Saw 7 (2010)
The story behind Saw 7 (or as presented in theaters, Saw 3D) is more intriguing than anything you’ll find in this lackluster chum bucket of guts. The director of Saw 6, series editor Kevin Greutert, was all prepared to go off and direct the sequel to the surprise smash, Paranormal Activity. The folks at Paramount even penciled in a Halloween release date, long the fertile ground for the annual Saw sequels. It seemed like Paramount was rubbing in the fact that they now had the more exciting, buzz-worthy franchise and they would tap dance on the grave of Saw. Well the studio suits didn’t take too kindly to this broadside, so they activated a clause in Greuter’s contract. The man was legally required to leave the Paranormal Activity 2 project so that he could direct a seventh Saw film. Because nothing says “work of art” like forcing your director to make a movie by threat of legal action.
Saw 7 is billed as the “Final Chapter” but it doesn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion, more like an overdue mercy killing. It’s no secret that the Saw franchise has been flailing and sputtering for quite some time, with the bizarre exception of Saw 6 (my friend Eric proudly deems it the “Godfather II of the Saw franchise”). It was because of Saw 6, a fascinating return-to-form by tackling the topical issue of health care reform, that got my hopes slightly renewed for the franchise’s finale. Having health insurance employees as the victims gave the franchise some much-needed populist anger, a renewed morbid fascination that was surprisingly enjoyable. Imagine Saw 7 taking on the extension of the Bush tax cuts? Alas, my fledgling hope was for naught.
Part Seven follows a self-help guru Bobby Dragan (Sean Patrick Flanery) who talks about surviving a Jigsaw death trap as a spiritual awakening. Except that he’s a fake; he’s devised this phony survival tale as a scheme to get rich. Naturally Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, as always, in flashback) doesn’t take too kindly to this misrepresentation. Dragan would seem like a prime candidate for the haunted warehouse of horrors that Jigsaw usually specializes with, except that Jigsaw has been dead for four films now. His second apprentice, Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), is wanted by the police and FBI and even Jigsaw’s own widow (Betsy Russell), who unsuccessfully tried killing Hoffman with one of the series’ infamous bear traps masks. So let’s stop and think this out. Hoffman, who is on the run and established as a serial murdering fiend, still takes time out to set up a warehouse full of death traps for Dragan to fulfill his late employer’s wishes. If it’s not obvious now let me make it pointedly clear – in whatever city these murders, take place, it has the most incompetent police force in the history of the universe. Did they literally hire the Police Academy crew? That would make for an entertaining diversion that might reboot two franchises.
As always, the sinister death traps are the real draw of the franchise, and these convoluted killing devices have been getting less inspired from each shallow sequel. These contrived contraptions always bothered me in their uniform intricacy. The franchise began with some pretty simple scenarios: crawl through barbed wire to reach an exit, while covered in kerosene hold a candle to see a written combination, saw off your feet if you want to escape a filthy bathroom of doom. Then in order to top the previous film, the death traps got more contrived and involved a lot more engineering muscle. The more complex they got the less interesting they became. Now with Part Seven, some traps include a three-headed saw with each member of a love triangle in its aim. Two guys, the boyfriend and the “other man,” have to overpower a saw or they can relax and let the woman that’s come betwixt them lower onto a saw blade. This opening trap is the start of some dubious misogyny even for a genre as female punishing as horror. There’s a gauntlet of grisly horror in store for a bevy of female characters, usually involving something sharp penetrating them. But for the lone man who falls into a Jigsaw trap he meets his death by… hanging. Yes, a simple almost merciful hanging compared to the gruesome fates the women encounter. I’m not seeking feminist sensibilities from a genre that profits from their half-naked terror, but Saw 7 is even sicklier because of the undercurrents of misogyny. The traps in number seven aren’t memorable, interesting, and they feel like they’ve been done before in some earlier incarnation (a woman being “smoked” in a mechanical pig does seem to be different).
The biggest problem with Saw 7 is that it doesn’t feel like anybody gives a damn anymore, including the filmmakers and actors. The production values seem like a world away from other movies in the series. The entire affair reeks of “direct to video” even though it was shopped as a 3-D theatrical experience. As you can imagine, because of the gimmicky 3-D, the movie is filled with plenty of pointy objects pointed at the screen. When watching in traditional 2-D, it gets fairly tiresome. Also because of the 3-D presentation, the filmmakers had to compensate for how dark the 3-D glasses make the movie. That means that the spurts of blood are in a rather unrealistic pink lemonade shade, like the retro blood from 1970s exploitation flicks. Without the glasses, as most will view the film at home, it further cements the overall cheap atmosphere. The production design, cinematography, and editing all feel like the Lionsgate intern team performed them. Every technical aspect feels more than sub par, it feels like no effort was exerted whatsoever. Sure it got finished, but finished and complete are different.
The Saw franchise has always been built around the craft death traps and a last-second twist ending accompanied by a barrage of scenes given new context. This formula has been repeated with each installment, so I expected nothing more and “nothing more” is what I received. Saw 7 thinks its audience demands to know its convoluted back-story, which gives way to all sorts of behind-the-scenes flashbacks that are always retroactively changing and channeling the timeline of events and participants. I think it’s all frightfully boring. I don’t care who screwed what bolt into what. I’m not watching Saw for realism (hence why the police NEVER think about tracking what vacant warehouses are sucking down gads of electricity). But at this point, with the thrill of the death traps long beaten into a bloody submissive pulp, I don’t even know what I would watch this series for. The appeal seems to have died along with its boogeyman, Jigsaw, four films back. The subtitle “The Final Chapter” seems like a promise destined to be broken. In the annuls of horror, any successful franchise will live on forever with cheap made-for-DVD sequels. Saw 7 just feels like the first made-for-DVD sequel, except it got a theatrical release as one final gasp at cash. Just wait twenty years and the whole thing will be rebooted as some sort of prestige picture that speaks to man’s inhumanity to man circa 2030.
Nate’s Grade: D