Who would have thought that in 2005, when I reviewed the very first Saw film, and then a year later the second, that it would spawn further sequels, once a year in a near Roger Gorman style production conveyer belt. Trouble is, the further the franchise moves from the initial idea, the more the stakes are ‘upped’ in the gore department and the more ludicrous the ideas for continuity become. The original idea was simplicity itself, born out of no money – two actors, one set and a sickening premise. The second expanded on this idea, but introduced a lot more people and was ‘bigger’ at the expense of claustrophobia. It was this second film from which the franchise was successfully launched, and from which the formula has been maintained, with each successive entrant bringing something ‘bigger’ to the table; the traps were more elaborate, the cast changed dramatically and even the main protagonist metamorphosed due to Jigsaw’s demise. But one thing has never changed - the gore. It’s fair to say that Saw was the genesis of the ‘torture porn’ sub-genre that proliferated with ever sickening ideas on how to mutilate your fellow human beings. The Saw franchise, however, has managed to stay a step away by having a story arc, or a continuation, running throughout its seven films. That is great news if you are a fan and have come back year after year for more of the same, but if, like me, you stopped after the second film and then find yourself watching the last chapter, there is a huge chunk of knowledge missing as this last film is so far removed from the initial idea as to almost make no sense – it's only the tie in that pulls everything together and saved this film from oblivion.
The film opens with a scene that is at odds with not only the rest of the movie, but the Saw franchise as a whole – it is an elaborate trap consisting of three people in a triangle, each in front of a circular saw. The reason it is at odds is due to lighting and position; basically it’s broad daylight (not moody green indoor lighting), outside (actual location shooting) and in front of a sea of spectators (not one person struggling with their fate). Not only is it at odds with everything that has gone before, it also raises the question of how it was set up in the first place? Just how did Jigsaw manage to set up a huge unbreakable glass enclosure full of deadly equipment, strap three unconscious individuals in their respective positions in the middle of a busy open square? And if that isn't bad enough the entire scene has nothing to do with anything that happens throughout the film – it is simply there to show off the 3D, which is does very well, so I will give it that.
Once we move beyond this odd opening we get into the film proper and are introduced to the two story threads that run concurrently to make up the plot of the film. The first thread is that of Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell) the original Jigsaw’s ex-wife; she has information on the new Jigsaw and wants protective custody, as she is in fear of her life, for the information. The thread follows Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) – Jigsaw – as he sets out an elaborate plan, involving traps, explosions, subterfuge and murder just so he can get to Jill being held in a gaol cell. The second thread follows Bobby Degen (Sean Patrick Flannery), who purports to be a Jigsaw survivor and is riding high on the fame and fortune from successful marketing of himself and his self help book S.U.R.V.I.V.E. Turns out Jigsaw has plans for him and kidnaps him and his PR team, imprisoning them all in a derelict house leaving only Bobby free to try and rescue his friends from the elaborate traps that have all been tied too. Will Jigsaw get to Jill to exact revenge? Will Bobby be able to save his friends and new wife from their grisly fate? Will he, himself, survive the ordeal?
Those that know and love the Saw films know exactly what to expect with the films and this latest entrant is no exception - there are enough traps and enough gore to keep the fans happy. But what of the story threads? Well, the first one is a direct continuation from film six where Jill had trapped Hoffman, and this film rounds off that particular arc very well. Hoffman himself, like the Jigsaw before him, is pretty omnipotent, being able to set up the junk yard trap that instigates the plan to infiltrate the police station just to get to Jill. His hacking of the police surveillance system, the perfect study of his subjects and being about to anticipate their behaviour so that his traps work, the building of the entire house where Bobby is trapped that also contains traps for the police that storm the building, all point to a realistically impossible situation, but within the Saw Universe such contrivances have to be taken on board and enjoyed for what they are – Jigsaw is unstoppable and that has to be accepted. There are a few minor twists in this particular thread but nothing that you don’t see a mile away and the back-story given to Det. Matt Gibson (Chad Donella), the detective in charge of looking after Jill and building the case against Hoffman, has a small ring of truth to it and is meant to explain away why Jigsaw ‘knows’ how to manipulate him; but doesn’t explain away his ability to run rings around the entire police department or how he was able to build such elaborate traps with complete autonomy and seclusion, but, as already stated, that is a conceit that the Saw franchise expects us to swallow.
The second thread is arguably more ‘Saw like’ in that is pits a protagonist against himself; Bobby is placed in a position that requires him to suffer to enable the ‘rescue’ of his friends – not quite the scenario of the first film, but it’s close – and when we are told the truth to his life, and thus why he was chosen and placed in the traps there is more tension given. Nowhere near the amount of tension or claustrophobia that made the original film so successful, but at least there was a drive to Bobbie’s predicament and it wasn’t some random stranger placed in a trap with a one sentence explanation (such as the opening to the film).
Kevin Greutert returns to the director’s chair after Saw IV and keeps things at a furious pace. Too fast in fact as a combination of the fast editing, the typical drum and bass heavy rock tracks that act as the score and the non-stop mutilation has the effect of pounding you into submission, I felt exhausted after the credits had rolled; I felt like poor Alex in A Clockwork Orange, there was no let up and no escape, and truthfully, I really didn’t enjoy the film at all. I’ve seen my fair share of horror films, indeed the genre, along with sci-fi, are my favourites to watch; further to that I have seen some of the worst excesses ever committed to celluloid, but this was like speed horror – every bit of nastiness condensed into a bite size chunk then force fed straight to your brain. It obviously has its place, the fact that there are seven films within the franchise is a testament to that, but whilst the original film was just that original, all the sequels follow the predictable path of becoming successively gross. And talking about the original, I hinted in the first paragraph of the tie that saves the film – well it’s no stretch, or spoiler, to mention that Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) makes a appearance in this, the last chapter; and his inclusion is supposed to tie everything together in a kind of sadistic reveal, and whilst I loved the idea, and indeed that tie in, the credibility of such a stretch was realistically one step too far. Having said that this final twist, and that final scene, I did enjoy and did pull this film back from the brink – I have no desire to see it again, but I won’t be dissuading anyone else from seeing it.
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