After six previous installments, the once indomitable “Saw” franchise has finally been laid low by the law of diminishing returns. What an ignominious, albeit fitting end to a once strong horror series that simply overstayed its welcome with audiences.
“Saw: The Final Chapter” finds Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), having survived his death trap at the hands of Jigsaw’s widow, Jill (Betsy Russell), now planning one final game in order to settle the score. Knowing that Hoffman will stop at nothing for revenge, Jill seeks out Detective Matt Gibson (Chad Donella), offering up any and all information she possesses in exchange for protection. Meanwhile, Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery), a self-help guru and proclaimed Jigsaw survivor, is out promoting his inspirational tale of survival. However, behind Bobby’s harrowing tale lay a dark secret that may cost him everything that he holds dear.
Having forced myself to endure through the last few entries in this once original and now stale franchise, I thought that perhaps nothing could bring this series to a close. After all, this blood-soaked saga has survived being critically panned repeatedly, it’s own incredibly convoluted and borderline incomprehensible storyline, and ultimately becoming tedious and repetitive.
I never expected that horror fans would eventually grow tired of the same old thing, quit forking over their hard-earned money, and force Lionsgate to kick the Jigsaw legacy to the curb? I mean, hardcore horror fans have kept many an undeserving franchise afloat well past their prime. But, I guess even the most ardent horror aficionados have their limits.
So, where did this most recent, and reportedly “final chapter” go wrong? Well, pretty much in all of the same areas as its torturous brethren. Now, please note my doubt at the “fact” that this is going to be the absolute final installment in this franchise. After all, “Friday the 13th Part 4” was subtitled “The Final Chapter” and yet there were six other sequels that followed in its wake. So, pardon my disbelief, but the word “final” holds very little meaning with horror films. But, I digress.
As has been the growing trend ever since “Saw IV”, the story for this last installment is as paper-thin as ever; relying solely on the traps to keep things moving along. The writing duo of Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan once again return to craft what unsurprisingly turns out to be yet another well below sub-par horror flick.
Now, how does one create a movie that ranks as being below sub-par, you ask? Well, by sticking to the status quo that this duo had established in their previous outings in the series. A checklist of sorts is as follows: creating characters that an audience can relate to is no longer necessary, plot holes can always be fixed by the next installment via flashbacks (except this film can only fix previous entries, any errors here will presumably be left wide open), and originality is either too hard or takes too long.
Now that I’ve listed out briefly what major issues with the story can be found in this movie, let’s look at them a little closer.
I mentioned that providing a character that audiences could relate to was apparently deemed no longer necessary by the writers of this movie. In the first few movies we were introduced to characters quickly, but we would come to know who they were and see them grow to an extent over the course of the film. With this installment, and the previous two for that matter, the characters placed in the various traps are complete blank slates to us.
The only character we do manage to learn bits and pieces about, mostly through the tapes recorded by Jigsaw and a few flashbacks, is the primary victim Bobby Dagen. The problem is, his character, a self-professed self-help guru, is completely uninteresting, and nothing we learn about him improves that perception. For a main character, either the writers poorly handled the role or the actor, Sean Patrick Flanery (“The Boondock Saints”), went completely in the wrong direction with his lame performance. Whatever the case, the character was a narcissistic bore that you find yourself caring very little about.
Another issue is the various flashbacks that take place in this movie. The previous films all featured flashbacks to help fill gaps in the story they are featured in, or fix any plot holes left behind by their predecessors. So, if flashbacks have become such a staple of the franchise, then why do they bother me in this installment more than ever before? The reason is because the flashbacks are used so prevalently that they become distracting.
Every time I saw a flashback in this film, I just found myself thinking, “Ok, here we go, what plot hole, from which film in the series, will we be addressing this time?” When your viewer begins having this type of thought, then game over. Because it has become quite obvious that you’ve relied on this tool for far too long and it has grown tedious.
While we’re on the topic of the tedious nature of this series; we now arrive at the unoriginality inherent in this film. For starters, the characters are nothing more than carbon copies of previously used, forgettable characters from other horror films and franchises. Truth be told, I’m not that surprised by this issue, since lame characters have become another staple for the series lately. Still, a little bit more effort could have been put forth to make some of them seem a little more unique. Oh wait, that would have been too hard, and therefore impossible for this writing duo.
Then there are the infamous traps of the “Saw” franchise. Despite their macabre nature, the traps have always been both creative and complex in their design. In the previous two films, they have become less inventive, and a creative block had apparently found its way into this aspect of the series. Now, I presumed that the writers would take whatever steps necessary to break down this block, and bring back some ingenuity to the most recognizable part of these films. Apparently, I was wrong in that presumption.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of traps that present some originality. However, beyond those two or three traps, the remainder simply repeat various aspects of the three original ideas only with some small twist to make them “new” or “different”. Unfortunately for the writers, this lame attempt to fool the audience failed, and I for one was left feeling like I had already seen it all before.
Now, I know that last angle of criticism seemed odd (as it has every time before), but for this type of movie some critiques may seem a bit out there. I mean, when inventive traps are the order of the day, one must point out when that inventiveness has lost its footing. Anyway, moving on.
In regards to the writers of this film, Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan: what I don’t understand is why these two talent-less hacks continued to get the writing job for this series? Especially, when these guys have been so pivotal in this franchise’s steady downfall.
To me, if you’re either Lionsgate or the franchise’s producers you’d want to, I don’t know, maybe find someone that could wrap up the series on a higher note rather than potentially push it down further. I’m all for giving people another chance, but come on, these guys have had three previous movies to make their story work. Yet, all they’ve managed to do was make everything more confusing and derivative.
Perhaps if a different writer or writers had been brought on board to help out or re-write this mess, then maybe the series wouldn’t have devolved into the stagnant, gore and snore-fest that it has become. Then again, ending the series with “Saw III” would have been an even better idea, since that was the last time this series actually possessed anything even remotely resembling a plot and character development. But, I digress once again.
Despite all of the issues to be found in this final installment, there were two things that “Saw: The Final Chapter” sort of did right. First and foremost, the writers managed to finally bring this series to a conclusion. Not necessarily a completely satisfying one, but a conclusion all the same. For that, I say thank you and it’s about time.
Secondly, the flashbacks manage to provide some answers to questions left lingering ever since “Saw IV”. Namely, explaining how so many times since Jigsaw was killed in “Saw III” these other victims just so happened to coincidentally stumble into his traps as he had planned. As it turns out, Jigsaw had yet another accomplice previously unknown to the audience who had been maneuvering these victims into their proper places to undergo their “therapy”, so to speak.
Of course, this retconning of events didn’t provide resolution for all of the instances of happenstance found in this series. But, at least it was a decent effort all the same. That being said, this surprise revelation still felt convoluted and was an obviously desperate attempt on the writers’ part to save face for their oversights and/or shortcomings with the previous three films.
You may be wondering why I semi-praised the usage of flashbacks after I just complained about them moments before. Well, the reason is that sometimes an element of a movie can be both beneficial and detrimental at the same time. The flashbacks were problematic because of their prevalence in this film, and also for the incredible amount of retconning they did to the series. But at the same time, the retconning proved beneficial at times in attempting cohesion for the franchise as a whole. It’s complicated, but oddly enough I think it’s fitting given how convoluted this entire franchise has become.
Finally, let’s take a look at the quality of acting found in “Saw: The Final Chapter”. In the lead role of Hoffman, Jigsaw’s replacement, we find the insufferably boring and seemingly lifeless (performance-wise), Costas Mandylor. As he has done ever since his first appearance in this series back in “Saw IV”, Costas has presented to us a performance so completely devoid of any shred of humanity, charisma, or excitement that one wonders how this man ever finds work in Hollywood. Not to mention, why did the casting director feel he was an appropriate choice to replace Tobin Bell after Jigsaw’s demise? The answer is beyond me.
Speaking of Tobin Bell, as always his brief appearances in this film are the only times I actually became interested in the movie. I was actually surprised that he wasn’t featured more in this film. I thought the writers were setting a trend with the previous movies by having Jigsaw appear more frequently through flashbacks than he ever did when he was alive. If that had been the case, then maybe this movie wouldn’t have been the worst one yet. I guess they wanted to see if the film could stand more on its own without as much of Tobin’s aid. Too bad it didn’t pan out, though.
Filling out the other primary roles in the film are series veteran Betsy Russell as Jigsaw’s widow and series newcomer Chad Donella (“Final Destination”) as a detective tracking down Hoffman.
Betsy Russell seemed to fall into Costas Mandylor’s method of acting in this film as she does not seem invested in the role at all. Of course, given the low quality of writing found in the script, I can understand why she no longer has any interest in this character. In the case of Chad Donella’s performance, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. If his one-dimensional, wooden performance in this film is any indication, then I think he fits right in with the rest of the cast. Because he certainly doesn’t have the talent necessary for other, much stronger movie fare.
Then we have the cameo appearances by Cary Elwes, reprising his role as Dr. Lawrence Gordon from the original film. Cary’s performance in the first “Saw” was generally over-the-top, and at times laughably so; however, his performance here is almost completely in the other direction. Despite delivering a very restrained performance, Elwes’ portrayal wound up suffering from being far too obvious. While he corrected one performance mistake, he created another one in return, go figure.
What makes this surprising is that Cary’s not new to acting; he’s been acting for years. And I know he can do better, I’ve seen him do it in previous films (for example, “Kiss the Girls”). I guess he just didn’t see a reason to try, most likely due to the quality of the script and how small the role turned out to be.
In the end, a once strong horror franchise has been weakened to the point it can no longer sustain an audience’s interest and must finally be put down. Of course, if you ever watch this entry, or any of the last few for that matter, then it’s not surprising that this is the end given the inferior quality on display. So, unless you’re like me, and have watched all of the previous entries in the series and just want to see it come to a conclusion, do yourself a favor and steer clear of “Saw: The Final Chapter”.
“Saw: The Final Chapter” is rated R for torture, disturbing images, violence and language.