Saw III (2006)
Horror works in cycles and seems to ebb and flow every three years or so. The popular horror cycle right now is all about torture and realism. I guess people have had it with masked men with large pointy things. Pasty Asian children don’t seem as gloomy as they once did; in fact, in today’s world-on-the-go, who wouldn’t want an extra hand in the shower? In a world bombarded with carnage leading the six o’clock news, I guess American audiences desire something more universal than ghosts and boogeymen. The Saw franchise has exploded and seems destined to place a new entry every Halloween until the public looks to a new en vogue horror cycle. After seeing the loss of luster that is Saw III, I am already looking.
Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is back with a fresh new batch of his twisted games. Unfortunately, he’s bedridden and dying. His serial killer apprentice, Amanda (Shawnee Smith), has to do the grunt work. She kidnaps a depressed doctor, Lynn (Bahar Soomekh), and orders her to keep Jigsaw alive as long as she can. Around Lynn’s neck is a crude explosive device that will detonate if Jigsaw’s heart flatlines. He has to stay alive just long enough to witness one final game. Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) is trapped in a typical Jigsaw-engineered series of traps. He has to pass through three tests of resolve and forgiveness, each involving someone related to his young son’s unexpected death.
The Saw franchise seems to be losing momentum with each additional thrown-together sequel. I found the first film to be mostly entertaining and very inventive, but this was because of a smart narrative device: we wake up in the same dingy bathroom as our figures and must learn with them about what is happening. It plied some neat tricks and twists and was an altogether enjoyable horror movie that didn’t mind mucking around. But with all invention, if it sells then it becomes repeated in mass-market form, dulling the edges and losing the bite it once had. What once startled and amused is now the expectation. Just like the collapse of the Final Destination franchise, these movies started big but then bottomed out when their audiences had the rules memorized. At that point the only thing left is curiosity in what fiendishly outlandish ways people will get horribly killed. The Saw films still have more smarts to them than your typical man-chases-teens-with-axe slasher flick, but the franchise definitely seems, like Jigsaw, to be dying a slow death.
Saw III spends far too much of its time and energy trying to be a compendium to the franchise, filling in the blanks and the resolutions for Saw and Saw II. The film bends over backwards trying to tie up loose ends that didn’t really need tying up (Finally, now I know what happened to that foot that was cut off!). I don’t need to know how the incidents of the previous movies were set up, or who kidnapped who; the minute details are pointless in a horror film, especially one with such flights of frightful fancy. This movie spends too much time feeding the audience needless back-story. The film’s two major storylines are uneven in interest. There’s a real lack of danger and development for Lynn playing nursemaid to Jigsaw. We know the only time he may die is late in the movie, so her storyline becomes prime thumb-twirling time. We see some nifty medical procedures but I?d rather get back to Jeff’s descent into the funhouse of doom.
Saw III seems too concerned with how it fits within the framework of a trilogy when it should be worrying how it works as a movie. Saw III, for stretches, feels like it was cobbled together from the dull deleted scenes of previous films. And true to form, this Saw sequel ends with a familiar rush of twists, deaths, and a very nihilistic close. Let’s just say the inevitable Halloween 2007-bound Saw IV is going to have to go back to the ridiculous plot device drawing board. I truly wonder how many little tape recorders Jigsaw has stashed around and for what occasion (“Note to self: clean gutters.”).
Some of the ingenuity is downright admirable; Jigsaw sure puts a lot of thought and care into his skin-crawling craft. Some notably gruesome torture tests include a naked woman being frozen to death by routine sprays of water, a man having his limbs twisted all the way around, and a man drowning in the slimy goo of ground up pig carcasses. Now that takes discipline just to plan, let alone fully stage. I’d like to see Michael Myers or Freddy Kruger try something like that. Part of the macabre fun of the Saw franchise was playing along, wondering what you would do in the situation and how far you?d go to save your own life. But in Saw III the deck is stacked for about half of the twisted games. There’s no way to win. A character goes through great lengths to free herself from a death trap but, alas, there is no escape and she gets her rib cage ripped out for the bloody hell of it. This … lack of sportsmanship, let?s say, does play a crucial part to the Saw III storyline, but it still knocks the film’s fun level down when you’re just waiting for the moment the person becomes a corpse instead of waiting to see what they do next.
It seems like the Saw movies become less engaging the gorier they get, and Saw III may be the goriest yet. These films have never been afraid to get messy, and Saw III has some squirmy moments, particularly a very protracted scene that involves the peeling, drilling, and scraping of the human skull. Horror fans should be happy with the results but there’s nothing that will make the squeamish cover their eyes (a bone snapping through a leg comes closest). Worst yet, despite the yucky credentials I’ve mentioned above, there really isn’t anything too memorable about the death traps this go-round, though the pureed pig entrails is certainly praise-worthy.
After three movies in three years, it feels time for a breather. The Saw movies are losing their sheen as their audiences become hungrier for blood and harder to fool. 2004’s Saw was clever and different, but like the demise of the Final Destination franchise, the sequels are victims of expectation. When the unexpected becomes the expected, then you may need to rework your scare formula. For whatever reason, Saw III feels compelled to be a refresher on the other films, devoting serious chunks of wasted time to clarifying loose ends that never mattered. I’d rather get to more sticky, icky death traps than examine the father-daughter-mentor relationship between Jigsaw and Amanda. Yawn. Saw III feels uneven, distracted, less fun, and a middling close to a franchise that began with wicked promise. This kind of movie just isn’t cutting it like before.
Nate’s Grade: C