It's one of the most unlikely horror franchises in the history of the genre. In an era which saw the Scream film deconstruct scary, and the homemade epic annihilate the reputation of vampires, serial killers and zombies, Australian auteurs Leigh Whannell and James Wan have parlayed their experiment in suspense into a yearly excursion into death and dismemberment. While the Resident Evils stumbled and the Texas Chainsaw efforts wore out their remake welcome, the boys from Downunder, with a little help from Lionsgate and a collection of like minded craftsman, have managed to create a brand new terror titan – the cancer-riddled madman known as Jigsaw. After Saw II took off at the box office, earning $87 million, another installment was instantly greenlit. Naturally, fans wondered if the new film would compare favorably to the others, or just be a mindless cash grab for greedy distributors. The answer came when Saw III hit theaters last October. Bigger, bloodier – and most importantly – better than the sequel, something about this third go round really was the proverbial charm inside all the carnage. And like clockwork, an "Unrated" DVD has arrived to tweak your fear factors all over again.
As we left Saw II, Detective Eric Matthews was locked in the bathroom setting from Saw I, destined to die in the blood soaked Hellhole. He does something desperate in an attempt to escape.
In the meantime, Jigsaw (or someone assisting the murderer) is continuing his killing spree, leaving a trail of badly mangled bodies along the way. His failing health has his assistant Amanda worried, and she kidnaps a local doctor as part of a plan to treat her mentor. Lynn is a listless medico, married to a man she can barely tolerate and hating her job with obvious disdain. But once Jigsaw makes her a life or death deal, she reluctantly agrees to care for him.
Simultaneously, a man named Jeff finds himself inside one of the villain's evil experiments. Devastated over the death of his only son at the hands of a reckless driver, Jigsaw gives this determined Dad a chance to get even with everyone – witness, judge, perpetrator – who contributed to the case. His reward will be based on his ability to forgive, not his need for revenge. As Jigsaw's illness worsens, Amanda starts getting nervous. She is dedicated to this man, and doesn't want to see him die before their work is completed. As time slowly ticks by for Jeff, Lynn and our killers, it is clear that there is something more than meets the eye going on. When the links are finally discovered, it puts a cap on the duo's diabolical legacy.
Combining the best elements of the first two installments, Saw III is a success in every sense of the word. It wraps up this particularly complex three story arc quite nicely, ties up some loose ends left dangling after initial episodes, expands on all the characters we've seen – even one's whose place seemed minor in the entire Saw universe - and tosses in an amazing amount of gorehound loving grue. In fact, it is safe to say that Saw III (the theatrical experience) was one of the bloodiest, most ridiculously repugnant splatter fests in a long time. Picking up where the second movie left off, and bringing back both series writer Leigh Whannell and Part II director Darren Lynn Bousman, this frequently flawless blend of suspense and sluice, thriller and serial killer argues for Saw's permanent placement in the pantheon of terror. Anyone who adored the initial cat and mouse chiller will find a lot to like here. Similarly, lovers of the sequel's exaggerated death games will enjoy the traps here as that much more rewarding. Indeed, everything about Saw III speaks to lessons learned from the first filmmaking experiences, reactions by both fans and critics, and a confident understanding about what makes a fright flick soar with delightful disgust. Lovers of ample arterial spray and cruelty-based contraptions will definitely get more than their malignant monies worth.
But there is more to Saw III then split rib cages, experimental brain operations, and painful piercings through almost impenetrable body parts. For every sequence of dead pigs being butchered in the world's largest industrial Cuisinart, Whannell and Bousman dig deep into their characters, making Jigsaw, his apprentice Amanda, and the two main victims of their stratagem – Jeff played by Angus Macfayden and Lynn essayed by Bahar Soomekh – real, complicated people. It's a major accomplishment, especially when you consider that we've had two previous films to flesh out our bad guy (and gal). Thanks to Tobin Bell's tendency to preach, and actress Shawnee Smith's ability to channel the inner turmoil her trainee is treading through, the villains here are very viable human beings, using abuse, viciousness and casualty as a means of making life seem more significant to the individuals they target. In addition, Whannell works in several intersecting storylines, keeping us guessing about the significance of certain subplots until they finally find their link and make sense. Even Bousman has graduated beyond Saw II's vignette oriented puzzle box approach. Instead, he is making a sort of miscreant epic, a scary movie that wants to be much more than a simple sum of its trilogy parts.
Granted, there is some harsh stuff offered during the course of this narrative. When one captive is locked in a device meant to twist his limbs 360 degrees, each crank of the gears produces more vile and vomitous physical violations. In another shocking scenario, a women is literally frozen to death, icy cold water sprayed over her naked body as she sits inside a freezer and screams bloody murder. Even the most seasoned horror geek might balk at the power drill driven cranial surgery, or the moment when one main character is confronted with another kind of skin slicing power tool. But again, Saw III offers much more than various onscreen atrocities. Thanks to the consistency behind the camera (even original director James Wan contributes story points) and the overall desire to treat this material with dignity and some sense of cinematic respect, we end up with a series that surpasses its sometimes scattered parts. In fact, it's rare when a third installment in what will be an ongoing cinematic ATM (yep, Saw IV is scheduled for October, 2006) feels the need to pay homage to past elements of the action. By connecting everything in concert, by treating these films as one big brainteaser with all of its pieces finally put in place, the Saw films create their own amazing mythos, a complex coming together of life, death, ethics, philosophy, symbolism, iconography and supposition. Where it goes from here is anyone's guess – but its safe to say that Saw III stands as one of the best last acts in all of horror. It's a brazen, bloody experience.
If you're unaware of the Saw series release schedule by now, here's how it goes. First up, we get a decent initial DVD release with excellent tech specs and a smattering of added content. Fast-forward a few months (usually around the time another sequel is ready to hit the big screen) and a full blown two-disc package is presented. For Saw III, all indications imply that this is merely the first step in an eventual double dip. Gore lovers will enjoy the fact that the version offered here is "Unrated". During the differing commentaries, director Darren Lynn Bousman fills us in on where the new material has been inserted. As one can rightly guess, all the MPAA mandated corpse cutting has been reinstated here. Some added bits are quite sickening. Others merely amplify the abominations we've experienced before.
Visually, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is excellent, loaded with radiant colors (bile green backdrops never looked so lovely) and specific details (this critic did no know that the first killing took place in an elementary school classroom – he missed that in the theater). Thanks to the brilliant cinematography of David A. Armstrong, who has been on board for all three films, Saw III looks absolutely fabulous on the digital medium.
Presented in both a Dolby Digital Stereo and 5.1 multi-channel mix, the sonic elements of Saw III are equally impressive. Directional elements abound, especially during the different death games, and the dialogue is also sharp and easily understandable. The numerous music cues – provided by another three film veteran Charlie Clouser – do an excellent job of tying in all the varying facets of the narrative, turning the auditory experience into one giant cohesive whole.
Beefing up the bonus features provided on the first release this time around, Lionsgate delivers three individual commentaries, a look at the making and design of the traps and props used in the film, and something called "Darren's Diary", which is really nothing more than a Behind the Scenes glimpse at filmmaker Bousman at work. Of the three alternative narrative tracks, the first, featuring Bousman, Whannell, Producers Peter Bock and Jason Constantine is the best – basically because of Leigh's lunatic presence. Constantly joking about an upcoming "47 disc Saw box set" and wondering where all his dialogue scenes disappeared to, this co-creator of the entire franchise is an amiable Aussie stitch. Bousman responds in kind, delivering a delightful bit of self-mockery regarding the movie's length (his original cut was "7 hours", to quote him) and the numerous MPAA battles. They name drop Rob Zombie quite a bit (claiming he will helm Saw IV) and even explain the "teeth" imagery from the cover art.
It's a great discussion, one that causes the other two to look weak by comparison. Additional Producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg offer a conversation that is all business, and the third track featuring Bousman, Armstrong, and Editor Kevin Greutert is genial, but far more technical in its approach and information. Oddly enough, the only deleted scenes offered contain two cut sequences, both of which Bousman and Whannell complained about losing in the commentary – a fight between Shawnee Smith and Bahar Soomekh, and a stairway conversation between Amanda and Leigh's character. While entertaining, it is safe to say that some of the substance surrounding this film has been held back for a "future" DVD dissection.
As a point of personal clarification, this critic loved the first Saw, thought the second installment suffered from some major narrative flaws, and absolutely loved this blood drenched third installment when he saw it back in October. If anything, however, the DVD of Saw III has actually increased his enjoyment of all three films. With the added content clarifying some of the plot's more perplexing points, and the acknowledgement of cast and crew that all the Saw films fit together in a way to increase their importance and impact, we fright fans are on the cusp of witnessing one of the greatest movie macabre franchises in the history of the genre. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, Saw III stands not only as a fitting finale to the first phase of this series, but it is also a glorious gorefest destined to fill the splatter aficionado with untold moments of mindless mayhem merriment. Certainly there will be those who feel the films have gone astray from their original twist and turn subtlety, and anyone who abhors onscreen violence should avoid this offal exercise at all costs. But for anyone who remembers the days when brains and body parts littered nearly every scary movie landscape, your days of longing are finally over. Saw III is one amazing explosion of entertainment and entrails.
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