When “Saw” came on the scene in 2004, it delivered a much-needed jolt to the limp body of American horror. Working with a relatively small budget, James Wan and Leigh Whannell created a visceral yet psychological character-driven horror movie, eschewing the generic slasher flicks and anemic Japanese ghost story remakes that plagued the industry. They instead delivered a disturbing serial killer movie, harking back to the likes of “Se7en”. And, while not entirely original, “Saw” was a massive step in the right direction at the time.
“Saw’s” unprecedented box-office success insured that it would get the sequel treatment, and this is where the saga fell short. James Wan, for whatever reason, wanted no part in directing “Saw II”, and instead the reigns were passed on to Darren Lynn Bousman, who also co-wrote the project. The changes resulted in a “Saw II” that, although entertaining, lost the cerebral intelligence and tension of its predecessor. Not that the original “Saw” was particularly tense or intelligent, but James Wan’s skill in pacing and suspense was noticeable compared to Bousman’s complete ineptitude in this area.
A convoluted plot, numerous character stereotypes and some laughably impossible torture traps made “Saw II” that which “Saw” stood against: a big, dumb horror blockbuster. However, muting the psychology and amplifying the gore certainly paid off well, as “Saw II” was a box office smash. Within months of the first sequel’s release, “Saw III” was in the pipeline. Now, only one question remains: can Whannell and Bousman redeem their trilogy with this third instalment?
The unfortunate answer is No. “Saw III” stands as the worst of the “Saw” films. It stays a lot more faithful to the look and tone of the first, but lacks the compelling storyline, decent acting and sympathetic characters. It also lacks the dumb charm and hilarious self-parody of “Saw II”, thus rendering the movie without a goal. Unsure of whether it wants to attract the psychological horror fans of the first film or the gore fans of the second, “Saw III” simply coasts along for 100 plus minutes, merely existing as a piece churned out to round off the trilogy.
The plot (such as it is) sees psychopath Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) now bedridden, being tended to by his young apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith). Despite this, he still regularly puts random people through his tests, forcing them to choose between horrible suffering and death. However, when his condition becomes too severe for Amanda to deal with, she kidnaps medical doctor Lynn, and forces her to save Jigsaw’s life under penalty of death.
Meanwhile, an alcoholic with anger issues named Jeff is going through one of Jigsaw’s little scenarios: he is being forced to confront the people responsible for the death of his son — as their lives are placed in his hands — and see that they are human too. Unbeknownst to him, however, his fate and the fates of Lynn, Amanda and Jigsaw are all interwoven as part of Jigsaw’s final game.
The storyline is riddled with plot holes and spends the film’s running time chasing its tail and going nowhere. By the time the “shocking twist ending” came, I felt so bored by the story that I simply didn’t care about Jigsaw’s final plan. Although the subplot of Jeff confronting those responsible for his son’s death is a nice touch, it’s in no way handled properly, and is rendered as nonsensical as the rest of the movie.
“Saw III’s” style takes a wild deviation from the first two films, substituting shaky hand held camerawork in place of computer-enhanced steadicam, and omnipresent darkness in place of neon and strobe lighting. “Saw III” looks a lot different from one and two, bringing about a pleasant change in style since the “Saw” look was quickly becoming a clich’, and it seems like Bousman knew this. As a result, “Saw III” looks (perhaps unintentionally) like Shinya Tsukamoto’s “Haze”. It’s good to see that Tsukamoto’s attempts to re-invigorate the survival horror genre have not gone unnoticed.
However, when a slight change in look is all that “Saw III” has going for it, I for one am very reluctant to sing its praises. In terms of gore, there’s enough here to get you by, but not nearly enough to please the gore fiends attracted by the needle-pit nastiness of “Saw II”. Darren Lynn Bousman has also added boobs into the mixture, which comes as a change to the nudity free “Saw” films of previous, and should please the 13-year old boys that make up the vast majority of the film’s audience.
The problem with “Saw” was that, while good, it only really had enough content to last through one film. Sequeling the film meant having to come up with more and more ridiculous plot twists and Rube Goldberg-style death traps. And while “Saw III” contains those things, it wants to be more. Attempting a character-driven film when all but one of your cast can act, and trying to add psychology to a vacuous script can never pay off. In short, “Saw III” is a seldom enjoyable film that lets down the trilogy in a big way; I would recommend this to no-one but hardcore “Saw” fans.
Darren Lynn Bousman (director) / James Wan, Leigh Whannell (screenplay)
CAST: Tobin Bell …. Jigsaw/John
Shawnee Smith …. Amanda
Angus Macfadyen …. Jeff
Bahar Soomekh …. Lynn
Donnie Wahlberg …. Eric Matthews
Dina Meyer …. Kerry
Leigh Whannell …. Adam
Mpho Koaho …. Tim