Dir. Darren Lynn Bousman (2006)
Jigsaw forces a doctor to keep him alive while his apprentice runs a game of her own.
Ahhh, the third film in the franchise, where the choice as to whether you want to go 3D or not is often your biggest concern. At this point in a series of movies, you already have your established property and usually a fairly strong mythology in place. So where do you go from there? Do you stick with the standard, unkillable bad guy, who stalks around and carries out their plan in increasingly convoluted ways? Do you go in a new direction, passing on the mantle to a new generation of baddies with their own reasons for killing? Or do you take the franchise to space?! Saw III does a little of the first two, with Jigsaw trying to beat back his cancer while his young ward Amanda (Shawnee Smith), who appeared in the first two films, is trying her hand at trapping people and making them do awful stuff. I'm beginning to think we'll never see Jigsaw on Mars.
Opening up immediately following the second film, Donnie Wahlberg's Detective Matthews shows us there are other ways of escaping the leg chains besides cutting off your own foot. It's a cringe-inducing intro to the film that begins the series' slow progression into straight-up torture porn. For the first time in the franchise, Saw III is much more concerned with focusing the cameras on gory mayhem than it is on telling a coherent story. It still manages to hold its plot together fairly well, but this movie was made to show how cruel and vicious those traps could actually get.
And boy are there some good ones: we have the nailbomb chain guy, the rib spreader that offs Dina Meyer, and the Rack, which made our list of Top 10 Most Creative Kills. While The Rack is certainly the most visceral, and perhaps the most brutal in the entire series, the Pig Vat, in which a man is tied to the bottom of a vat and pigs are ground up to drown him in their liquified remains, is perhaps the most disturbing. There's a worthy target, though.
The narrative at the heart of the film is intriguing, at least: a man who has lost a child to a drunk driver is given the choice to save the people who were responsible for his death and the freedom of the perpetrator. In order to save his daughter, he must forgive those who took his other child. First is the bystander who drove away without helping, followed by the judge who let the hit-and-run driver go practically free, and finally the driver himself, for whom the worst punishment is reserved.
The acting in the film is good throughout with one exception: I'm a fan of Shawnee Smith and I really like her character in the Saw franchise, but I felt she was a little subpar in this one, her acting just a little too on the nose. It may have worked to her benefit, however, because her weird daughter/lover infatuation with Kramer was offputting and creepy. Her acting was a little stilted, however, a little less real than it felt in the previous two films. Rather than being the damaged survivor, with a nuanced portrayal that would show that Amanda was more than just psych-deep, it feels like a shallow role when it was probably the most important role in the film.
There is, of course, a lot to love about the film. The score is excellent, with various arrangements of the iconic theme throughout the film. The cinematography carries the same look into this one as existed in the previous two films, though its arguable whether or not that's a good thing. The traps are also gnarly as hell, bloody and disturbing, perhaps even moreso than in its progenitors.
Of course, this is a Saw movie, so there has to be a twist (hehe). This is another one that's pretty good, a twist that sorta makes up for the rest of the movie not being up to par with the previous two films. You can tell that Whannell and Bousman are still trying to make movies that have the same feel as the first, but they're starting to struggle with keeping the noir-ish mystery in the third installment. Simply slapping a green tint over the lens isn't enough, sadly, so while Saw III certainly does contain enough inhumane carnage to make it worth watching, it fails to attain the heights of its predecessors.
Who this movie is for: Saw franchise followers, Psychological horror fans, Doctors Without Borders
Bottom line: It's not a huge dropoff in quality between Saw II and this entry into the franchise, but it's definitely there. The games are a little bloodier, the moral a bit more surface-level, and the twist possibly even twistier (at the price of convolution). It's not bad to be sure, and if you're in it for the nifty kills, there are decent ones to enjoy (albeit few compared to some of the later films). The acting is not bad, the cinematography is adequate, and it's a decent addition to the lore. Just don't be expecting anything as good as the first two.