"Saw" is an incredibly successful franchise that has been able to unleash new iterations each and every Halloween since 2004. With that kind of regularity, you'd think there'd be some looseness to the franchise. With a guaranteed sequel every year, it could have evolved into a kind of "South Park" with severed limbs — able to comment and critique, with some regularity, whatever was going on in the culture at the time. Instead, the sequels have clung rigidly to the formula established in the original "Saw"-- a bunch of puny humans are captured and imprisoned against their will, for sins they have committed in everyday life, and rigged to some kind of elaborate, Rube Goldberg-esque device that's like a malicious version of the board game Mousetrap.
What's even more amazing is that, two or three sequels in, the series' big bad (and horror icon) Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) died. Which means that the sequels, instead of using the original conceit as a jumping off point for broad reinventions, have become contraptions in and of themselves: struggling, often painfully, to weave a labyrinthine path back to the core idea of the series. Mostly this involves lots of things that make absolutely no sense and leave everyone involved confused and bewildered.
"Saw 3D," which once carried the subtitle "The Traps Come Alive," a tag that seemed to lead in a supernatural element being added to the series, with the bloody booby traps actually becoming anthropomorphic characters (no such luck folks), is just another slice of the "Saw" pie. And no matter how many ads you see promising this as the last entry in the franchise, the door is left wide-fucking-open for Jigsaw and his incredibly handy minions to return for another 'round in the impossibly elaborate torture chamber.
The film opens with a fairly clever sequence that is sort of enjoyable even in the face of its bold misogyny, with two young men tied up to a trap with a saw in between them. Above them hangs the woman who has claimed fidelity to each of them. The men have a decision to make: they can either let the saw cut themselves, or they can leave it to saw the lying wench in half (you can kind of guess where this goes, and in what direction the three-dimensional guts fly at the audience). It's in this sequence, though, that you realize how humorless the series is and how, with its skewered view of morality (which is really just a tepid retreat of Kevin Spacey's unnamed serial killer in "Se7en"), how utterly silly its seriousness is.
This is a film, and a film series, when we're supposed to feel something (what, exactly, is left ambiguous) when a white supremacist is glued to a chair and forced to watch his goose-stepping buddies get vivisected in various ways, but whose amateurish film-making (slack direction, cheap-ass production design) leaves everything feeling weightless and inconsequential.
The rest of the movie is a mundane series of these grisly set pieces, most of them centered around a survivor of one of Jigsaw's attacks, Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flannery, who is aging terribly), who has gone on to write a best selling book about his ordeal. But here's the thing! He lied about being one of Jigsaw's captors, and so the rest of the movie he's put to the test of actually being in those situations, many of them involving those in his inner circle (his girlfriend, publicist, etc.) Whatever cleverness might have been wrung out of this idea is lost amidst an incomprehensible jumble of plot points, many of them including Jigsaw's widow (Betsy Russell) and Jigsaw's escaped psycho accomplice (Costas Mandylor). If you're looking at the cast and thinking "Who the hell is that?" well, you're not alone: these actors are awful and only add to the overwhelming phoniness of the enterprise.
Oh, and that added dimension of terror? Totally lame. You'd think, with a name like "Saw 3D," you'd get a non-stop murder marathon. Instead, whole swaths of the movie take place in poorly lit hallways and in drab police stations. (Seriously, you've seen high school productions of "Bye Bye Birdie" with more impressive sets than this.) Rarely, if ever, does the red stuff fly out at you, and the overall effect is cheap and stagy. Unlike this past summer's "Piranha 3D," which used the three-dimensional space in knowing, inventive, and fun ways, "Saw 3D" is the tired old set of tricks. Only this time, you have to watch them while wearing silly glasses. [F]