(by Dustin Putman
Seven years, seven movies. If Lionsgate's marketing campaign is to be trusted, "Saw VII" has been set up as the final chapter in the blood-drenched-but-worn-dry horror series (if the empty multiplex auditorium I saw the film in the Thursday night before its official Friday release is any indication, it just might be). As such, it makes the ultimate case for why the franchise should have ended after 2006's "Saw III," easily the tightest and craftiest of all the entries as it satisfyingly tied up the various plot threads and killed resident villain John Kramer/Jigsaw Killer. Where there was money to still be made, there were further sequels to be thrown together, with 2007's "Saw IV" and 2008's "Saw V" especially lame, convoluted and amateurish. In death, John Kramer returned time and time again in flashback sequences as the tacked-on continuation of the story seemingly was pulled from the asses of screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. Article continues below
Following the brief uptick in quality with the stylish, thematically richeróbut still, by this point, tediousó"Saw VI," "Saw VII" opts for something altogether different, but not necessarily better. In lieu of treating the purportedly last installment with any sort of seriousness or reverence, director Kevin Greutert has thrown all logic to the wind. From an aesthetic standpoint, "Saw VII" outclasses its predecessors with a fuller, brighter tone, scope and color scheme. For once, scenes actually take place in exterior locations during the daytime as opposed to being solely set in cold, dank, dilapidated warehouses. Otherwise, this grisly anticlimactic offering is bound to piss fans off, becoming so brazenly far-fetched that it actually poses a slew of new questions while answering almost none of the old ones. If this really is the final film in the series, it comes off as a rotten joke that laughs in the face of anyone who has followed the ongoing corkscrew narrative and expected it to properly wrap things up. Instead, the picture's conclusion is just as open-ended as any of the past ones.
Narrowly escaping a trap set for him by Jill (Betsy Russell) at the behest of her late, cancer-stricken husband John (Tobin Bell), homicidal protege Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) loses what was left of his mind and sets about on a rampage that he hopes to culminate with revenge against Jill. Meanwhile, author Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery) has just released a book detailing his survival of the Jigsaw Killer's wrath. The only problem: not a word of it is true. Now, with wife Joyce (Gina Holden) held hostage, Bobby has one hour to make his way through a maze of nightmarish tests or risk losing the person he loves most.
"Saw VII" is beyond stupid, not the least bit interested in even bare coherence. Ridiculous from the start in a very giddy, unapologetic sort of way, the film opens with a complex trap taking place in a glass enclosure beside a busy city street, onlookers terrified and helpless as they watch two friends (Sebastian Pigott and Jon Cor) decide if they are going to kill each other with an electrical buzz saw or sacrifice the life of an unfaithful mutual girlfriend (Anne Greene). From there, one's suspension of disbelief is required as the movie gets all the more goofy. Are we really to believe Bobby Dagen has published a book about his survival against Jigsaw without a single person calling him out on his blatant mistruth? How are there gobs of new survivors the series had previously not mentioned all of a sudden coming out of the woodwork? How are the overly elaborate Rube Goldberg traps Hoffman is responsible for even halfway feasible? A magician couldn't even pull together what Hoffman has managed by himself. Meanwhile, the use of the tricycle-riding clown doll shoots right into laughable territory this time as it continually shows up and mouths out Hoffman's pre-recorded messages on cue.
If all the viewer cares about are the torture sequences, they will be happy to know that "Saw VII" has notably more than any in the past. In fact, in between the fleeting exposition scenes full of bad writing and embarrassing performances, the movie is nothing but violent, gory set-pieces. Without anyone likable to care about, it all comes off as even more exploitative than the norm. Taken at face value, however, they up the ante an extra notch in their ghoulish imagination and certainly keep the unsettling energy levels high. Especially effective is one scene where a racist man's bare back is glued to a car seat, his inability to be set free causing a horrific chain reaction of death, and another where Bobby must get ahold of a key from publicist Nina (Naomi Snieckus) that has been hooked on a string and buried deep in her intestines.
Without giving away the details, Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes) from 2004's original "Saw" does, indeed, make a prominent return appearance. How he is used will both surprise and bewilder, though, especially during a final act that creates countless plot holes and fails to conclude in a way that does the series justice. Bigger and bolder in its body count but not even half as smart as the other "Saw" films, "Saw VII" replaces its signature morose atmosphere with sheer brain-numbing goofiness and a lack of respect for faithful audiences. Go in expecting any sort of closure, and you'll be in for a rude awakening.