Thursday, March 31, 2011

So not the last one

Over the years since 2004, when the first Saw was released, I have come to acknowledge that I am a Saw completist.

I knew after the execrable second Saw and the ridiculous fourth Saw couldn't turn me away, I'd be sure to see them all, eventually -- usually before the next one hit theaters. In fact, always before the next one hit theaters, if memory serves.

But because the movies have been so ludicrous, it was with some amount of relief that I greeted the arrival of Saw 3D -- later redubbed Saw: The Final Chapter for its DVD release -- last October. Okay, I can finally be done, I thought.

On Sunday I went to the local Redbox machine in "celebration" of having won my college basketball pool -- with so many upsets this year, we didn't even need to go to the final weekend to determine a winner. I'd been searching for something cheesy-bad, with Skyline as my target. But it looks like Skyline is still within its 28-day window where Redbox doesn't yet carry it, so Saw: The Final Chapter jumped out as my next logical contender. Celebrate the end of the basketball pool (and winnings of $170) with the end of the Saw series.

Not so fast.

Never have I seen a "last" movie have so many loose ends. In fact, except for the death of a character who's been around for the last couple installments, and the return of another who'd been gone a lot longer than that, there's nothing about the "final" Saw that's really different than the other six Saws that came before it.

Stop reading now if you really don't want me to reveal any spoilers about Saw VII. (Maybe I'll just call it that from here on out, since neither Saw 3D nor Saw: The Final Chapter seems exactly accurate anymore.)

Okay, so for the last four installments or so we've know that the life's work of Jigsaw has been picked up by a detective named Rick Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). See, Jigsaw has now been dead for more Saw sequels than he was alive -- he died at the end of the third. I think it was at the end of the fourth that we learned about Hoffman's involvement, though they all tend to bleed together (pun intended) at this point.

At the end of the sixth, Hoffman looks like he'd had the tables turned on him by another insider -- Jill Kramer (Betsy Russell), Jigsaw's ex-wife (or is it widow? I can't remember). I can't remember how she did it, but she got him into the trap that has appeared most regularly in the Saw movies: the device that goes around your head and will rip your face open if you don't stop it within 60 seconds. Early in Saw VII, though, we learn that Hoffman escaped that trap with only a torn cheek, and now is out for Jill's blood. She goes to the police in hopes of being protected in exchange for her testimony.

Suffice it to say it doesn't go that way. Hoffman spends the movie systematically breaking into the station where Jill is being held and killing off all the people who would be guarding her, all the while luring a large contingent of other officers away from the station on a goose chase to catch him -- which also dooms them. Yeah, it's a bloodbath -- police are dying left and right in this movie. This is to say nothing of all the people getting killed in the movie's featured "long trap," which involves a fraudulent survivor (Sean Patrick Flanery), who wrote a book about surviving a Jigsaw trap that never happened, going through a series of tests to try to reach his wife before she's killed at the end of the hour. At each step of the way one of his co-conspirators buys it. Then there are also a couple isolated traps that have nothing to do with either of these narratives, except that they were set by Hoffman (or so we believe). They've upped the death quotient in this one, if nothing else.

Hoffman succeeds at killing everyone, and then, fairly anticlimactically, straps the same device to Jill's head. Sixty seconds usually take about three minutes of screen time to transpire in a Saw movie, but here, Jill just sits there for a minute that lasts about ten seconds, and then her head explodes. If we're real romantics we could say that now she's reunited with her dead ex-husband.

As Hoffman leaves the station following this massive slaughter, he's approached by three figures in cloaks and animal masks -- or, I should say, "animal heads," because their entire heads are covered. We've seen these figures kidnapping future victims in past Saw movies. They inject him with something to put him to sleep. One removes his mask, and it's Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes) -- the man who cuts off his own foot to survive the original Saw, eons ago now. This is not as shocking as we might think, since the movie opened with a flashback to Gordon's torment, and he's later seen at a survivor's meeting, where he has some cryptic words for Flanery's faux survivor. It turns out Gordon has been Jigsaw's other assistant all these years. It's a bit facile -- like anything we see in a Saw movie isn't facile -- because they already used that same gimmick in Saw II and III, where Shawnee Smith survived a trap and then became a Jigsaw disciple. But whatever.

Okay, so Gordon leaves Hoffman chained to the same pipe he was chained to, way back in the first Saw. There are still at least two dead bodies lying in this location, nothing more than skeletons by this point. I guess that's chilling, because it means that in all this time, the police still haven't found this location -- it must be pretty remote. And then the movie ends with Hoffman panicking and Gordon saying "Game over!" to him as he closes the sliding door, leaving Hoffman there in the dark. That's at least the third Saw movie that's ended with this door being closed on somebody.

Okay, so what have we really "resolved"? Not much. Jill Kramer is dead, but she was always a pretty passive character -- things were always happening to her, and that's no different in this movie, where she spends most of the time cowering in a jail cell. Hoffman is not dead, and the situation he finds himself in is not by any means a death sentence. You'd think he was worse off at the end of Saw VI, when he had the head-exploder strapped around his melon. A bunch of police are dead, but that doesn't matter because they were only just introduced to us. Gordon is not dead, and in fact, even with only one good foot, he makes a pretty good candidate to continue Jigsaw's legacy. And who are those other two people who never took off their animal masks? Then there's the faux survivor, Bobby, who didn't save his wife (she got heated up to the boiling point inside some kind of cauldron), but didn't die either. In fact, there was a peculiar lack of resolution to his storyline, even though it just began in this installment.

No Saw VIII? Really?

Okay, so if there is going to be a Saw VIII, at least it's not coming out this October. I looked up Tobin Bell, the only actor who figures to definitely return for another Saw (who has appeared in flashback in the last four movies now), on IMDB, and Saw VIII is not his next project. If it were coming out in October, we'd know about it.

But I had a bit of a scare when I googled "Saw 8" and came up with a bunch of entries, one of which included the following poster art:

Granted, it doesn't look ready for primetime and was likely made on somebody's home computer, but just for a second, I thought "REALLY??" History is full of examples of series that continued on past what was supposed to be the "last" installment, but I thought it would be particularly disingenuous to say that it's the last one, and then not even miss one Halloween before putting out the next.

So we will indeed have Halloween 2011 off from Saw movies, but I wouldn't be so sure about 2012. If there's one thing the legion of scribes who've written Saw movies have shown, it's a commitment to the series' warped sense of cohesiveness. You may think they've just kept making movies that involved some variation on the iconic killing devices we've seen in these movies, but they've done more than that -- they've tried to keep the storyline internally consistent and plausible. Usually they've failed stupendously in this regard, but even the attempt to maintain a comprehensible narrative throughline is commendable in its sheer sense of crazy ambitiousness.

So expect those dangling threads at the end of Saw VII to be resolved at some point. Maybe not this year, maybe not next, but by 2013 at the latest.

If legends never die, as the fake Saw VIII poster suggests, neither do successful movie franchises.


Nicholas Prigge said...

You won your pool? Man, I'm jealous. I've never won a pool. Ever. I finished 2nd once, years ago, but that's it. Those damn Aztecs. They had Uconn. They had 'em!

I've also never seen any of the "Saw" movies and I never will. Not that I'm judging you. I admire your committment.

Vancetastic said...

Even if you heard it was silly, I'd see the first Saw just you can have it as a frame of reference. I heard it was silly and ended up really liking it. Then again, that's when torture porn was still a relatively novel concept.

This was only my second pool win, the first being in 2005. Then I didn't need to have correctly picked the champion either, because I had three of the final four and both final game teams correct. (And I ended up picking wrong -- UNC beat Illinois rather than the other way around.) In fact, it was UConn who keyed my victory this time, first by beating SDSU and then by beating Arizona. I owe my victory to getting only a single first-round (uh, second-round) game wrong in the West region.

Geeking out on sports on a movie blog? Unheard of!

Daddy Geek Boy said...

If Saw had continuedto make money, they'd have kept them up. But the bloom has-been off the rose for the past few sequels.

Vancetastic said...

Yeah, but isn't there/shouldn't there be some kind of mercy rule, which is independent of the profitability of a given franchise?