Some spoilers, mostly for the other Saw flicks.
Saw VI should have been Saw 3D. That way, at least the franchise that started out as a claustrophobic and derivative, but gory and occasionally entertaining mix of Se7en and Cube, could have ended on a relative high note. As it is, Saw 3D has precious few new ideas to add to the franchise; and it’s a lackluster drop down from its immediate predecessor, which managed to work in some poignant political commentary to the drillings, hackings, meltings and general dismemberment. The traps, which were supposed to “come alive” in 3D, didn’t, and most of them lacked the flair of their forebears.
The A-story of the continuing adventures of Det. Hoffman, Jigsaw’s hand-picked successor, was actually the most straightforward it had ever been. This is because the flashbacks, which had been so prevalent in the recent films, were at a minimum this time out. However, that meant that Jigsaw, who had managed to live on via flashback in the last three films, is reduced to merely a cameo. It also meant that Hoffman had to carry the whole shebang on his own, and Costas Mandylor and his one single expression aren’t quite up to it.
The film picks up immediately after the events of Saw VI, which had Jigsaw’s widow, Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), trying to eliminate Hoffman with one final trap, a reverse jaw bear trap similar to the one from the first film. This is due to Jigsaw’s final instructions to her, as he knew that Hoffman would turn into the homicidal lunatic that he had. But Jill fails to kill him and then she spends the entirety of the picture on the run from him. She seeks out the protection of Internal Affairs detective Matt Gibson (Chad Donella, hamming it up slightly). The problem with this whole scenario, though, is that Jigsaw never wanted her to be a part of what he was doing. More importantly, he didn’t even need her to be, due to a secret that’s revealed at the end of the film. More on that later.
As that’s occurring, another game begins involving author and former Jigsaw trap survivor, Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery). Dagen has been using his encounter with Jigsaw to sell books and get rich and famous. The rub is, though, that he never had an encounter with Jigsaw. He’s been lying about the whole thing which, for all intents and purposes, painted a spinning bullseye on his back. Flanery was fine as Dagen, but his game, which involved his presiding over key people in his life in traps of their own, has been done a few times in the series (in III and VI), and was rather pedestrian in comparison.
Director Kevin Greutert, the editor on the first five films and director of the sixth, was back for this final go-round; though not necessarily by choice. Greutert was forced back into the production due to some contractual wrangling, after the appropriately-monickered David Hackl, the director of the worst installment of the series, V, was dropped. This meant some last-minute script changes and joining of ideas from a planned Saw VIII, that didn’t come about (for now at least) due to low returns for VI. So, not surprisingly there isn’t much evolution of the concept of the series. This probably explains why the first trap sequence, which was a very public affair involving two guys, a girl that was cheating on both of them with each other and three rotary saws, seems out of place with the rest of the film. That could have been the genesis of a plan by either Jigsaw, Hoffman, or yet another disciple to take Jigsaw’s message to a larger audience. Alas, that concept is quickly forgotten about as soon as one of the three gets crosscut like a 2 x 4.
As for Jill and Hoffman, it begs the question why Jigsaw would involve her, when he had made it patently clear in previous films that he wanted her out of his life as he was setting out on a path that didn’t include her (even though he eventually did). His actions on this matter directly put her in danger, especially considering that he knew that Hoffman was a psychopath who was going to pervert his message just as Jigsaw’s other protege, Amanda (Shawnee Smith), did. For someone who meticulously planned out everything that happened in this franchise, especially the goings-on after his death, this just doesn’t play. It especially doesn’t play considering how the Jill / Hoffman story resolved, as well as the ace in the hole that Jigsaw had for the entire franchise (if you’ve seen the credits, you can guess what that may be).
Another element that Saw 3D featured in a minor scene or two were Jigsaw survivors, who came together in a support group headed up by Dagen. This included Simone (Tanedra Howard), the woman who had to hack off her own arm at the beginning of VI. Wouldn’t have minded seeing Julie Benz (V) return for a cameo here. But since there were so few survivors from the first six films, we had to catch a trap that one of the survivors endured we had never seen before via flashback. Also, I had heard previously that the puzzle pieces that Jigsaw took out of his victims might amount to something. But that never materialized other than Jigsaw stating that they came to symbolize that each of his victims were missing something: their “survival instinct.”
The 3D didn’t really add much to Saw 3D. It was shot using the SI-3D camera system, rather than just a post-conversion. Flanery stated that the film was “[not] shot in 3D so that you can, per se, see blood coming directly at you. It’s in 3D for the texture and the depth, for the architecture, to get a sense that you’re in the scene but there’s no ‘we want to see blood coming at the lens’ it’s nothing like that. Indeed, there aren’t many of the overt 3D face-zooming moments in the film, which is disappointing considering that this franchise was made for such effects. So the traps don’t really come alive at all. On a quick side note, there was one trap, one of the better looking ones in fact, that was (gasp) a dream sequence. Cheapness.
When considering Saw as a franchise, it’s easy to dismiss it as elaborate torture porn, with bad dialogue and acting. It’s hard to disagree with that. But there were a few redeeming elements to the series. It made clever uses of timeline in a couple of the films (II and IV); and the entire concept of Jigsaw, his situation and motives for doing what he did, was rather innovative. Continuity, despite becoming as convoluted as it did, particularly in V, were key. Saw is one of the more serialized horror franchises in memory, especially for one that made it to as many films as this did.
The deaths over the course of seven movies were at times quite inventive, fun, and always very gory. The seven Saw films were a return to old school splatter and great make-up effects rather than CGI. But the franchise became hamstrung by the death of its central character halfway through. Jigsaw wasn’t a guy who could be dug up and resurrected via lightning (instead he was resurrected via copious retcon and flashbacks). As Jigsaw went, so did the central theme of the series.
Saw 3D, in comparison with the others, is in the bottom half of the pile. I’d put the series in this order: II, I, III, VI, 3D, IV, V. Greutert did do some pretty good work on VI, and again, that would have been a much better (alleged) ending to the series. But whether it was the fact that he was forced back into the franchise reluctantly, or the franchise itself was simply played out (thinking the latter by far), Saw 3D merely retreads its own frequently-trodden old ground and is an unsatisfying ending…at least until the reboot next month.