*. If not rated by fans, or just anyone on the Internet who likes to make lists, as the worst film of the Saw franchise, The Final Chapter usually scores near the bottom of the bloody pile. That’s where I’d put it too. A lousy note to go out on, if “going out” was ever their intention.
*. Which I don’t think it really was. On the writers’ commentary track they start off with a joke about this being “the so-called Final Chapter,” but conclude by saying that “within this thread this is the last one.” You could argue either way, but seeing as Tobin Bell was going to be back in Jigsaw, Hoffman’s fate is, again, left hanging, and even Bobby, the protagonist here, is presumably still alive, they weren’t even closing the circle.
*. Meanwhile, Cary Elwes came back . . . for this? Seeing as he’d stayed out of all the previous sequels because of a lawsuit over his salary for Saw I hope he got paid this time.
*. The first note I made to myself was that this is a movie that looks like it was made on the cheap. Oddly enough, it was the most expensive film in the franchise with a $27 million budget. Alas, most of that money was eaten up by the fact that it was shot in 3D. Which is money wasted in my book, as I was watching it in 2D at home.
*. The opening kill was actually something a bit new (if even more improbable than usual), being a display on a concourse outside Roy Thomson Hall, in front of the most Toronto-esque crowd of extras I’ve ever seen. I take it the location and installation are meant as a finger to the art house-crowd, and it actually is a bit witty. But the victims don’t seem like the kind of people Jigsaw would be interested in (and I should add that these two are, once you straighten out the jumbled timelines, Jigsaw’s victims).
*. “There’s a new game going on,” one of the useless police figures informs Jill at one point. “Does that surprise you?” “No.” Should it? The story isn’t worth going into. Hoffman, as you may have guessed, survived the end of the previous film and is back to take his vengeance on Jill Tuck. As noted, Dr. Gordon is back as well. And brooding behind it all is the malevolent spirit of John (or Jon, he doesn’t care which) Kramer, who is looking to expose a pseudo-Jigsaw survivor.
*. I don’t think the plot is as cleverly constructed as in previous outings. Instead of twists they just decided to up the body count (27, a record for the franchise) and the gore (though much of this was, in the writers’ words, the “inevitable side effect of having to jam two stories into one”). There’s lots of splatter, if that’s your thing. We even (finally!) get to see the Reverse Bear Trap thingy, the signature device of the franchise, do the job it was designed to do. Think of one of Gallagher’s smashed watermelons.
*. The gags or games are gruesome enough, but that’s all that can be said for them. They’re not suspenseful and don’t involve any sort of interesting puzzle-solving. Instead they seem more like a gauntlet of CrossFit stations. The ending is particularly downbeat, as the most horrific death is visited upon someone who is innocent (indeed an “absolute innocent” according to the screenwriters), while her husband is unconvincingly undone trying to save her by going full Man Called Horse.
*. But then, perhaps because of the high body count, perhaps because of Hoffman’s evil nature, there’s a full slaughter of the innocents going on here. Gibson, to take another example, seems downright decent. It’s enough to make you pine for the more innocent days of the franchise, when the killing at least had some sort of point to it.
*. The DVD comes with two full-length commentaries, one with the producers and the other with the writers. You’ll also find a lot written about it online. This is one of the products of superfan culture in our time. So much critical attention is directed at material that I wouldn’t have thought able to sustain it (which is leaving aside the question of it being worthy of such attention in the first place). This, in turn, has become one of the more time-consuming aspects of making these notes, since I tend to feel obliged to listen to commentaries and review some other sources. But I guess it was interesting to know that the pig masks really were taken from Motel Hell.
*. Actually, the producers’ commentary also turned up another interesting tidbit. Indeed, it was something that even surprised them. The skinhead who gets killed in the garage game is played by Chester Bennington, a popular singer (now deceased). Apparently they had to redraw his tattoos because the tattooist who did his ink had copyright on them and the studio couldn’t show them. Colour me amazed. I don’t know how that would stand up in court.
*. Wesley Morris: “This series never cared for filmmaking. It never cared for human life. Now it doesn’t even care for its audience or itself, scraping together the gist of the other movies, simply in order to have something to sell for Halloween.” Nicely expressed, but can we be that cynical? I do get the sense that people were trying here. This is not a good movie, but the fact that they managed to keep this series going through seven movies and maintain some interest in its mythology is to their credit.
*. Some of the elements have promise, but none of it works. Maybe it’s the direction. Maybe it’s Sean Patrick Flanery as the lead contestant in Jigsaw’s game. He seemed to be lacking the requisite passion (in the Biblical sense). Maybe it’s the way what was originally planned as a two-part finale had to be collapsed into a single film after the box office disappointment of the previous entry. Maybe it’s the 3D. Maybe it’s all of the above. I didn’t like it, and would have preferred not finding out what happened to Dr. Gordon. I’m still a bit surprised fans didn’t go for it, but for all the reasons given I think they must have felt let down.