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The Saw films, for better or for worse, have always been more concerned with big ideas rather than little details. Employing an elaborate series of torture devices masquerading as cautionary tales against wavering morality, the gruesome and the macabre have always been cloaked in somewhat thoughtful commentaries on sketchy ethics and selfish natures. It’s this combination of unflinching brutality and overt finger-pointing which drives the series; yet, in a way, it’s also what has condemned it to mediocrity. Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, like each of its predecessors, is so consumed with its inventive, big idea judgment scenes that it hardly bothers with the actual mechanics needed for a story to work. What’s left is a severely fragmented movie weaving principled savagery and awkward, thoughtless dialogue into an ultimately mediocre product. Fitting, yet sad in a way, for the supposed final installment that works overtime trying to tie a cohesive string through all that’s come before.
Bobby (Sean Patrick Flanery) is a Jigsaw survivor turned motivational speaker and novelist who’s touring the country in support of his new book detailing his harrowing escape from the serial killer. I’ll spare you the specifics, but suffice to say, if you’re into that sorta thing, the frank talk of his encounter will not disappoint. Meanwhile, Jigsaw’s widow Jill (Betsy Russell) has turned to Detective Gibson (Chad Donella) in a last ditch effort to save her own life. Her husband’s former partner Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) has turned against her, and she’s willing to spill details of the whole operation in exchange for immunity. It’s a request Detective Gibson quickly grants, possibly motivated by a new quadruple Jigsaw murder and the promise of a new game.
As you may have guessed, the latest victim turns out to be Bobby, and what follows is a complicated, twisted storyline that somehow encapsulates all six of the previous films. Yes, the Saw universe is brought full circle. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as appealing as ardent fans of the series might suspect. The inclusion of a ‘full circle’ hinges on a Jigsaw support group that’s been formed. The group is filmed publicly as publicity for Bobby’s book, and this breach in etiquette provides the setup for one last Jigsonian house of horrors. I won’t go so far as to say the contents of the house are more horrible than anything Saw has shown us previously; however, I will say it does feature arguably, the most mechanically-complicated torture chambers. It would have taken the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition crew two weeks working around the clock to piece all of this together, which is why the Saw franchise really does need to stop here.
Like Shrek 4, Saw 3D: The Final Chapter is more a commentary on itself and its place in popular culture than it is a scathing diatribe on society. Bobby is punished, not for cheating on his girlfriend or killing some hookers, but for leading a Jigsaw support group. He has sins and reasons for being punished, but they’re sins that stem from Jigsaw’s existence. It’s all actually very clever and the concept itself is thought through, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a commentary on itself. And when something grows comfortable enough to comment on itself, it has to go.
Saw 3D: The Final Chapter is the type of film one recommends for reasons of interest rather than quality. There’s actually a lot going on here. I imagine a lot of enthusiasm in the room after this idea was first pitched, but like in all of the other Saw movies, the final product has a fundamental disconnect between the one big idea, the devious death traps and the actual screen time that links those two puzzle pieces together. All too often Saw 3D resorts to standard horror movie dialogue and convenient quick fixes to bridge gaps in the narrative. It begs for a rewrite; yet, it never comes because everyone was probably too impressed with the film’s basic premise. After seven Halloweens, the Saw franchise is finally put to rest here. It goes out applauding itself, but something tells me Jigsaw wouldn’t have had it any other way.