Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Grisly Violence and Gore, Sequences of Terror and Torture, Nudity and Language
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Donnie Wahlberg, Dina Meyer, Leigh Whannell, Mpho Koaho, Barry Flatman, Lyriq Bent, Debra McCabe, Betsy Russell & Costas Mandylor
Another Halloween arrived in 2006 and so did another SAW movie. This third entry in the financially successful torture-porn franchise would have served as a solid finale to a gory trilogy. While that didn’t wind up being the case, SAW III is the last truly good entry in the series. III is the longest installment in the SAW series and delivers more sadistic traps, whilst further developing its two central antagonists and dishing out another twisted plot. SAW III is on par with the first SAW, while not reaching the tense heights of SAW II.
Shortly after the events of SAW II, the police are investigating a new series of seemingly inescapable traps from the Jigsaw killer. Things are more complex than they initially appear because former-survivor-turned-murderous-apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith) is aiding the ever-closer-to-death John Kramer (Tobin Bell). The pair of Jigsaw killers enact another twisted game which sees grieving father Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) confronting faces behind a tragic accident that claimed the life of his eight-year-old son. Meanwhile, surgeon Lynn (Bahar Soomekh) is fitted with a shotgun collar that’s tied to John’s heart monitor and struggles to keep him alive to ensure her own survival.
SAW III is back to the first film’s level in terms of shaky acting and dumb character decisions. Both of these qualities are epitomized in the character of Jeff. Part of me wants to love Angus Macfadyen’s performance and the other part of me wants to slap this protagonist upside the head. On one hand, Macfadyen is playing a severely depressed and grieving father who’s destroying his own life over the loss of his son and (as a result) is wrecking his family. It’s a sad character to watch and Macfadyen has his moments as Jeff. On the other hand, Jeff makes a lot of idiotic bone-headed decisions that hurt both himself and people around him. There are only so many times that you can drop a key in a tense scenario before I start yelling “Oh, come on!” at the screen. Also, it’s kind of important to look behind you when you’re holding a wire that’s connected to a loaded shotgun, but that’s neither here, nor there.
Bahar Soomekh fares better as Lynn, though her emotional state ranges from severely panicked to unbelievably calm. The various other victims are one-note stereotypes, even though brief attempts are made to flesh them out. The movie clearly wants us to feel bad for these people, but the viewer might tend to side with Jeff in a couple of moments. Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith make up for the lack of acting talent around them because their on-screen killer chemistry is palpable. Their teacher-protégé relationship plays a big part in the proceedings and leads to emotions that come right out of nowhere. I never thought that I’d feel something for the Jigsaw Killer or his lackey, but Whannell managed to pull strange sympathy towards them.
Both of SAW III’s storylines jump back and forth from each other, much like the parallel plot structures of the previous two films. However, the lengthy running time is also loaded with flashbacks galore. These various blasts from the past establish character development in both heroes and villains, while also providing context for many twists that unfold. Though a few revelations are easy to call in advance (screenwriter Leigh Whannell admitted that he didn’t try too hard to keep these secrets hidden), the fiendish finale stacks twist upon twist.
Most of the conclusion’s twists lead to devastating consequences which changed the direction of the series forever and serve as my justification for why SAW should have been left as a trilogy. Other plot points strain credibility as things just happened to work out in a certain person’s favor and a couple of coincidences are a tad too ridiculous. I’m mainly speaking about the final two minutes which end on a cliffhanger that’s never quite resolved in a satisfying manner (in both SAW IV and SAW V). This last-minute twist also slightly undoes the emotional journey that the main character spent the last two hours enduring.
SAW III’s traps are cool and totally impractical. The first two films maintained a sense of believability in Jigsaw’s deadly devices appearing like they could be constructed with scrap metal (reverse bear trap) or consisting of simple horrifying scenarios (a pit of syringes). SAW III’s traps are ridiculous. They’re undeniably cool, but still ridiculous. One scene involves decaying corpses of a certain animal (which stands out as Tobin Bell’s favorite trap of the series) and is sure to make viewers heave a little queasily. The best trap is undeniably a reverse-crucifix, which originally began as a device that folded its victim into a box until Whannell changed it. There’s also a gnarly scene of improvised surgery scene that delivers a shocking amount of realistic gore.
SAW III should have capped off the series as a gore-soaked trilogy. This third outing provides a surprising amount of emotion towards its antagonists, while attempting to flesh out its protagonists to varying degrees of success. Some of the twists are brilliant, while others seem too convenient and treat Jigsaw like an omnipotent god-like serial killer. The traps are a lot of fun, even though this is the point where Jigsaw’s games became pretty damn silly…even though they’re cool to see in motion. If you liked SAW and SAW II, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t dig SAW III. This is the last good film of the series for me, whilst the rest of the SAW sequels devolved into shameless cash-ins and convoluted continuity.