The people responsible for the “Saw” franchise have said that the seventh entry, “Saw 3D,” will be the last one. If that’s true — and there’s no reason to believe it is — then it’s a fitting conclusion. Part 7 takes us back to the beginning in many ways, wrapping up some loose ends and reminding us of how goofy the whole thing has become. Even better, you get to pay extra for your ticket and wear dark glasses while you watch it!
You will recall that Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) — the cancer-ridden sociopath with the God complex who tortures people until they appreciate life again — died, like, four movies ago. He lives on through the magic of flashbacks, though, and also thanks to the tireless efforts of a police detective named Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), who continues to find Jigsaw-worthy victims in need of a life lesson. Unmentioned but surely an integral part of Jigsaw’s operation are the engineers who design and build all of his devices, doing so in secret and in complete defiance of zoning laws and safety codes.
In part 7, “Saw 3D,” the final chapter, in 3D, Hoffman is still up to his (that is to say Jigsaw’s) old tricks, but now his fellow cops are on to him. Jigsaw’s widow, Jill (Betsy Russell), has told a detective named Gibson (Chad Donella) what she knows, which is plenty. In exchange for this, Hoffman will probably try to kill her. This is fair.
Meanwhile, Hoffman teaches valuable lessons to one Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery), an ordinary man who has gotten rich writing a book about his experience as a Jigsaw survivor. Bobby has become an inspiration guru to many, in particular his fellow survivors, who meet in support groups to talk about their run-ins with Jigsaw. Many of them say that they genuinely felt reborn after they escaped their traps — that Jigsaw’s plan worked, in other words. All hail Jigsaw! For he is all-knowing and mighty to save!
If you’ve seen the last few films, you know the routine. Bobby has to get through a series of traps in which he or one of his loved ones could be killed or maimed, learning a new valuable life lesson with each step. He has only 60 minutes in which to accomplish all of this and save his wife (Gina Holden); naturally, having established that tight deadline, the movie shows many hours’ worth of police work happening within that time.
Jigsaw’s signature fiendish traps became the focus of the franchise at some point — you can rewatch the first “Saw” and see how NOT the focus they were — and that means the films get less titillating as the traps get less inventive. By now director Kevin Greutert and writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan are just going through the motions, only this time they try to compensate for a lack of ingenuity by having the guts splatter in three dimensions. A little of this goes a long way. “Saw 3D” contains a lot of it.
The other element of the series that the hardcore fans enjoy, I think, is the bizarre soap opera that it has become. And it really is a soap opera: The backstories for Jigsaw, Hoffman, and others have become elaborate, people believed to be dead keep coming back, the acting tends to be hammy and melodramatic, and the sets look cheap. Is that a selling point? Part 7 is more of the same, if that helps.
But of course most of the life has gone out of it, and this one culminates in Hoffman stalking around like Jason Voorhees, only a Jason Voorhees who talks and isn’t scary. When was the last time we felt any thrills or suspense in one of these? If we ever thought there was any profundity to Jigsaw’s philosophy, surely we long ago realized it was B.S. It seems like we’re watching now just because, well, we’ve watched this much, so we might as well finish. What reward is there for us? We can say we watched all seven of them. Jigsaw would be proud.
C- (1 hr., 30 min.; )