Saw has shown a ferocious unwillingness to evolve. Once the huge grosses started rolling in, plenty of franchises would upgrade to better actors, pricier screenwriters, and production values that didn’t fall somewhere between a Roger Corman cheapie and a snuff film. But the producers behind the Saw films are understandably reluctant to mess with a winning formula. Each entry feels more or less like the last. They’re seemingly filmed on the same grungy, dirty, barely lit set, reusing the same generic-looking C-list actors. And in a particularly stubborn act of willful water-treading, they continue to prominently feature Tobin Bell as the mischievous, moralistic protagonist, even though his character died several sequels ago.
In Saw 3D, the eighth and ostensibly last series installment, David Cassidy look-alike/Boondock Saint Sean Patrick Flanery plays a bestselling author who’s made a fortune off an inspirational book in which he fictitiously recounts having survived one of Bell’s deadly traps. Saw makes its victims suffer for even the most minor transgressions, so Bell’s flunkies cook up a punishing test for Flanery, to fit the severity of his crime. In order to save his beloved wife, Flanery must make his way through a series of deadly traps involving his friends and handlers. Meanwhile, series veteran Betsy Russell, playing Bell’s traumatized ex, goes to the police and dimes out Bell accomplice/law-enforcement agent Costas Mandylor, who sets about enacting revenge the only way he knows: through a series of gruesome traps.
Bell’s minions continue to behave like the world’s grisliest life coaches. They even use the touchy-feely language of therapy-speak; traps are designed specifically to teach Flanery important lessons about reexamining his priorities and valuing his loved ones. Successories-style sentiments get joined to low-rent gore, maddeningly redundant setpieces, and an arbitrary police procedural about a hotshot detective intent on taking Mandylor down. With the possible exception of Final Destination, no horror franchise is as devoted to cheap gimmicks, and no gimmick is more ubiquitous these days than 3-D. But Saw 3D does little with the technology; even in 3-D, the film looks flat. This entry is being billed as the series closer, and as a tiny change of pace, but don’t believe the hype. Saw 3D offers the same old overwrought, laughably melodramatic shit, only this time in one more dimension.