Film Review: Saw III

Saw III

You know, I don�t think I�ve ever been as excited to see a new horror film as I was when I went into the theater to see Saw III.  Though a bit inconsistent tonally, one cannot argue that the first two Saw movies were about as innovative as it comes.  They were increasingly sadistic, well written and had an unbelievably talented and intelligent villain in the form of Jigsaw.  Each film had a unique and well thought out twist ending that tended to blow people out of the water, and though I may have doubted the franchise at first, I�ll admit in retrospect that it has become a favorite.  So, we come now to the long-awaited Saw III.  I was psyched, I was enthusiastic, I saw it on opening day, and then� I had no clue what I had seen.  I honestly didn�t know what I�d watched.  I knew it was a Saw film, I know I had some fun with it, and I know a lot of the stuff was pretty damn inventive, but in comparison to the first two films� I didn�t know how to judge it.  It took a lot of thinking and an extra viewing to realize that, although it�s still very well done, Saw III is probably the least of the entire franchise.

The films opens right where we left off in Saw II, with Detective Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg) chained in the bathroom that has become a series staple.  Fighting for all his might, he finds that he cannot escape.  He weighs cutting off his foot with the provided saw, but soon decides to keep his foot.  Instead, he devises a way to escape with his foot intact, but it is quite� unpleasant.

We flash forward a considerable amount of time to Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh) as she gets ready for another shift at the hospital.  She�s a troubled woman, obviously dissatisfied with life.  The man she�s in bed with can sense it too and asks her for a divorce.  Not saying a thing, she goes on to work.  After a night�s shift, she finds herself locked in the doctor�s lounge, and is soon attacked and drugged by a figure in a red cloak and a pig�s mask.

Coming to, she finds herself tied to a chair in a warehouse filled with a frightening array of sharp objects.  She soon finds herself to be prisoner of one John Kramer, a.k.a. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and his increasingly sadistic and maddened apprentice, Amanda (Shawnee Smith).  As it is, he is on the verge of death.  They have kidnapped the good doctor for the sole purpose of keeping him alive just to finish watching one last test�  If she cannot keep his heart going, the collar around her neck will explode.  It�s a strange and sadistic game of cat and mouse, where although he is on the verge of death, Jigsaw still remains in complete control�

First and foremost, let me comment that this is perhaps the best acted of the entire Saw franchise.  Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith are brilliant as ever, with Bell providing a sense of particular malice and glee about him even though he spends the entire movie as an invalid.  Bahar Soomekh brings a particular sense of beauty and class to the film, despite the constant depression and terror that surrounds her character.  And, in perhaps the most complex and visceral of all the roles, Scottish actor Angus Macfadyen plays the other of Jigsaw�s test subjects Jeff, a man confronted with a series of horrific choices that determine whether people who may have had involvement in the death of his son will live or die.  He brings a distinct and powerful level of complexity and depth to what would have otherwise been an otherwise traditional depressed parent of a lost child.

The traps are, well, by Saw standards surprisingly mundane.  Sure, the first two (the chains and the ribcage bear trap) were pretty ingenious, but the rest are, well, pretty simple.  Chalk it up to Amanda not being quite like her mentor or Jigsaw being on the verge of death, but somehow the traps here are reasonably uninspired.  There�s a freezing, there�s a man drowning on blended pig (which although creative in idea isn�t as exciting as it sounds) and a guy getting his limbs twisted off one at a time, but there�s no real sense of urgency to them, and in many ways they just feel as if they�re tacked on.

And that in itself is probably my biggest gripe with Saw III, is that a lot of it feels as if it were tacked on.  The movie jumps back and forth in time, a lot, making practically half the movie in flashback form.  Had they just stuck to the two parallel storylines of Lynn and Jeff, perhaps it would have been a bit more of a cohesive plot, but in the end it seems, well, convoluted to the extreme.  We know that Jigsaw and Amanda have a strained relationship, they make that pretty clear in the present, yet they constantly beat us over the head with flashbacks explaining unnecessary plot holes from previous entries and telling us time and time again that Jigsaw and Amanda don�t get along nearly as well as we�d think.

And then of course there�s the ending, or should I say endings?  The previous Saw films were renowned for their innovative and creative twist endings that, although they came out of nowhere, made a lot of sense in retrospect.  This film� seemed a bit too aware of that.  It tried to top the endings of the previous films by having several endings of its own that would have been good individually but together make the film even more convoluted and confused than it already was.  Top that off with some random little bits thrown in along the way that were never explained (Jigsaw�s note to Amanda, the blonde woman in his dreams) and the film leaves as many unsatisfying openings as it does actions.

Don�t get me wrong, I�m not saying I disliked Saw III, as I enjoyed it immensely.  However, where it could have been a satisfying end to an amazing trilogy, it ultimately squanders a lot of the potential it had built up by trying to outsmart itself with constant exposition and a few plot twists too many.  The forcibly open-ended ending that leaves room for another film feels tacked on, and though it is a good movie on its own, still seems to pale in comparison to its bigger brothers.

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