Another Halloween, anoth­er absurd­ly con­vo­lut­ed entry in the Saw series.  Your Humble Reviewer has nev­er par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed the­se films (even the much-praised first entry doesn’t hold up under scruti­ny) yet he finds it fas­ci­nat­ing on a num­ber of lev­els.  For one thing, it’s the most trans­gres­sive and unpleas­ant hor­ror film series to ever achieve this lev­el of fame and prof­itabil­i­ty.  It’s also been fas­ci­nat­ing to watch the con­tor­tions that each film’s cre­ators tie them­selves in their attempts to con­vince view­ers that it is a ful­ly-real­ized series with a con­tin­u­ous plot that coher­ent­ly con­nects all entries.  In the process, they’ve cre­at­ed a set of films that have so lit­tle regard for plau­si­bil­i­ty that they’ve become works of acci­den­tal sur­re­al­ism.

That said, the ghoul­ish fun has run out of steam with Saw 3-D (Saw 7 if you aren’t see­ing it in three dimen­sions).  It’s hard to give a plot sum­ma­ry for this film since it jug­gles six films’ worth of bag­gage and loose ends while also telling a new sto­ry but here’s an attempt: Bobby (Sean Patrick Flannery) is a self-help author whose schtick revolves around the idea that sur­viv­ing one of Jigsaw’s gris­ly trap-tests helped him evolve to a high­er lev­el of being.  Unfortunately for him and his beau­ti­ful bride Joyce (Gina Holden), he’s not being truth­ful about his past and Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) noticed.  Thus, Bobby soon finds him­self work­ing his way through a real set of grue­some trap-tests that involve per­il for him­self, his wife and all who helped him in his rise to fame.

Believe it or not, that’s only half of what is going on in Saw 3-D. Continued over from the last few films is the sto­ry of Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), a rogue cop who became a Jigsaw oper­a­tive before going rogue again and get­ting pun­ished from beyond the grave by Jigsaw via his ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell).  Jill turns to inter­nal affairs cop Gibson (Chad Donella), a for­mer rival of Hoffman’s, for help.  He tries to hunt down Hoffman before he can get to Jill while also deal­ing with the lat­est round of Jigsaw killings.  Meanwhile, Jigsaw sur­vivor Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes) returns from the first film to hov­er mys­te­ri­ous­ly on the periph­ery of this pile of tan­gled plots.  For what it’s worth, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park/scream-singing fame also pops up as a guest vic­tim.

If this all sounds as hope­less­ly con­fus­ing as it is grim, rest assured that it is.  The secret pow­er of the Saw series is that its bewil­der­ing yet fast-mov­ing mass of plot threads cre­ates as much ner­vous ten­sion in its view­ers as the grue­some set­pieces.  Keeping up with the plot con­tor­tions is as dif­fi­cult as sur­viv­ing a Jigsaw trap and that gen­er­ates a lev­el of anx­i­ety that keeps the view­er on edge.  That said, the series nev­er plays fair with its audi­ence by pay­ing off (there’s always a few new twists hid­ing behind any appar­ent end-point in the­se sto­ries) and they always leave an open door for the next poten­tial entry.  Even this sup­posed “final” entry leaves that door open and it has a detri­men­tal effect on the coher­ence of the end­ing (with­out get­ting into spoil­er-type specifics, a hand­ful of plot threads are also left swing­ing in the breeze).  To make things even worse, it’s tough to tell which Jigsaw acolyte cre­at­ed what trap in this entry and there’s an open­ing set­piece that makes no sense because it has noth­ing to do with what fol­lows.

To make mat­ters worse, Saw 3-D is direct­ed in a tired and indif­fer­ent man­ner.  Editor-turned-direc­tor Kevin Greutert — edi­tor of the first five Saw entries, direc­tor of part 6 — returns to the director’s chair but his work seems indif­fer­ent (word has it he was sup­posed to direct anoth­er film and pro­duc­ers of the Saw series invoked a clause in his con­tract to keep him on the series).  The result­ing film has a pro­fes­sion­al sheen but basi­cal­ly just goes through its gore-sling­ing paces.  The traps have a joy­less pre­dictabil­i­ty to them, dou­bling down on scream­ing and gore in place of inspi­ra­tion.  Even the 3-D gim­mick doesn’t add much as the film uses it in an unin­spired fash­ion that adds lit­tle to the film’s mon­ey-shots.  You could watch it in 2-D and not miss out on much.

The only real enter­tain­ment in the film is pro­vid­ed by Chad Donella, who gives the most hilar­i­ous­ly awful per­for­mance Your Humble Reviewer has seen in a movie the­ater this year.  As the film’s main cop char­ac­ter, he seems to be going for a kind of Chris Walken-style quirk­i­ness but his man­ner­isms are so clum­sy and bad­ly-timed that the result feels like a bur­lesque of a bad per­for­mance.  He’s not con­vinc­ing for a sec­ond and he also goes hilar­i­ous­ly off the rails dur­ing a scene in the film’s mid­sec­tion where he places Jill in pro­tec­tive cus­tody, where his rant­i­ng and rav­ing prompt­ed laugh­ter from the audi­ence Your Humble Reviewer saw it with.

Ultimately, Saw 3-D retains the knee­jerk shock pow­er of the series but that’s all it has to offer.  In fact, those mechan­i­cal­ly con­trived shocks are the only thing it has left.  Jigsaw and his dis­ci­ples may return again (the lame-duck end­ing makes it pos­si­ble) but the pro­duc­ers should take mer­cy on us and give this mis­be­got­ten series some cin­e­mat­ic euthanasia.