The Great SAW Dialogue: SAW 3D (aka SAW: THE FINAL CHAPTER)

Britt and Brian took apart the franchise film by film. They are done now.

Read them all here.

Domestic Gross: 45.7m (series rank: #6)
R.I.P.: (takes a deep breath) Dina (Love Triangle Trap), Kara, Dan, Jake, and Evan (Car Trap), the guy in the lawnmower blade trap, Nina (Silence Trap), Suzanne (Impalement Trap), Cale (Floor Pit Trap), Joyce (Oven Trap), Jill (Reverse Bear Trap), plus Gibson and a dozen other cops that are either shot, stabbed, or gassed by Hoffman on his journey to kill Jill. Hoffman's fate is left ambiguous, for the record. Highest body count in a Saw by a wide margin!
Answered Questions: IS GORDON ALIVE???? (Yes! And he's been Jigsaw's right hand man all along!) Who wrote the "I know who you are" note to Hoffman? (Gordon!) Who performs all of these surgeries on test subjects? (Gordon!)
One And Done: That'd be a stupid thing to list now!

Brian: And so it has come to this, the final chapter of the Saw series, which was actually retitled Saw: The Final Chapter for video since it was simply Saw 3D in theaters. It's been four years since the film's theatrical release and still no film has been announced - to compare, four years after Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, the series had produced 3 more entries. Every now and then the producers say they are bringing it back when the time is right or whatever, but I assume that if a new Saw movie does come along, it will be more of a spinoff or new storyline than a standard "Saw VIII".

The reason I think this? Apart from Hoffman's non-demise (he is left to die without a saw to hack his foot off) the movie does a fine job of wrapping everything up, and as you can tell while watching it, they didn't even have enough of that sort of thing to sustain an entire feature. It's the shortest entry in the series (a minute shorter than VI, the previous record holder) and it's padded with a dream sequence, a useless flashback about two randoms in a lawnmower blade trap that seemingly encompassed an entire room, an overlong "this is how Cary Elwes didn't die" flashback sequence, and what may be the most police activity we've seen since the first film, with lots of cops sifting through crime scenes, tracking phone numbers, etc. It's not as boring as V, but it's the most padded entry in the series by far, even if you exclude the film's primary game with Bobby Rhodes (Sean Patrick Flanery, a long way from Powder), which is probably the biggest padding offender.

To be fair, his character is fascinating in concept - a guy who is pretending to be a Jigsaw survivor in order to get famous on talk shows and autobiographies. Much like the previous film's William, this target has specifically pissed John off, and again I have to wonder why he didn't take care of this one while he was alive. John's death four films ago (he was dead for four and only alive for three, that's a fun fact) has finally broken the screenwriters, as he only appears in two scenes in this one (though Tobin Bell still gets top billing). One is where he confronts Bobby at a book signing, with Bobby of course having no idea who he is and doing nothing to redeem himself in John's eyes. So months or even years later, John gets his revenge by putting him through a gauntlet to teach him a lesson in... lying, I guess. Anyway he actually kind of cheats for the final trap, making Bobby go through the very trap he made up in order to save his wife. As it turns out, it's an impossible one to pull off, and so she dies. Lesson learned, I guess.

The other scene with John is at the end, where we see him tend to Gordon's wound and give him instructions on what to do should Jill be harmed or killed. This lengthy flashback also shows how Gordon has been helping him all along, sewing up the keys inside of people's eye sockets, or sewing their eyes shut, etc. He's even the one who brought Lynn Denlon to John's attention, which is a pretty good solid on Gordon's part. So he gets to deliver the final "Game Over" and slam a door shut to end the series, while also relieving the fans who have been asking for Elwes' return for 6 years now. But for reasons I'll never understand, they didn't try to hide his reappearance - it was announced in the press (unlike Donnie Wahlberg's return for Saw III, which was a total surprise), and he has two superfluous scenes at the beginning that completely spoil the moment where he pulls off his mask at the end. Had this been the first time we saw Elwes in the movie, it would have been an amazing reveal - but instead it was just a shrug of one, because I had already figured out that "twist" after about 20 minutes. By the time Bobby got to his 2nd test, I'm thinking "Why did they bring Elwes back just to show that he survived and to taunt this Bobby assho- oh, he's Jigsaw's newest accomplice. Never mind." And then an hour later I was proven right. That is way too far to be ahead of a Saw movie, in my opinion, especially when it's basically the only twist in the movie.

What about you, Britt - did you figure out that Gordon was working with Jigsaw before the movie spelled it out?

Britt: You know, I honestly cannot recall if I figured out Gordon was in on it during my first watch way back when, but his performance in this is pretty telling from the get go. Elwes is chewing the scenery way harder here than in the first one, really earning that paycheck, so at least he was worth the trouble to bring back, I guess. And I have to say, as much as it is a bit silly, I do kind of enjoy having him back in the final outing because at least he's more pleasurable than Hoffman. Maybe it's the comfort of a familiar face or the nostalgia factor of that dude I crushed on from my childhood hanging out again. Who knows? I always liked him in Robin Hood: Men in Tights and The Crush. Every time I see him I'm like Alicia Silverstone. "Guess what? Got my period."

Anyway, it's odd to say that one of the only things I like about this movie is Gordon since it's not a great part of this movie -- it's actually not a very good movie at all. I'm hard-pressed to find much to like about it. Gordon's inclusion feels like a forced bit of fan-service, as so many elements of these films do, all shoehorned in to the already stuffed and chopped and screwed editing process that permeates the back half of this franchise. It's a mess. We had a sidebar conversation about the timeline of this particular film and how it made absolutely no sense, which owes to the inelegance of the editing. Jill's visit to the police is supposed to take place two months prior to the actual game with Bobby, which accounts for Hoffman's healed face. But there's the scene with her in the safe house, where the detective says something like, "This is a safe house, Jill, a safe house, doyyyy," like he says safe house three times or something. They literally just got to the safe house, and then he leaves the room and is immediately handed a disc from Hoffman that's marked like SPECIAL DELIVERY FOR DETECTIVE DINGUS. You know, as if Hoffman was not a detective and would not know where all the safe houses were, but basically, the timeline makes no sense, and their editing transitions don't imply a lapse in time more than a millisecond.

And speaking of Jill, another thing that frustrates me about this film is how poorly it treats the women. I think I wanted to remember Jill being treated better in this film than she was -- that maybe she got the upper hand on Hoffman in some way, and I guess in a roundabout sense she does. She just has to die in order for someone to ultimately put an end to his shenanigans. But the opening scene is a great example of another missed opportunity in this series: two guys faced with the dilemma of a woman who came between them romantically and used them for her own mischief. They're given a choice: one of them must die to save her, or they can kill her because she's really the one to blame here. I find it all pretty unseemly, but wouldn't it have been a much stronger statement to have two women and one man? In the end, the women realize that they need to fight against the social and patriarchal conditioning that's been pitting women against each other for years (further reinforced by someone like Jigsaw telling them what to do), and they decide that it's really this dumb guy who did them wrong. Even better if they could find a way for all three of them to live and then kick the jerk in the balls on their way out.

I do agree that the concept for this film is interesting -- at the very least, it's a kernel of a good idea. With all these Jigsaw survivors in Mysterytown, USA, surely an opportunist like Bobby would appear at some point to capitalize on the experience. It's a neat concept, but one that isn't executed entirely well. There's no place for this particular story except for so late in the series, but because of that, we're stuck with so much of Hoffman's mess and the relentless reappearances of Jigsaw. Too much of this film gets sidetracked with procedurals, but I'm also not sure that there's much more that could have been mined if it had stuck with the game itself. I'm not sure what went on behind the scenes, though I do know they were trying to get Elwes back for a while -- maybe if they had ditched Hoffman earlier, had Jill take over, and this film had been a battle between Jill and Gordon or maybe Jill/Gordon and some new bloods, that could have taken up more of the non-trap plot instead of Hoffman's BS.

Brian: It's interesting that you mention the editing, as this and VI were the only ones in the series NOT edited by Kevin Greutert, who was too busy directing them. But while he had his heart in VI, he probably took a more active role in the editing process than he did here, a film he was forced to make when Paramount hired him to direct Paranormal Activity 2 and Lionsgate forced his contractual obligation on him (firing originally hired director David Hackl in the process). He clearly never got over it - at the film's premiere he recited Paranormal's opening text about thanking the police and victims' families for their cooperation, just changing "Paramount" to "Lionsgate". Ouch. I mean, I'm not saying the film definitely would have been amazing if he had wanted to make it from the get-go, but it's almost a night and day difference from the quality of VI, and we can't just pin it on the 3D process. This film also had a new DP, and Hackl obviously didn't return for production design services, so it's an anomaly in the franchise in that it didn't have the same sort of crew continuity that the first 5-6 entries had. Maybe that's why it didn't turn out so good? Too many new crew members working for a director who was forced to be there?

Then there's the matter of the script itself, which was apparently combined from the ideas for Saw 7 and 8, as the latter film saw its existence wiped out when VI underperformed. Maybe on their own they'd work better, again we'll probably never know - but you take all of this info and it's surprising that the film is even watchable. To be fair, I don't DISLIKE it; as with V it's not that I think it's a bad movie, it's just one that doesn't deliver as well as its sequel-mates. The problem with the series as a whole is that it's so interconnected and serialized that you can't just skip one - they're all technically of equal value. Take the Friday the 13th series as a counter example - in terms of the overall story, you can skip part A New Beginning because it's an impostor Jason, and Jason Lives doesn't really acknowledge it in any meaningful way, so it's easier to write it off. Ditto for The New Blood - at the end of the film he's back at the bottom of the lake, same as he was at the end of Jason Lives (the continuity/timeline of the series actually works better if you skip New Blood, actually). But you can't do that with Saw, especially at this point, so when they drop the ball it's much more frustrating.

I think the main issue with this one is that it's just too perfunctory. Bobby's game is too much like Jeff and William's, in that he has 3-4 tests where the victims are associated with him (Rigg's were a mix of strangers and casual acquaintances), but he lacks that sympathetic factor that made those other two guys (Jeff more than William) much more interesting to watch go through these familiar hoops. The hell do I care if this guy dies? We know nothing about him other than the fact that he pretended to be a Jigsaw survivor, and we never get much of a grasp on his feelings toward his wife (Gina Holden, who I had a crush on from a few crappy horror movies I saw her in during my Horror Movie A Day years and was happy to see her in a major film, albeit in a thankless role). Does he actually care about her, or is she just there to make his story better? I got the impression he really did care about his buddy Cale (the one who gets hung in the floor-less room), but otherwise it seemed like none of the victims really mattered much to him, and in turn he doesn't matter to me. Or the editor, it seems, since it's not even clear if he dies - the list of Saw deaths from the Wikia (an invaluable resource in putting the above "facts and figures" sections together, by the way) actually lists Hoffman as a death since he's left to die, but not Bobby who had some serious injuries. It's like "Eh, who cares about wrapping this story up, we just needed something to cut to every now and then because all this Hoffman/Jill stuff wouldn't make a full running time."

I actually spent a lot of time watching this one thinking of ways it could be better. I already mentioned saving Elwes for the end, but I'd also reveal that he ran the survivor's group and that's how he recruited helpers, like the two dudes at the end (who are supposed to be Brad and Ryan, the guys from the opening trap set outside). And then there's the scene where Hoffman chases Jill into what appears to be the Jigsaw evidence locker - they coulda had so much more fun with this room! Just have them use various traps as blunt objects and really go to town on each other, or at least spend a few seconds showing them in closeup so we could remember what (likely superior) movie they were from. I saw the acid/syringe thing that killed William, and obviously the bear traps, but the editing barely gives time for them to register. Speaking of which, this scene is also horribly edited where it counts - it's not even remotely clear that Hoffman has found Jill's hiding place until he kicks her, as there's no sense of geography at all.

There are some things I like, but let's hear yours first (if any?) as I've been rambling for a while now.

Britt: I was also annoyed at the Jill and Hoffman fight scene because that was another missed opportunity. There's so much in that room, and the script doesn't give Jill much of a fighting chance. She gets one good blow in before he takes her out for good, and she's the last real strong woman the series has left. To lose to that meathead? Ugh! Not that Jill is so innocent, but Hoffman is a horrible character, and you do sort of root for Jill -- at the very least, make it more of a riveting brawl, especially given the location.

Although I didn't find the traps in this one to be as interesting or inventive as previous outings (fatigue finally claims the traps as a victim seven films in), I did like the silence trap used on the PR woman, with the fishhook embedded down in her stomach and the sharp tubes set to impale her every time her screams reach a particular decibel. That's quite clever. The rest of the traps? Not so much. The lawyer gets a trap that feels like a rehash with similar impalement implements, Bobby's friend being guided over the maze was a bit boring and felt like one of those corporate retreat trust exercises gone wrong, and the opening love triangle trap was like an amateur Home Depot experiment -- not Jigsaw's finest work. Even Bobby's final challenge, in which he has to face the test he supposedly lived through by forcing meat hooks through his chest, isn't particularly imaginative, and his wife dies in a bulky, fiery contraption that evokes memories of Saw II, although a bit more elegant.

I'm trying to come up with things I like about this one, but all I can think of are things I don't quite enjoy, like watching that dude from Linkin Park scream for three minutes straight without the option of changing the radio station. Then there's the uncanny valley Christian Bale cop -- he's sort of like when you get one of those knock-off handbags on the street corner, like Dolce and Banana.

I don't like so many things about this one, and every time I think I start to remember something I like, I just find something I don't.

Brian: Yeah the silence trap is definitely the only real good one, and it's one of my favorites in the franchise actually - since this "horror" series is low on actual scares, it's fun to see their version of the old standby moment in any good horror movie where a person has to be quiet to avoid detection by the killer/monster/whatever that's looking for them. Plus that bit of stomach guts that comes up with the key is an awesome touch. As for the rest, blaahhh. Bobby's final one could even have been circumvented easily (he could have put the hooks through his belt loops!) and the one with his teeth didn't make any sense - how the hell did they get the numbers on the top of his tooth without him being in severe pain from dental surgery when he woke up?

But there are things I like. John's hilarious conversation with Bobby ("With an H, without an H..."), Gibson's kooky line readings ("Crazy."), Hoffman using the corpse of that one lady cop (a very attractive actress who I was dismayed to discover seemingly retired after this movie) to get a door opened even though her face was clearly dead, a machine gun trap that would later be stolen by Breaking Bad, and the fact that after seven movies we finally get to see what the Jaw Trap does when actually activated. It's a shame it was used on Jill instead of Hoffman, but I guess it'd be anticlimactic on him after seeing it halfway done in the last film.

Scattered highlights aside, it's just a very by the numbers entry, something that should be filler before a better one, the way Saw V is. Most horror franchise finales (at least, the ones purporting to be, i.e. Jason Goes To Hell, Freddy's Dead, etc) are pretty lame, so it's not exactly a surprise, but Saw had always outshined the other big series for me, at least in terms of consistency. Because of their serialized nature, it's harder for me to just grab one off the shelf and watch it, because if it's been too long I'm likely to forget the context for this or that reveal and end up wanting to watch them all again, which isn't enticing when you're building toward such a shrug as this. It's a fan service entry that the fans don't really seem to like that much (its Cinemascore - based on the people who went opening night, i.e. die-hard Saw fans - was a mere B-), and the 3D aspect is literally the only new thing it offered. And at home you don't even get that much. The half-assed editing (it shouldn't take online research to know that 2 months had passed between Hoffman getting his jaw ripped up and him taking his revenge on Jill) doesn't do it any favors either, and Gibson's I.A./Hoffman shooting back-story is even less interesting than Saw V's fire scandal reveals.

I haven't been doing my ranking like you, but I wanted to do it for this finale. However I go back and forth so much, it's tough. I think it's because there are two modes of thinking - there's quality of film, which would put the original at the top with no question (best cast, best character development, and of course the whole "freshness" factor), but then there's also "What I want from a Saw movie!" which of course puts the original at a disadvantage since it lacks the elements the sequels all had. Sort of like how it's hard to get newcomers into the original Friday the 13th when there's no Jason - by now, the mental image I have of a Saw is "Crazy traps! Big reveals about things we saw last time! Dead/dying Jigsaw!" So this can change at any time, but it's MORE OR LESS: I, III, VI, II, IV, V/3D. And again, I don't technically DISLIKE this one or V, they just don't live up to the others, and if I was a grading man I'd be using .1 differences between those top few entries.

What's your final rank?

Britt: I mean, sure, it's easy to say there are things that are enjoyable in the sense that they're silly. Fake Christian Bale cop and his ridiculous line readings, Hoffman using the dead lady cop as a prop, and the stupid angel statue element are enjoyable in a sense, but they're not technically good. They make the film easier to watch, and I laugh at this stuff, but it's all basically lame, especially in comparison to the first film -- or even the first few films.

I also want to note that the coroner dies in this one, and I think he was also one of the longest running characters in the series, as he even mentions at one point that he's done autopsies on all the Jigsaw victims. He's like a Law & Order: SVU guy who shows up occasionally to offer his opinion. We kind of took him for granted, I think. RIP, coroner guy.

But I do find your perspective on the series interesting, and I do wonder how much things might have been different had the sequels eliminated Jigsaw earlier on, or hadn't done so much heavy mythologizing. There are too many what ifs throughout this series. As you say, the first film didn't set the standard for the series in terms of plot expectations, but the sequels never matched up to its level of quality. Saw began as a low budget project, and yet all these high budget horror sequels that followed labored too hard over the wrong elements -- the traps, the twist, the absurd backstories and mythology that needlessly double over on themselves.

Trying to come up with my final ranking is difficult because IV, V, and 3D were all pretty disappointing to me in different ways, so I keep asking myself, if someone forced me to watch one of these again, which one would I choose, and I'm not sure I would want to revisit any of them. IV and V keep blurring together, which is why they've been stuck in a tie in the ranks, and I almost want to give 3D the edge just because it kills Hoffman (he doesn't die on screen but just let me believe this a-hole is dead, OK?) and I guess I'm a sucker for Cary Elwes like every other dingus who watched this series. At the same time, it's a hideously presented film -- the cinematography is so muddy, the editing is probably the worst in the entire series, and for the thankfully short runtime, this one is kind of a snooze. Regardless of the reason why Bobby is in the game and the return of Gordon, so much of this film feels like a retread.

Live or die, here's my final ranking, I guess: I > III > II > VI > The Crush > IV - V (tie) > 3D

Brian: I can't find much fault with that! I also forgot to point something out - I think this film would have worked better if they had successfully tied the game into the ongoing Hoffman/Jill/Gordon storyline. We both like Saw III a lot and I think a key element of its success is how the two plots, seemingly separate, ultimately converge when we discover Lynn is Jeff's wife. This might have been more satisfying in its closing moments if they sprung one final reveal on us, showing that Bobby was being led to a confrontation with Hoffman and/or Jill (or even Gordon), instead of his scenes, like the ones in V, being something you could just remove from the overall story entirely without it mattering. I know they combined two movie ideas, so it's possible that there WAS a stronger, more Saw-worthy climax and it just wouldn't work without the elements that had to be jettisoned when they blended the scripts - I guess we will have to wait for the inevitable series documentary or oral history book (which I'd be more than willing to write, by the way, as long as Matt Thompson proofreads it before publication) to find out.

Well Britt I thank you very much for taking this journey with me; I know you and most other people in the world have better things to do, especially this month, than rewatch a series where you dislike half the entries, so it's very much appreciated that you were willing to give them all another chance. It certainly improved the quality of these articles and made it a lot more fun for me to have someone to go back and forth with, and make some terrific observations while I just pointed out continuity and box office factoids.

Britt: Thank you for having me! I also want to give a shout out to my pals at Vulcan Video for hooking me up with all these Saw flicks this month and making this possible!

And now for the final twist... *cue Hello Zepp* - we've been drunk the entire time! Go back and reread all of the articles and you'll see the clues hiding in plain sight!

Happy 10th birthday, Saw! And to the readers, thanks for joining us on this journey, and Happy Halloween!