The Halloween weekend continued to present us with a healthy, caffeine free, dose of horror films. The supposed final installment of the Saw franchise continues the trendy move to 3D and after having seen the very cheesy trailers featuring arms reaching out of the screen to grab someone in the audience, I could tell the production team of Begnaud, Block, Burg, Heffner, Kavanagh, Koules, Testro, Wan and Whannell were prepared to send Jigsaw off in a classy way . . . wink, wink . . . nudge, nudge. But before I get into the massacre that was Saw 7, I must inform the reader as to how much I enjoyed the first Saw.
As with most fiction, the best stories start with simple scenarios that add layers of complexity with plenty of open-ended space for the viewer to be creative with. It was a nod to Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) having the entire film take place exclusively within the single room our main characters are trapped in. It was the first horror film in recent memory that gave “fear” a back seat to desperation, rage, futility and even a little gore. Saw was a “different” kind of horror that delivered perhaps one of the most surprising and satisfying endings since The Usual Suspects (1995). Although I have not seen every sequel, Saws 2, 3 and 4 reverted to conventional horror filmmaking; complete with an ever degenerating plot. But, the worst change the franchise made in its sequels was featuring the Jigsaw character in prominent roles as a vulnerable antagonist. What made Saw so great was that it wasn’t about the killer, but about sending a message to people and seeing how well they fare with life threatening adversity. The Saw sequels were about shock value, gore and the legacy of a serial killer. Saw 3D is no exception.
As I begin with the overall quality of the story within Saw 3D it is important to note how any film being billed as “the last” in a series has no pressure to actually be good. One would think that this would be a liberating experience for writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (masterminds behind Saws 4-6) to really let loose on the traps + gore = high body count formula and really get into some depraved, vindictive and chilling storytelling. The only depravity of Saw 3D was the incessant yawns and eye rolls I hurled at the screen while my back side grew numb. I just don’t understand!? These two writers specialize in horror films, yet they play it incredibly safe with the last installment of their signature franchise? Perhaps they felt the need to “clean up” their stories a tad? Perhaps they will be auditioning to determine who will next suckle at the power tit of George Lucas? Perhaps they just mailed it in? Whatever the reason may be, the story of Saw 3D is by no means special, by some means derivative and by all means absolute mind rot. To have any appreciation for the events that transpire in the final film, one must have seen the previous three sequels at least. This movie is going to make a lot of money ($24 million opening weekend) but that’s because the somewhat less than sophisticated cinematic palate of the average American movie-goer prefers gore to fear. This is why I’m pretty sure I could call a documentary about slaughter houses something uninspired like “The Ripper,” sell it like a horror film via trailers and still make $20 million on opening weekend.
What is it about horror films and horror film franchises in particular that inspire truly laughable performances by actors? My theory is that it has something to do with how much money they are actually getting paid for their efforts. That certainly seemed to be the case for the much lauded return of Cary Elwes and his character, Dr. Gordon, the first Jigsaw survivor. Although Cary’s total screen time seemed to clock in at just over 6 whole minutes, my criticism of the acting must begin with him! He was (AHEM) the A-Lister for this film and his crass over embellishment and disinterested demeanor took me to the brink of burning my copy of The Princess Bride (1987) in effigy! Is it a coincidence that I felt the same way about Sean Patrick Flanery’s performance and my copy of The Boondock Saints (1999)? You know, it’s not that Sean’s performance was as bad as Cary’s, but that he did not show an ability to inspire any level of empathy for his character. Regrettably, the script didn’t exactly deliver a number of moments where he could showcase himself, but then perhaps the best move would have been turning down the job in the first place. Tobin Bell had a couple of nice, but fleeting flashbacks to remind us of the original Jigsaw. As for our main antagonist, Hoffman, played by Costas Mandylor . . . well let’s just say if you need someone to show up to just start killing people, then Costas is your man.
The only strength Saw 3D displayed was the strong partnership between the special effects and makeup departments that produced some truly, gut-wrenching kill shots. The body count was comprised of equal parts juicy, crispy and skewered and that my friends, is a recipe for a spicy slasher flick just like mama used to make. Muèlto béné! Seriously though, Colin Penman for makeup and special effects coordinator Rob Sanderson deserve special recognition for producing the only entertaining (and sinfully amusing) aspects of this production. Without their and their teams’ efforts, Saw 3D would literally be a steaming turd.
In the end, I cannot help but crack a smile at the fact that a dying franchise is finally being put out of its misery. The use of 3D technology for this film was an uninventive waste of the audience’s dollars. The performances were deplorable and the story was predictable. Really? This is what they brought Cary Elwes out of retirement for? Oh wait; he wasn’t retired, simply not desired.