“I want to play a game?” Those five words have haunted film goers for the previous six Halloween’s and like clockwork, the Saw franchise returns again this year with what is promised to be the final chapter in the sometimes epic saga of the Jigsaw killer, Saw 3D. Love it or hate it, the Saw franchise redefined modern horror and while it probably can not be attributed with the dubious distinction as grandfather of the makeshift gore porn genre, it certainly can be attributed with the making it a mainstream success. Over the past few years, the franchise has degenerated into a shadow of its former self, Saw 3D promised to close out the series with a bang and then ride off into the sunset to be remembered fondly.
A lot has been made of the return of Cary Elwes to the cast. Fans of the original will remember Elwes played Doctor Gordon, the man who sawed off his own foot to escape the deadly trap set forth by Jigsaw. Elwes is fantastic when he is on screen, he chews scenery in the film like no ones business but sadly he is grossly underused. Gordon is not even a tertiary character in the film and Elwes has less than 10 minutes of screen time. Even more peculiar is the fact that the top billed star for the film has even less screen time than Elwes does. Tobin Bell, who plays the series central figure, Jigsaw, has what amounts to a glorified cameo. So where does this leave the film? If I’m being honest, it leaves it in shambles.
The central focus of Saw 3D is tying up the story of Hoffman (Costs Mandatory), Jigsaw’s apprentice. Hoffman survived the attack by Jigsaw’s ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell) and is out for revenge. As a diversion Hoffman puts together a pair of “games” to distract police while he sets about hunting Jill. Does it sound mind-numbingly nonsensical? Well that is because it is.
Hoffman has never been a strong character and the focus on him over the last four films has killed a lot of what made the Saw series appealing in the first place. Jigsaw’s traps always had a purpose, there was always a lesson to be learned by somebody who needed to be taught a lesson and most importantly they could always be beaten. There was always the choice to live or to die. Jigsaw was misguided but he had good intentions, his apprentice Hoffman never seemed to grasp that concept and as such was never as likeable a character.
But enough about the characterizations and convoluted plot details because the real star of the Saw franchise has always been the traps. The traps is Saw 3D are a mixed bag. While Saw 3D boasts at having the most brutal trap ever conceived for the franchise (the car trap) they all kind of feel very much been there done that. There are a few standouts though, in particular one that requires the game player to navigate his blindfolded friend over planks and platforms to get a key so he can free himself. Sadly the formula has just worn thin, even for a fan of the franchise like me. None of it feels fresh or new and so maybe it is a good thing this is the “final” chapter.
Saw 3D ultimately sends the franchise off into the sunset with a whimper but even so I don’t for one second believe that this is the swan song for the Saw franchise. I do however believe it will be the last one for a few years. The twist ending, which is easy to spot even before the film begins if you know your Saw history, leaves the door open to a new direction but before that can happen the series needs an infusion of creativity to draw on. The last four films, including Saw 3D, got away from the core of the Saw franchise and it is obvious that those in charge of the series are fresh out of ideas. The series needs new blood and those in charge have to play a game. Live or die, make your choice.
2 out of 5.