Is anyone really going to miss it when there isn't a new Saw film taking up valuable theater space next year? While there might be a few diehards out there who'll feel empty inside next October when it's the first Halloween in seven years without Jigsaw, I think Saw 3-D makes it pretty clear that this series is creatively spent. Then again, when has that ever stopped a horror franchise before?
Briefly slated as the director of Paranormal Activity 2 before Lionsgate jerked him back to Saw duty on a contractual matter, Kevin Greutert again proves himself to be one of the series' best directors. That he doesn't deliver as strong a film as he did with last year's Saw VI comes down to the screenplay. Saw VI, arguably the best film of the entire series, was the first Saw to really tell a truly interesting revenge yarn. Saw 3-D, on the other hand, unwisely splits its time between a wrap up of the series' loose ends and a new storyline involving a survivor from a previous Jigsaw attack.
Dealing with the murderous mission of Jigsaw's successor, Det. Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), as he aims to settle his score with Jigsaw's widow Jill (Betsy Russell) should've been enough of a story for this final installment. Instead, scripters Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (on board the series since Saw IV) make that the film's B-plot while the main story is about Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flannery), a "reborn" Jigsaw survivor who has exploited his trauma for fame and fortune as a self-help guru. This storyline, while involving some of the series' most sadistic traps, is an ill-fit for the series' finale. All the attention paid to Bobby and his entourage makes the Hoffman and Jill material feel squeezed in rather than being the center of this final chapter.
Bringing things full circle, Cary Elwes is back as Dr. Gordon, appearing in limited - but crucial - capacity. Sadly, though, it seems that the creative team finally ran out of ways to involve Tobin Bell (understandable, as his character's been dead for the past four movies) so Saw 3-D gives him the least screen time he's had in any of the sequels - just one measly flashback. Bell always elevated any scene he was in so to have him absent from almost the entirety of Saw 3-D can't help but put the movie at a disadvantage. It's just one more sign that it's time to retire the series.
Then again, I think the series has been nonsense from the get-go. All the tedious moralizing, the half-assed philosophizing, the elaborate traps that would take a team of top engineers to build and implement, the exhaustive research into each victim's back story (call me old-fashioned but I like my slashers to be territorial guys - if you wander into Crystal Lake, or check in to the Bates Motel, or knock on the door of the Sawyer clan's house for gas, you're done) - all of it is asinine. What made Saw tolerable was the conviction that Tobin Bell brought to his role. He was able to sell Jigsaw, no matter how absurd the character's actions and motivations were. With no substantial screen time for him this time around, the movie doesn't have a strong anchor.
That leaves only the gore to carry the day and in true Saw fashion, Saw 3-D does not pull any punches. The 3-D is not an afterthought here - all the traps are designed to take advantage of the process. During the course of Saw 3-D, you see: a woman's midsection buzz sawed, a man ripping the skin off his back while trying to extricate himself from the seat that he's been superglued to, a car wheel turning a woman's head to mush, a man's lower jaw ripped off, a woman impaled through both eyes with metal spikes, a woman burned to death, someone's face torn wide open with the bear-trap mask from Saw, and, well...there's plenty more but you get the idea. And let me tell you, there's barely a cutaway to be found in any of these scenes - it's full-on gore. I'm calling bullshit right now on that whole unrated thing with Hatchet II. If Hatchet II was any more graphic than Saw 3-D, then it could've stood a trim or two and still been effective. This really is about as nasty as a movie needs to be.
The thing is, though, when I sat in the theater watching Paranormal Activity 2 last week, the audience was greeting the events on screen with gasps, whispers, and top of their lungs screams. At Saw 3-D, I only felt boredom from the crowd - as though they were only there out of a weary sense of obligation. Save for some morbid laughs directed at the misfortunes on screen, the audience was aloof and unaffected. Game over.