Costas Mandylor - Detective Mark Hoffman
Betsy Russell - Jill Tuck
Tobin Bell - John Kramer/Jigsaw
Sean Patrick Flanery - Bobby Dagen
Chad Donella - Detective Matt Gibson
Gina Holden - Joyce Dagen
Cary Elwes - Dr. Lawrence Gordon
Genre - Horror/Torture Porn/Sequel
Running Time - 94 Minutes
Ever since 2004 until 2010, a SAW film has graced our movie screens each October. What started as an indie horror film by two Australian filmmakers about a dying man putting sinful people in brutal traps as a twisted version of morality play turned into one of the biggest horror franchises of all time. It changed the face of horror forever and brought about the unofficial horror sub-genre known as "torture porn". The Jigsaw villain has become a horror icon that fits well with Michael, Jason, Leatherface, and Freddy before him.
Unfortunately, Lionsgate milked a creative little horror film by extending its story much longer than it had any right to be. While SAW could have been a fantastic standalone film, SAW II and SAW III were still surprisingly effective horror sequels that bought us into the insight of Jigsaw and his reasoning towards his horrible actions. The original SAW trilogy is one of my favorite set of horror films from a single franchise because it told a great story and ended it on a high note. But then SAW III made a ton of cash, which had Lionsgate rushing to continue to story [even though Jigsaw had already passed away]. SAW IV and SAW V were pretty sub-par films, with Detective Hoffman [one of Jigsaw's many apprentices] continuing Jigsaw's legacy while confusing the hell out of SAW fans with illogical plot twists and uninteresting characters. And even though SAW VI was surprisingly strong for a sixth entry in a franchise [and a good sequel, I gotta admit], the box office numbers couldn't lie - fans were losing interest and were looking elsewhere - most specifically PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2.
So in 2010, after seven films, SAW was finally "finished" with SAW: THE FINAL CHAPTER [a.k.a. SAW VII or SAW 3D]. Lionsgate, finding decent success with the 3D trend with its remake of MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D, decided it would use the invention to send off the franchise to horror hell. While SAW 3-D was number one for its opening weekend, it still couldn't compete with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY's building audience. Fans had definitely moved on and got tired of Jigsaw's traps and twist endings.
But seriously guys, there's no such thing as "Final" in horror films. Freddy had a "Final" film and he ended up starring in three more films after that. Hell, Jason had TWO "Final" films and is still kicking. As long as money talks and bullshit walks, horror franchises won't die. They just get rebooted in five or ten years. So how "Final" is this SAW chapter? More importantly, is the film even worth watching? You've got sixty seconds to close this page before my review blows up in yo' face!
Picking up right from the ending of SAW VI, pissed off Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) realizes he's been nothing but a pawn in John "Jigsaw" Kramer's (Tobin Bell) game after he escapes a head trap placed on him by Jigsaw's wife, Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), who's supposed to clean all of her husband's loose ends. Hoffman, now consumed with power and having nothing to lose, decides to hunt down Jill and kill her.
Meanwhile, Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery) is promoting his self-help book that details the trials and turbulations that comes with being one of Jigsaw's surviving victims. After a meeting with other Jigsaw survivors, including Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), Dagen and his wife (Gina Holden) are put in vicious traps that end up revealing that Dagen may not have exactly been all that honest about his ordeal in what may be Jigsaw's final game.
SAW: THE FINAL CHAPTER [or SAW VII, as I'll call it for the rest of the review] is another pointless sequel in the franchise that doesn't really try to extend the Jigsaw story as much as it attempts to tie up loose ends that started in the original SAW. I feel for the most part that the film does accomplish that, ending major arcs while keeping smaller ones open in case another sequel arises. And while the film is a decent and entertaining sequel at times, SAW VII also shows how dry this franchise has truly become and why it should have ended four films ago.
SAW VII's screenplay, written by returning contributors Marcus Dunston and Patrick Melton, is actually fairly simple to understand compared to the previous entries in the franchise, even though it has two plots running through it. The sub-plot of SAW VII actually involves the characters we've been forced to watch since SAW IV, Jill Tuck and Detective Hoffman. It's funny that the main characters in previous chapters are now made to be supporting characters [rather cameos] in the finale. Why were we made to care about these characters again? Anyway, the conclusion to their rivalry is pretty satisfying, although very predictable [much like the rest of this film]. It doesn't take much of the film's time, and although it doesn't connect to the other plot until the very end, it's not a time waster or filler either. So I'm glad these two characters get their last hurrah and all, not that most audiences really cared to begin with. After all, Jill and Hoffman are no Jigsaw, Dr. Gordon, Amanda, or anyone else that were in the first three films. But they should have been the main characters and not treated as afterthoughts. Hell, Jigsaw was barely in the film for five minutes in a cameo! What the hell?
The main narrative of SAW VII involves Bobby Dagen's "game". Now I have to admit - I thought the writers did a good job with the Bobby character. He had a small, but effective little backstory that led to a good understanding as to why he lied about being one of Jigsaw's victims. Understandably, karma would bite him in the ass for that, which led to the game he had to endure to save his friends [who knew the truth] and his wife [who didn't]. The character was simple and actually realistic, which helped keep my interest and see how he would come out of all this, or if he would at all. Unfortunately, Bobby's wife and friends weren't really all that developed [more so the friends than the wife], making me not really care what happened to these characters [they were fodder anyway]. Also, I don't know if it was smart to make this new character our lead since our characters in the film had larger build up and should have been featured more. If it was just a regular sequel, it wouldn't have bugged me as much. But this is supposed to be the final entry to a huge horror franchise! You're supposed to bring everything together that was established in the first film and tie up loose ends, not introduce new people that really shouldn't be the main characters. If it was a supporting story, that's fine. But it should not have been the focus.
Speaking of new characters, the character of Detective Matt Gibson was one of the worst horror characters I have seen in quite a while. Not only was he really annoying, I thought his backstory was lame and how he carried himself was really unbelievable. And this guy was supposedly our main protagonist? It was bad enough he was part of one sub-plot, but he ended up being in BOTH! This dude should have been the first victim of the film, just so I wouldn't have dreaded his constant presence. I thought the bland characters in SAW V were bad, but this dude was, by far, the worst SAW character ever created. Wow.
As for the return of old favorites, I felt that Dr. Gordon and John Kramer himself were given the shaft. Kramer was barely in the film to begin with, which really made this film feel less SAW-like because of it. Even in death, I always felt his character brought new insight as to why things were presently happening. You don't really get that sense in this installment. And while it was nice to see Dr. Gordon make his return after learning what happened to him since the events of the original SAW, there was hardly anything done with him. Yes he was brought back for a very predictable reason, even if it didn't make a whole lick of sense, but there should have been more of him to make his arc more effective. I see the lack of usage for each character as wasted opportunities for more logical story progression.
The real reason as to why these SAW films even exist is for the death traps. And while they weren't the greatest traps presented in the franchise, they did enough to satisfy gorehounds. I thought the four-victim [hey, isn't that the guy from Linkin Park?] car accident was pretty cool [there was some nice gore effects here], as well as the spikes through the eyes and mouth, and the always fun victim getting cut in half. The hanging death was a bit bland though, even though the game that led up to it was pretty tense and quite humorous in a sick way. And what about that oven that looked like it came from a TRANSFORMERS flick? I couldn't stop laughing at how that was even set up. At least I was entertained by it.
My favorite trap had to be one that took place in public, involving a love triangle between two friends who were being used by the same girl. It brought the saw back in SAW, and I thought it was not only well filmed, but tense and suspenseful at the same time. And the result of the trap was very cool as well. Too bad the trap felt so out of place. Not only did the characters or this game never get mentioned for the rest of the film, it went against what Jigsaw was known for. He would have never let this game take place in front of an audience. He wanted people to fight for survival as a way to repent their sins and appreciate what they have in their lives. This trap was just meant to be sadistic and cruel. I felt most of the traps were done for this reason instead of making victims see the error of their ways. But maybe that's just me.
Kevin Greutert returns from SAW VI to direct THE FINAL CHAPTER. It has its moments. The film is excellently paced and has a lot of energy, especially during the trap sequences. The editing was good, but the film looked really cheap to me for some reason. I'm sure most of the budget went to the 3D process used to film this movie [which was actually shot in 3D and not converted in post-production], but that's no excuse for your final film to look more low budget than the original film, which was actually low budget. It looked like a TV-movie that could have aired on SyFy. It doesn't effect the enjoyment of the film in any way, but I would think you would want to go all out if it's the last film of the franchise. Maybe Greutert was pissed about being contractually obligated to direct this than the film he really wanted to direct, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2. From what I hear about PA 2, Greutert directed the better film, even if it did make less money.
The acting was mixed for me. Let's just get the good stuff out of the way first. Sean Patrick Flanery was really good as Bobby Dagen. I always liked Flanery as an actor, and he took a character I shouldn't have cared all that much about and turned him into a three-dimensional person who knew he was wrong in what he did but had to suffer for it. I thought he was solid in the role and I bought every emotion he put into the character's story. I also thought Gina Holden, as Joyce Dagen, was also pretty good as well. She didn't really have much of a character but I enjoyed Holden's performance as the confused and terrified wife. So props to both of them.
In the middle of the road - Costas Mandylor was okay as Hoffman. I hated him in the earlier SAW sequels, but he started to grow on me in SAW VI. He doesn't do much in this film, but he does it well. Tobin Bell gets five minutes [what shame] as Jigsaw, but he's always solid. And Cary Elwes as Dr. Gordon was a welcome return, with his overacting and fluctuating accent.
The worst actors were Betsy Russell and especially FINAL DESTINATION's Chad Donella. I usually like Russell, especially in her SAW films, but I don't know what happened here. It was like she didn't care and just wanted out. Also during her chase scenes, she ran away from Hoffman in almost a cartoonish way. I thought I was watching Anna Faris in a SCARY MOVIE film, but it was actually Russell looking like a fool wailing her arms and screaming. Maybe it was Greutert's direction, but I just laughed at her reactions to things rather than sympathizing. That's a huge problem. As for Donella as Detective Gibson - sigh, what a horrible performance. He came across as whiny and very unconvincing. He was truly irritating and a chore to watch. Whoever cast him needs to be fired and fast!
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE REALIZING THE ONLY GOOD THING JIGSAW DID FOR ME WAS GIVING ME FREE HANDICAPPED PARKING AT THE DAMN MALL
- Dr. Gordon used heat from a pipe to clot his sawed off foot. I don't know about you, but that foot long is costing him more than 5 dollars.
- There was a trap involving two guys dating the same girl. They either had to kill each other to save her life, or spare each other's lives by letting her get sawed in half. I'm sorry, babe, but this is the perfect example of "bros before hos"...
- Jill had a nightmare that Hoffman murdered her by splitting her in half. If she was still at CHEERLEADER CAMP, she'd still be the one killing, not the other way around!
- Jigsaw set up a vicious trap for four racists. That's why Jigsaw is powerful. Racists see in only black and white. Jigsaw sees in black, white, and red.
- Bobby was trapped in a game because he hadn't been exactly honest about his life experiences. You're telling me that one of the BOONDOCK SAINTS told a lie as white as POWDER to gain fame and money? And people wonder why I have trust issues...
- One of the characters got four spikes impaled into her neck. Talk about deep throat!
- Some chick got her eyes and mouth impaled in a trap. Lucio Fulci would be so proud!
- Hoffman trapped his hideout with tommy guns and toxic gas to murder any officers that were after him. I thought he was the new Jigsaw, not the Joker! Why so serious, Hoffman?
THE FINAL HOWL
SAW: THE FINAL CHAPTER is an above average "finale" to a horror franchise that many people stopped caring about years ago. Still, I stayed loyal and watched it from its strong beginning, to its weak middle, and to its okay conclusion. It has decent traps, a simple double narrative, and some good visual style. Too bad the story was flawed and the acting was uneven. And even though it's final, I'm sure we'll see another SAW film down the line soon. After all, evil never dies - especially when it makes you bank. This game is over...for now. And I, for one, couldn't be happier.
2.5 Howls Outta 4