Opening in theaters Friday, September 29
Costas Mandylor as Hoffman
Betsy Russell as Jill
Sean Patrick Flanery as Bobby Dagen
Chad Donella as Gibson
Directed by Kevin Greutert
Throw a few discarded ideas into a blender and select “chop” to make a sloppy and chunky concoction and you’ve got Saw 3D, the seventh and supposedly final chapter in the 21st century’s first long-running and highly lucrative horror franchise.
As a series capper, thankfully, the filmmakers do not resort to literally dragging anyone to hell (Jason Goes to Hell) or blowing their villain to smithereens (Freddy’s Dead). This entry, however, does employ 3D and is the weakest pup of the Saw litter, akin to those two aforementioned horror icon exits. Yes, I believe this one is worse than part five – a lackluster contribution to the series and one that offered some forward progression and more layers to the story.
Spoilers ahead, kiddiesâ¦you were warned.
In Saw VI, the primary arc of the series was being tidied up. Jigsaw’s work was carried out and a rivalry between rogue Detective Hoffman and Jigsaw’s widow Jill became extremely violent. With an ever-so-brief recap of the end of Saw – detailing what happened to Cary Elwes’ Dr. Gordon – Saw 3D picks up immediately after its predecessor, resuming the Hoffman/Jill feud. But the problems begin thereafter as Saw 3D struggles to find focus and various story threads fight for dominance.
Thinking that “Hoffman’s revenge” alone wasn’t enough to drive the film, returning writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton – who have been steering the series since Saw IV with arguably varied results – explore the life of series newcomer Sean Patrick Flanery’s Bobby Dagen, a supposed survivor of Jigsaw’s test. He tours the country with a new book on the market, does television appearances and holds discussion groups with other survivors. Ah, but Dagen’s history isn’t all that it seems and he has been pulled back into another test.
The Dagen arc truly is the backbone of Saw 3D as Flanery’s character maneuvers and whimpers his way around several gut-churning traps to save his colleagues. My biggest problem with this is that it doesn’t serve any purpose in the larger theme of the Saw 3D which exists to simply tie up loose ends with Hoffman, Jill and Dr. Gordon. At one point, I started to believe the Dagen plot was taking place at an earlier point in the Saw timeline. I wouldn’t put it past Dunstan and Melton to screw with our heads as they did with the side-quel sequel Saw IV. Needless to say, it is set in the present. Meanwhile, Jill takes solace in the custody of Detective Gibson, another series newcomer, while Hoffman toys with the two of them, leading the latter on a wild goose chase riddled with bodies and traps, including a machine gun that pops up out of nowhere to mow down some cops (a Saw “first,” I believe).
It doesn’t take long for Saw 3D to perform this narrative juggling act and when it slips into its groove, it’s a bit of a mess. The opening not only brings us up to speed in the story, but it presents the first public torture trap (which apparently features characters named after myself and Shock’s “rival” Brad Miska from Bloody-Disgusting) that appropriately ends on a disgusting note. This is followed by stilted, unintentionally funny drama with Dagen and yet another trap sequence involving four racists and peeling skin. The swift fluctuations between gratuitous mayhem and quiet moments of exposition stinks of indecision with how to proceed with the story.
To make matters worse, Saw 3D looks cheap and features some awful performances. Elwes brings some fun to the table in what small moments he has and Bell breezes through his single scene with ease. As for the newcomers, Chad Donella as Gibson matches Donnie Wahlberg’s Detective Matthews in overacting. Flanery cheese value, meanwhile, is apropos for the persona of an inspirational speaker/survivor. Dagen, however, proves to be a completely worthless character.
What it lacks in, oh, the important things like narrative and acting, Saw 3D more than makes up for in gore. Dunstan, Melton and director Kevin Greutert love to shed the red this time and why not? It’s in friggin’ 3D! For the most part, the traps work astonishingly well, some were more inspired than others, but in the end, they all result in spilled blood and torn flesh. One that made me squirm like a bitch was a fish hook down the ol’ throat. Kudos for that one. Another Jigsaw test actually delivered on what the Saw III poster teased: Dental damage. Lastly, Dunstan and Melton presented a gross-out gag that tipped its hat to Lucio Fulci’s ol’ splinter through the eye Zombie special effect. Can’t go wrong there.
So, on the violence level, Saw 3D goes balls to the wall to embrace the 3D technology, but God damn what a missed opportunity this sequel is in the story department. If Saw 3D wanted to focus on Hoffman’s revenge, that should have been the main focus of the story. There probably would have been more for Dr. Gordon to do as well. To have this Dagen/survivor element, well, it’s definitely worth exploring – I have no doubts about that – however it would have been a better subplot or a “side sequel” story to explore. Also, it wouldn’t make the final couple of minutes – which I thoroughly enjoyed – feel so forced into the mix. But it’s certainly no way to put a final stamp on the series.