Silver Screen: Saw VII 3D Zero Stars
If you like the Saw movies, chances are good that I don't like you.
The series started with a fun upstart gimmick movie that delivered some nice scares on a small budget. A prominent doctor (Cary Elwes) and a low-rent hoodlum (series creator Leigh Whannell) wake up in a dingy basement, shackled to pipes and unable to escape. A bloody body lies between them. A series of hidden messages both written and recorded hint that they must play a game to earn their freedom, and the creepy baritone voice on the tape grimly suggests that perhaps the only way out of the leg irons is a rusty saw-- it won't cut through the metal, mind you, but it can be used to carve their way to freedom.
The first Saw has become the anomaly in the series. Ever since the second entry, the franchise has taken a turn toward an inordinately convoluted and generally pretty unnecessary mythology that ultimately urges viewers to side with the killer and his homicidal acolytes, whose bloody deeds are not only repeatedly excused but heralded as moral achievements. What started out as the narratively convenient rantings of a psycho filched from Seven whose existence justified the kooky locked-room mystery has become a pulpit for neo-conservative sadism; it has, in every sense of the word, gotten ugly.
It's barely worth rehashing the plot of Saw 3D, the seventh and ostensibly final entry in the series. The movies follow such a strict pattern that they're all, from Saw II on, essentially identical, and the subtleties that do exist in the through plot are so elaborate and unmemorable as to be virtually incoherent to anyone who hasn't rewatched the whole run at least twice through. (In fairness, I must concede that I missed one of the movies-- I think it was IV, but it could have been V. It didn't seem to make any difference.)
A smarmy self-help guru (Sean Patrick Flanery) has made his name and his fortune off a book called S.U.R.V.I.V.E., about a fake life-changing experience living through one of Jigsaw's (Tobin Bell) torture traps. That pisses off Jigsaw, which means it also irritates his accomplice (the absurd Costas Mandylor, here playing a demented cop), probably his other accomplice (Shawnee Smith, who doesn't even get screen time even though she's no more dead than our antihero), and certainly his third, as-yet unnamed but pretty obvious third accomplice. As a result, the last set of traps is (with the same improbable, precise prognostication) laid for our phony writer, which must be some kind of subconscious plea from hack scribes Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, who've been drenching us in this refuse since Saw IV.
And so it goes: Writer guy runs through a dingy, foreclosed property trying to save the various people in his life caught in brutal devices which, when he fails to complete various absurd tasks, murder those people as graphically as possible. The whole thing plays out like the dark fantasy of Rube Goldberg, had he have been born a psychopath.
The Saw series is vicious tripe that was unfortunately suited to the Bush era, when our bloodlust was matched only by our own sense of absolute moral superiority. A villain who massacres near-strangers for sins infinitely smaller than his own, then justifies the whole ordeal as a quasi-religious crusade, was inadvertently apt then and just an echo of a twisted past now. If the films were pitched this way with anything like self-consciousness, if there was any element of critique, they might be semi-justifiable as maladroit propaganda with an understandable appeal to gore hounds. But the movies' flat refusal to side with anyone other than the killers, as evinced by the gleefully filmed murder of basically every single "good" guy who tried to hunt them down, speaks volumes.
These were the worst movies of the decade. They were relevant in the worst possible ways-- plodding, thoroughly unenjoyable, mirthless, shoddy bullshit. They combined the philosophical complexity of a Laffy Taffy joke with the obsessions of a particularly melodramatic goth kid and the production values of a Canadian soap opera. Every single person who saw them is worse off for the experience. I know I am.