been anticipating for years. The ultimate climax is satisfying and appropriate and, while it does seem to close the door on the current Saw storyline, there are plenty of characters, threads, and unresolved issues remaining. I really would be surprised if this were the last we saw of the series, despite its climactic marketing.
Aside from trumpeting that Saw 3D is the end of the series, the other big marketing point is the addition of the third dimension, made doubly blatant and stupid by calling the film Saw 3D instead of Saw VII. Throwing 3D into movies, even those initially filmed with 3D cameras like Saw 3D was, is an unfortunate fad of modern cinema. The 3D here is gimmicky, schlocky, and detracts from what otherwise is a fine addition to an otherwise 2D franchise. Saw 3D has no opportunities for portraying huge digital Avatar vistas or putting the third dimension to great creative or innovative storytelling use. Rather, it plays to the same beats 3D always tends to hit, throwing spikes and sawblades at the audience and now ejecting blood and viscera into our faces. It’s all very trite and unnecessary. The end of the 3D fad can’t come fast enough.
In conclusion, Saw 3D is a satisfying conclusion that will pay off with some good and fun moments for longtime fans of the series. Newcomers won’t be able to follow the main story beyond basic trap setups and likely will leave with a notion that they have missed a lot of essential plot points. Saw 3D very well could be the end of the whole franchise, but I suspect we’ll see it rise from the grave again in a few years, just like any good horror creature is apt to do.