It's not so simple reviewing franchise films, especially one with as dense a mythology as Saw. There isn't an easy in, after Saw 2. Each new story is predicated on the last, and heavily. So, with the caveat that you probably will like this if you liked the other Saw movies, and you probably won't if you didn't, here goes…
The beginning of Saw 7 grabs attention right away with a trick never-yet tried in all the hours of toying, misery, and death: It's a public execution, courtesy of Jigsaw. Displayed in store window on a busy city street, two men and one woman go head-to-head (and other body parts) with a super-sharp circular saw. The 3D format especially shines here, as ropes of goo and gore coat the plate glass windows and cell-phones are held aloft to catch the best Twitter-worthy blood drop.
Delving into the plot, we meet Bobby Daegen (Sean Patrick Flannery) — a self-help guru who's raking in the funds (not to mention fame, fortune and all those good f-words) from sales of his less-than-honest memoirs about being a Jigsaw survivor. Like a cross between James Arthur Ray and Frank T.J. Mackey, Bobby peddles his promotional book, videos, costly classes, and TV appearances with impunity. That is, he does until a certain John Kramer (aka, Jigsaw… and if you didn't already know this, then why are you reading a review of Saw 7?) gets wind of the charade. Let's just say the canny killer doesn't like his Sterling rep tarnished, and so he goes about teaching his special brand of painful lessons to Bobby and to those in Bobby's orbit.
As the story skips between timeframes and different POVs, we also catch up with medical alumni such as Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes, from the first film) and coroner Dr. Heffner (James Van Patten, who was introduced in Saw 4). They both enjoy appropriately gruesome scenes, sure to soothe even the sickest of Saw sycophants. Fans will also thrill to the showdown between Det. Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) and Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell) as they brutally battle over Jigsaw's legacy.
There are 11 traps in Saw 7, which I believe is the most they've ever constructed. I won't spoil all the splatter, but I can tell you that Bobby's wife (Gina Holden) and one of his lackeys (Dean Armstrong) have two of the most tension-filled, grueling demises in the whole thing.
There is tension in the movie (and good thing), and it is grueling (not a good thing). While the script is tight, the direction is not. And it pains me to say so, because Kevin Greutert, who edited the first 5 chapters of the Saw story and directed the 6th, is such a nice person. That's slippery slope sometimes, being both a reporter and a reviewer. But I can't candy-coat it: Greutert's two Saws, along with (another nice person) David Hackl's, are by far the weakest in the franchise. Talking scenes go on for far too long (allowing one to see how poor some of the acting is), and there isn't much art to the set pieces. Visually-gifted storytellers James Wan (Saw 1) and Darren Lynn Bousman (Saws 2, 3, and 4) really set the bar.
Still, for what it is Saw 7 is serviceable. It's definitely not a case of severely diminishing returns like the NOES or F13 horror series. There's still top names, good production value, and very little unintended humor. As I said at the head: If you liked the other Saw movies, you'll like this one too.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson