This review of Saw: The Final Chapter is part of the Saw Franchise Retrospective series in anticipation of this month’s release of Jigsaw.
If nothing else, the Saw franchise is consistent in its formula. A Saw film generally has two plotlines that are crosscut until a final reveal that either brings them together or brings them both to a “surprising” end.
Saw: The Final Chapter is a different beast. It is sporadic, with torture set pieces sprinkled about without any respect for narrative cohesion. The film grounds us, eventually, in the capture of Bobby (Sean Patrick Flanery), a man who has lied about being a victim of Jigsaw and, ironically, finds himself playing a Jigsaw game of his own.
Now, I’ve been thinking a lot about Saw franchise continuity. Okay, not that much, but enough to question the premise of Saw: The Final Chapter at its most basic level.
Hear me out. Just how long of a time frame does this series take place in? Saw III picks up probably days after the end of Saw II, given that Eric Matthews is alive and captured, so unless they fed him and kept him alive until the events of Saw IV it would have to be a short time frame. Saw III and Saw IV occur concurrently. Saws five, six, and seven pretty much pick up right where their predecessors left off.
I’m not certain how much time there is between Saw and Saw II, but the first trilogy of films cannot possibly span more than a few months given that John Kramer (Tobin Bell) is rapidly approaching death by way of brain cancer. We also know that Kramer has only been springing death traps on people since separating with his wife Jill (Betsy Russell), which occurs very near or perhaps right after his cancer diagnosis.
Also, incidentally, Kramer’s first kill occurs during the year of the pig in the Chinese zodiac, because we see a parade commemorating such a fact. This would make the year 2007, I guess, even though the first Saw movie came out in 2004. But they had to explain the pig mask somehow, right! Everything has to be connected!
Anyway, long story long and still being told, the Saw series could not possibly span more than six months, and that is a generous estimate. There are vague mentions of previous Jigsaw victims at the start of Saw, but the police are just getting a handle on the idea that this is a serial killer at work.
Point is: how many victims could Jigsaw possibly have that we have not already seen on-screen over seven installments? This film bases its premise around a person falsifying his Jigsaw victimhood, and there are a bunch of other survivors that we have never seen before. There are full Jigsaw survivor support groups (the one we see features, I believe, two survivors we’ve seen in previous films, not including good ol’ stumpy Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes)).
Almost all victims of Jigsaw die; it’s pretty much the point of the movies. How then are there this many survivors if Kramer and his proteges have been at work for less than a year and mainly focused on their own internal strife?
This is without mentioning that a very much alive Kramer visited Bobby after Bobby’s book about being a Jigsaw victim was published, seemingly scoping him out for a potential game.
I’ll drop the point here. It’s just important to stress how off-base this final Saw film is from the very beginning.
Saw: The Final Chapter is meant to tie up all of the series’ loose ends. Technically, it does, but it does so without being very engaging. Following the trials of Bobby yields little in the way of suspense or intrigue. It is the same basic conceit as Rigg’s arc in Saw IV or that insurance executive in Saw VI, only the traps in this case are uninspired and mostly excuses for blood splatter (presented in 3D!).
Visually, the Saw series has this weird trajectory. It begins with an interesting mix of unsettling color palettes, ugly whites and yellows and blues. Over the course of the series, the colors seem to flatten. It is most evident in Saw VI and Saw: The Final Chapter, but this final film is the ugliest of the bunch. Most of the film is this flat gray-blue that is washed over everything. Every so often there is a throwback to that yellowed aesthetic of previous films, but this is just a flat green that is washed over everything.
The film is flat. It’s that simple. It is visually flat. It is narratively flat. It is tonally flat. After the box office failure that was Saw VI, The Final Chapter is a cynical last-ditch effort at recouping the losses with the marketing benefit of dubbing this as the last film in an era of torture porn.
There were never compelling characters, per se, in the Saw franchise. But the police presence generally had something in way of acting talent. From Danny Glover to Donnie Wahlberg to Scott Patterson, the lead investigators were generally pretty good. They had energy and the smallest ounce of ability to command the screen as a protagonist. Heck, even Lyriq Bent provided something when he took center stage in Saw IV.
Here, the police presence is abysmal. Not only are they not characters, but they are figures played so woodenly that you outright loathe anytime they appear on-screen. At least there’s good ol’ Saw mainstay Costas Mandylor to show these rookies how wooden acting ought to be done.
Saw 3D: The Final Chapter is the worst Saw film to date. It feels like a knockoff while still remaining in continuity, and it reaps the detriments of both of these concepts. Sure, we get to see the return of Cary Elwes, but it is about five years too late to make that payoff worthwhile.
But hey, at least someone gets roasted inside of a giant metal pig. Because everything has to be connected.
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)