Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Dina Meyer, Donnie Wahlberg
Running Time: 113 min.
***1/2 (out of ****)
For some reason the Saw movies have always been categorized as horror films when they're really not. They also have the reputation of being gory, bloody and disgusting. This isn't true, at least for the first two films. It's true now. Saw III is absolutely brutal and easily one of the hardest "R" I've ever seen. It makes Hostel look like Toy Story. Still, at their core the movies are psychological thrillers, especially the original which may have been the best in that genre I've seen in the past ten years. With that film, writers James Wan and Leigh Whannell did something really special by creating a villain with an interesting motivation and a story that was intricate, complicated and multi-layered. Unthinkable for just a "horror movie." I thought a sequel was a bad idea as there was no chance anything could top to the original's cleverness and creativity. I was right, but the sequel came closer in quality than anyone thought it could. Saw III comes even closer. Anyone who loved the previous two won't be disappointed.
I'll be very careful as I explain the plot of Saw III, as the fun in these movies come from the twists and surprises, and let me tell you there are plenty in this third installement. The movie picks up exactly where Saw II left off, with the door being closed on Detective Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) as he lies leg chained in the dark basement, having fallen victim to Jigsaw's latest game. If you're wondering how John Cramer a.ka. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) could possibly still be alive after nearly being at death's door with an inoperable brain tumor for the past two films, your concerns are quickly addressed. He's really in bad shape in this one. However, that won't stop him from continuing his mission of teaching people to appreciate their lives by putting them through brutal games and tests with the help of his new apprentice, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). One of the most interesting things about the series is how Jigsaw isn't a killer, at least not exactly. He gives all of his victims the chance (however slim) to save themselves and if they do then good for them. They're free to go. Those are the rules. He actually has a strong moral code. You could say he's moral in his immorality.
This time, Jigsaw kidnaps a doctor (Bahar Soomekh) whom he hopes can keep him alive, or at least keep him alive long enough for his other victim to complete his series of tests. That man, Jeff (Angus Macfadyen), is being forced by Jigsaw to confront the people responsible for the death of his son in a tragic car accident that has consumed him with hatred and revenge for years. This is the most interesting subject they've had in any of the Saw movies and it elevates the entire film because we actually start to care about this guy's backstory. This is also a twist on the usual game Jigsaw plays because this time the victims fates are in the hands of someone else other than themselves. Jeff is forced to either to forgive those responsible for his son's death to save himself or hold on to that anger and punish them, risking his own life. The movie turns into a morality play: vengeance vs. forgiveness. I thought this aspect of the screenplay was incredible and shows why the Saw movies are operating at a level far above any typical Hollywood slasher. They're actually about something.
In a way, I was disappointed the movie felt the need to put in so much gore, brutality and violence if only because it will cause people to overlook the fact that the movie tells a complex story. The most frightening aspect of the film is that this is the tame version. Scenes probably had to be cut just so it could achieve the "R" rating. Let's put it this way: normally just a second of nudity is enough to insure an "R" rating for a film. This movie has a scene of full frontal nudity with torture that lasts for almost five minutes straight, yet somehow the movie made it into theaters without the dreaded "NC-17". Quite an accomplishment. This film is about fifty times more graphic and brutal than the other two and is a cinema landmark in what you can get away with showing on screen. There's a scene of brain surgery being performed in the most graphic detail I've ever seen in a movie. I actually had to turn away, something I've never done before. All of this would be a serious problem if the story couldn't support it, but it does.
You have to feel sorry for Tobin Bell. No matter how great a performance he gives it's going to be overlooked just because of the type of movie he's in. People don't realize how a big part he plays in the success of this franchise. Anyone who lists him in the top five of all-time great movie villains, would get no argument from me. He's up there with Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader. I was worried about Shawnee Smith having an increased role as his apprentice in this film because there's only one Jigsaw. I didn't really want to see him working with anyone, but I was proven wrong. Their relationship adds an interesting dimension to the film and she did a really great job.
This film is far superior to the first sequel largely because of a renewed focus on the test subjects. There were only two which upped the tension and intimacy of the proceedings to levels not seen since the original. I felt the second film, while strong, just had to many characters. There was a tighter focus here so the result was a more involving story. It's going to be impossible to recreate the mystery of the original , but I really like how all three films have a certain storyline continuity, but are still wildly different. We get to see in this film, through flashbacks, a behind the scenes look at Jigsaw's previous traps (including the infamous one from the original) which filled in some plot holes anyone may have been questioning.
The big question now is, will there be a Saw IV? Of course they'll be. It's probably already been written. As long as truckloads of money can be made there will always be a Saw movie. The real question should be, is it necessary? Probably not, but after seeing this I can honestly say I'm looking forward to a fourth installment. There were alot of questions left unanswered at the end of Saw 3 and I can't believe I'm saying this but they haven't yet explored all of their avenues for the Jigsaw character. I not only want to see a Saw IV, I can't wait for it.