OCTOBER 27, 2010
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 a goddamn thing to a newcomer (i.e. Amanda was responsible for Cecil's drug-fueled outburst that killed John and Jill's unborn son), but even though 3D (why did they have to drop the Roman numerals? I loved that they never dipped into subtitle territory!) 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, especially when after six films my mind has grown accustomed to trying to figure out how they fit into the big puzzle or relate to the film's other story (something that also sunk Saw V for me) only to discover that this time, they really don't. Gibson has no big reveal or past association with anyone in the other story - he's just a cop that inadvertently helps Hoffman get where he needs to be. Well screw him then! I want more mythology rewriting! 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 compelling. 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 the super hot Gabby West from Scream Queens) 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 would 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.
The next paragraph contains a MAJOR, MAJOR SPOILER! DO NOT READ if don't want the ending partially spoiled, OR if you haven't been following the film's production through the websites or what have you!
Of course, the big question is: How does Dr. Gordon fit into the film, and how much? Sadly, he's only in three scenes (four if you count a new ret-con montage), and oddly I wish it was only the one. He plays a big part in the ending, but by that point you KNOW he does because his presence has been so minimal, and you know they wouldn't have bothered to bring Cary Elwes back just to show that he survived (scene #1) and doesn't think much of Dagen (scene #2). Thus, for the first time ever, I called the twist at the end, which kind of bums me out. And his part prevents what could have been an amazing fight between Jill and Hoffman, who find themselves in what seems to be the Jigsaw evidence room at the police station. How awesome would it have been to see them go at it using a bunch of John's old toys? Instead, one just takes care of the other rather quickly, and then gets their own comeuppance at the hands of our returning friend. It's a pretty awesome ending, but it's not as grand as I had initially hoped - I was sort of hoping for a Freddy vs Jason style epic (gory) battle between the two.
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 a sense 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.
And that's what I think will separate Saw from any other horror franchise, though it may take a while for folks to truly appreciate it for it. The team has remained remarkably constant throughout the series, and they never went the H20 route and decided to ignore a few entries so they wouldn't have to deal with the storyline anymore. While they have obviously gone up and down in terms of storytelling/acting quality, we still have six sequels that each pay respect to the original film and the sequels that preceded it - a rarity that may never be achieved again. Most horror series don't even retain any of the core crew past the 2nd or 3rd film - Don Mancini wrote all five Chucky films, but that's about it (and even then, they changed tone drastically, and had 5 different directors). Love em or hate em, no one can deny that they were putting a lot of effort into rewarding the folks who kept coming back year after year; a true serialized film series.
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, and could even be matched with II (I'd have to give it another look to know for sure, preferably in 2D to keep things on an even playing field), 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 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.
I'll miss you, Saw.
What say you?
*If you hadn't heard, Greutert was set to direct Paranormal 2 when Lionsgate and Twisted decided to force him to direct Saw 3D (forcing out already set director David Hackl) based on his contract, which they had originally planned to ignore, I guess. But he still gave the film his all, and that is to be commended. He also got in a hilarious jab in his pre-movie introduction that not everyone got but made me laugh out loud and cheer ("Lionsgate would like to thank the families of the deceased for their cooperation."). Horror nerd humor and shitty business shenanigans collide!