Saw III (2006)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2008-10-23 10:21

Written by: James Wan and Leigh Whannell
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus MacFadyen

Reviewed by: Brett G.

"Suffering? You haven't seen anything yet."

The first sequel in the Saw franchise, Saw II, managed to out-gross the original film by 30 million dollars, a feat that confirmed the viability of the franchise. Thus, it came as no surprise when Lion's Gate greenlit production of a third film by the end of the opening weekend. The film would return the director of the second film, Darren Lynn Bousman, while series co-creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan would handle writing duties. The presence of both Wan and Whannell seemed to indicate something special about this installment, but, to be honest, one had to follow the production of Saw III extremely closely to know what was going on in the film. As has been the case with each film in the franchise, there was an element of mystery, as even the trailers reveled very little in the way of plot. Released in the franchise's traditional "Friday before Halloween" date in 2006, Saw III promised an entirely new level of suffering for viewers.

The film picks up literally where Saw II ended, with Eric Matthews trapped in the now infamous bathroom set-piece. Then, in what I consider to be one of the series' most cringe-inducing sequences (even more so than the now infamous scene at the end of the first film), Matthews tries to desperately escape his confinement before the film moves on to wrapping up a few plot threads left over from the second film. The film then moves ahead and presents one of our two protagonists: Lynn Denlon, a doctor who is abducted by Jigsaw's apprentice, Amanda, who gives Lynn a simple ultimatum: keep Jigsaw (whose cancerous state is worsening) alive long enough for the second protagonist to finish his game. The character in question here is Jeff, a man who has been consumed with grief over the loss of his young son. In the year's since his son's death, Jeff has fantasized about taking revenge on those he feels is responsible: the drunk driver himself, the judge that delivered a weak punishment, and even the witness who fled the scene of the crime. Now, Jigsaw has given Jeff a chance to come face to face with them and to choose whether they will live or die.

Saw III is a very ambitious film, plot-wise, and it should be commended for it. It's rare that a horror film (especially one that's part of a franchise) has this much thought put behind it. Like the second film, this one essentially has two plot threads, as we witness both the drama between Jigsaw, Amanda, and Lynn as well as Jeff's journey towards damnation or forgiveness (the choice, of course, is his). For the most part, the film does a good job of juggling each storyline; there is one stretch where we seem to forget about Jeff for a while, but the film does move at a nice pace. There are also some flashback sequences that take us back to the first two films to shed some more light on some of the events there. While this sounds neat in theory, most of these scenes (save for one) feel superfluous and really add nothing to the narrative overall. In fact, it seems like many of these scenes are simply there to answer questions that no one ever asked. However, all of these various threads to come together very nicely; in fact, the last fifteen minutes of Saw III are excellent and represents the best the series has to offer. Like the previous films, there are several twists and turns, but the ultimate twist is one that significantly alters the purpose of the film in a pretty clever way.

So, Saw III seems darn near perfect, right? Not so fast. If there's one glaring weakness of Saw III that keeps it from being the best in the series, it's our two protagonists, Jeff and Lynn, who are the most unlikeable protagonists the series has to offer so far. It's a shame, too, because Jeff especially should be a great character: here's a guy who has lost his young son and is literally forced to burn his son's possessions along the way. On paper, it seems like I would sympathize with him, but I don't because, for one thing, Angus Macfadyen really isn't given much to do besides wander around from victim to victim with a pained look on his face and yell "fuck" (and several derivatives thereof) a lot. Besides this, the character feels pretty much irredeemable after his interactions with his villains. It's easy to say that I would react differently because I'm not in his situation, but there's just something about the character that makes me hard to connect with him. Even Eric Matthews, who, by all accounts, isn't a good guy (he frames people and plants evidence for convictions) is more likeable than Jeff because Donnie Wahlberg really brought some natural charisma to his role. Macfadyen simply doesn't, and it really weakens the film.

As a horror film, Saw III has a lot to offer in terms of insane gore. I find this one to be the most gory and disgusting Saw film to date, as there are several sequences that make me squirm and cringe. I've already mentioned the opening scene, but it actually gets even more splatter-rific from there, as the traps involve acid, a woman freezing to death, a shotgun blast to the head, a man literally being twisted and turned to death by a huge, grinding apparatus, and more. Hell, there's even a scene involving an impromptu brain surgery that's pretty nasty. Sure, the first two films were pretty gory, but, like any good sequel, Saw III really amps it up in this respect.

I still wouldn't call the film an example of torture porn, however, as the film really isn't sold out to this violence. Like the previous films, there is a strong thematic underpinning that really ties the various plot-lines together nicely. The final confrontation of the film is a nicely constructed sequence that reveals quite a bit about the character of Jigsaw. While I'm not a fan of the soap opera-like cliches that propel the events here, we learn that Jigsaw is a conflicted, if not complicated man, and you almost feel sorry for the man by the end of the film. Of course, I think it says a lot about the film when you actually feel worse for the villain than your main character, but I suppose that's par for the course for horror franchises, which typically move their villains to the forefront. As for Jigsaw's apprentice, Amanda, Shawnee Smith's performance is good, if not a bit bizarre compared to what we've seen of the character before. To be fair, she's faking her behavior in the second film, but the cool, confident Amanda in part 3 seems far removed from the timid portrayals in the previous films. It's a bit of a disconnect, but, in the end, I suppose it works well enough.

Overall, I would rank Saw III as the second best film in the series at this point; it's not as cohesively strong as the original, but it is more ambitious and ultimately a bit more satisfying than the second film. It seems that this film has driven a bit of a wedge in the fandom for the series, but I'm not sure why; without getting into details, it seems as if many fans were left disappointed by the ending. Personally, I find the ending of this film to be pretty appropriate, as it truly brings the focus back to Jigsaw himself and examines the purpose of his work. Sure, the film isn't quite what some might have expected from the series after the end of the second film (Amanda essentially in the role of Jigsaw); instead, I feel like we got something far more interesting that took a lot of storytelling risks. Instead of simply treading old ground under a new name like many franchises do, Saw III dared to be a bit different, and I respect it for that.

As of this writing, Saw III has been released twice on standard DVD. There's an unrated release that is essentially the theatrical cut of the film with some added gore, and there's also a director's cut that actually reinserts some deleted scenes to flesh out the narrative. The first, unrated release contains three commentaries, a featurette detailing the making of the traps in the film, and a feature called "Darren's Diaries." The director's cut retains none of these, but instead adds three additional commentaries, and entire second disc full of even more features. Among these are a music video, a video game, and a few more fluff pieces. In other words, it's not truly worth the upgrade based on features alone. Saw fans will want to pick up both to have every available special feature, which has been the case with the first two films as well. I personally own the Blu-ray edition, which contains the uncut version rather than the director's cut, and retains all of the features from the standard uncut DVD. Lion's Gate threw high def fans a bone with a couple of exclusive extras spotlighting the Amanda character and the writing process for Saw III as well. As far as the presentation goes, this Blu-ray edition is excellent. It's not the first film you'll go to in terms of reference quality because the film does have a rather gritty and grimy look, but the colors and detail are excellent. Furthermore, the DTS-HD soundtrack is very aggressive and immersive, as there are sounds coming from all areas of the soundstage at all times. If you're one of the horror fans that has taken the high def plunge, Saw III is a worthy addition to your HD library. Overall, I would have to say that Saw III is a pretty entertaining film that does a lot of interesting things. Fans of the franchise will no doubt eat it up, and those that have seen the first two really ought to give this one a look as well just to see how it all plays out. Buy it!

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