Saw 3D (2010)
★ / ★★★★
In “Saw 3D,” written by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, the supposed final installment of the commercially (although not artistically) successful “Saw” franchise had three strands. First, Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), Jigsaw’s wife, was on the run from Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) so she took refuge at a police station. In return for protection, she was willing to divulge information about the infamous murders. Meanwhile, Detective Matt Gibson (Chad Donella) was in charge of solving a new crop of grizzly murders. Unlike the ones before him, would he be lucky enough to survive? Lastly, Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery) claimed to have been been kidnapped by Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and was successful at escaping his famous traps designed to teach a macabre lesson through painful irony. He and his entourage benefited from his fame based on untrue information. When he was kidnapped, was he capable of living up to his promise? “Saw 3D” was an excellent example why the series should simply end. I found no redeeming quality in it because every other scene was a flashback to the other six “Saw” pictures. Flashbacks are normally used to enlighten its audiences, not drive us into further confusion (and frustration). When I read reviews from fans of the franchise, they claim that they love the movies because “everything is connected.” No, it’s not. Just because a flashback makes a reference to a one minute scene from another movie, it does not necessarily mean there is a strong connection between the two. Aside from the first “Saw” movie, the rest lacked logic. Somewhere in the middle the central theme was lost. The victims were led to believe that they could get out of the traps. In reality, the possibility of escape was zero. How can we root for the character if we know she’s doomed? But I digress. “Saw 3D,” directed by Kevin Greutert, was plagued with clichés. From the cops’ arrival three seconds prior to the gruesome kill to a foggy night when something bad would eventually happen, it was one disappointing scene after another. The only comfort I found was to laugh at the ridiculous situations the characters found themselves in. I particularly enjoyed the scene of the woman, equipped with a shrill voice and in charge of public relations, who had a fish hook (along with a key necessary for her escape) stuck in her stomach and Bobby, using a string, had to pull it out of her mouth. It was bloody, flinch-inducing, grimly ironic, and fun to watch. Throughout the years, the franchise earned the label of “torture porn.” I thought it was appropriate. The acting was as bad as the ones seen in the very best pornographic films. I had to wonder where the casting directors found the actors. Maybe the actors knew the material was egregious but they just needed a big break. Who could blame them?
Saw VI (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
I just realized that a “Saw” sequel was released every year since the original. So it made me wonder when they would stop delivering us torture porn. Even though I do not particularly like the “Saw” franchise, I’m inclined to watch each movie that comes out because of my curiosity. In “Saw VI,” it was the same old formula: Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) gave his mindless and psychopathic minions (Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell) cryptic envelopes from the grave that contained photos of people who “needed to learn how to appreciate life more.” I’ve never and will never agree with Jigsaw’s illogical rationalization of “teaching” people but it was brainless entertainment so I went along with it. I enjoyed saw “Saw VI” more than “Saw IV” and “Saw V” because it focused more on one individual (Peter Outerbridge) which was one of the leaders of an insurance company who devised a formula that decided whether the company would cover the cost of a person’s treatment for an illness. I also enjoyed (I’m not sure if that’s the right word) the opening scene which involved sacrificing the most amount of flesh for one to survive and the carousel scene. Other than those, the filmmakers threw the audiences random flashbacks designed to explain how “everything is connected.” For me, it’s all smokes and mirrors and I don’t see any brilliance in them. While most audiences would probably go, “Oh my god, that’s so smart!,” I just sit there and think, “That’s it?” because I could sometimes guess what the twist was (such as in this instance). While watching the movie, I actually thought of the possibility that one day, a writer would reset the franchise and make a hard-boiled procedural film (somewhere along the lines of “Zodiac” or perhaps even “Se7en”) about the Jigsaw murders instead of just featuring one torture scene after another. Instead of seeing the murder from a psychopath’s perspective (which we’ve been experiencing since “Saw II”), it would be nice to see it from a detective’s point of view. But not just any detective; a detective who is a good person even though he or she has her inner demons. A little bit of intelligence and heart would certainly benefit this franchise because so far, it hasn’t offered me anything new. But will that stop me from watching “Saw VII”? (Come on, I bet it was already in post-production by the time I saw this movie.) Probably not.
Saw V (2008)
★ / ★★★★
I don’t know why I keep watching this series. Even though I have a feeling that it’s going to be disappointing, I still feel some sort of excitement whenever they release a sequel. I guess it has something to do with human nature and violence. Everything about this film is recycled. People claim that each sequel adds to the storyline because it provides information that the audiences did not have prior to a specific installment. I cannot disagree more. I think the writers have dug themselves so deep into the “mythology” of the series to the point where there’s five plotholes to each so-called twist. Each sequel then tries to solve those plotholes by trying to tell a story and providing more twists to keep the viewers engaged. It’s an interminable cycle that I think will not end any time soon as long as people are actually willing to pay for a ticket in the cinema. Even though I did enjoy this sequel more than “Saw IV” because it’s more comprehensible, we get too many flashbacks (it’s literally more than half of the film) that practically say, “Look over here! You missed this! Aren’t we brilliant and you’re not because you didn’t figure it out before?” It’s an insult but a laughable one so it becomes somewhat harmless. What worked for me was the rivalry between Costas Mandylor and Scott Patterson. I’ve been wanting these two to collide ever since the first few sequels. (I actually do not remember when each of the character appeared because all of them have the same “story.” Only the torture scenes are different.) Here, they get to battle it out a bit. Another actor that worked for me was Julie Benz even though I strongly believe that they could’ve used her more. She’s a strong actress (I’m still a big fan for her role in of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Dexter”) and it shows in pretty much each scene she was in. What didn’t work for me was the return of Tobin Bell as Jigsaw. No, that is not a spoiler and you will see why. He talks in the same pitch and tone in pretty much every line and I can fall asleep listening to him. If they are going to make a “Saw VI” (which I bet they will), I want to see less of him. As for the infamous traps, I only have one favorite which has got to be the opening scene involving a pendulum. I also liked the part where Benz finally figured out what they were supposed to do right from the beginning. I cannot recommend this picture because everything is like a rerun of the first four movies.
Saw III (2006)
★★ / ★★★★
This is slightly better than “Saw II” but nowhere as great as the original. In my opinion, in order for a sequel to be successful, it should be able to stand on its own. There’s a difference between making connections with its predecessors and relying on its predecessors to make a functional story. “Saw III” is the latter example, which is unfortunate because the traps are interesting and the deaths are gruesome (as what a “Saw” fan would expect). Tobin Bell as Jigsaw is creepy and cryptic as usual, but this time we get to truly see the dynamics between him and his partner Amanda (played by Shawnee Smith). However, what didn’t work for me was Angus Macfadyen’s character because his character is one-dimensional–a father who is grieving over the death of his only son. Whenever he is given the chance to “forgive”/save a life, he moves ever so slowly every single time. One time would be understandable, but if lives are at stake there should be a feeling of urgency despite one’s anger toward the person that he or she is supposed to save. In a nutshell, I found it difficult to identify with his plight. Another thing that started to bug me throughout watching the “Saw” franchise is Jigsaw’s philosophy of “teaching” his victims lessons by putting them through torture. If those victims happen to fail the challenges, Jigsaw doesn’t consider himself a murderer even though he’s the one who kidnapped those people and put their bodies in terrifying killing machines. In my opinion, he is the agent of harm because he leaves people worse off than they otherwise wouldn’t have experienced if it weren’t for Jigsaw’s actions despite the positive effects such actions might entail (if the victims were to survive). If one has taken a philosophy class, this idea is pretty basic and it really makes a dent on the film’s premise. Still, I thought this was one of the more coherent sequels of the franchise and I was quite entertained so I’m not going to persuade people to not see this movie.