Can you believe it? Third time out and the series has yet to run itself into the ground. That has to be some sort of record.
The killer known as Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) lies on his deathbed--figuratively and literally. Jigsaw wishes to play one final game, so he has Amanda (Shawnee Smith), the former heroin junkie who agreed to become his apprentice, bring in two more players. One is a doctor named Lynn Denlon. The other is Jeff Reinhart (Angus Macfadyen), a grieving father whose young son was killed three years earlier. Reinhart's role is to find and confront those connected to his son's death...and possibly forgive them. Denlon's role is to keep Jigsaw alive while the game plays out. Of course, things aren't as simple as they seem, as Jigsaw has more in mind for his victims--and his apprentice--than they think.
Well, we've reached the end...for now, anyway. Saw III closes off the first trilogy in a somewhat unexpected manner. Rather than simply upping the ante in terms of gore and violence, this third installment double-backs on what has come before, adding depth and new twists to the trilogy's overall arc. I have no idea if creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan had all of this planned from the beginning, or if they were just making it up as they went, but whatever the case, they do a creditable job tying everything together.
Saw II director Darren Lynn Bousman makes a return engagement, and it's obvious he's learned a few things since his first gig. His work here is more assured, and he no longer seems to be consciously aping the style Wan adopted for the original movie. The requisite scenes of terror and torture are tenser, and Bousman doesn't seem so anxious to move past the human element. Rapid-fire editing isn't omnipresent here; when appropriate, scenes are actually allowed to play out at a natural pace. Speaking of the human element, Whannell and Wan's story spends a great deal of time delving into the characters' backgrounds, personalities, and relationships (maybe a little too much, but more on that later). And when compared to its immediate predecessor, there's a better thrust to this movie; everything here is important, not just the final act.
Enough about all of that--what about the puzzles and traps? Well, the number of tasks Jigsaw sets for his victims is somewhat reduced, but the ones you do get are quite memorable. The sequence with the naked woman is slowly being frozen alive is really nothing new, but the elaborate, bone-crunching rack certainly delivers the goods. And then there's the bit with the liquefied pigs. Yes, you read that right--liquefied pigs. Several large hogs are dropped into a makeshift blender the size of Cleveland, liquefied, and the resulting glop streams into a pit, slowly drowning the man chained to the pit floor. Honestly, it's one of the damnedest things I've ever seen, and I mean that in a good way.
As much as I enjoyed it (inasmuch as you can actually enjoy one of these flicks), I do think the movie has its share of flaws. The lengthy opening sequence wraps up the events of Saw II, and--while arguably necessary--this holds up the real focus of the movie. And once this sequence ends, there's no real transition between it and the plot proper; it simply stops cold and we move on. Rather than playing like an epilogue to the second movie (and it would have made for one hell of an epilogue had it been used in the second movie), it plays more like the beginning of an unrealized third episode. (You could argue that the opening's presence here sets up a late-story reveal, but I think anyone who is familiar with the series will be way ahead of the story with regard to said reveal.)
I also think the movie contains a bit too much plot. The heart of the story is the relationship between Saw and Amanda, so naturally the scenes regarding said relationship dominate the movie. Thing is, at times the other half of the story--Jeff's efforts to navigate the game--plays like an afterthought. The previous flicks did admirable jobs telling their parallel stories, but this time around there are stretches of twenty minutes or more when the game side of the movie simply disappears. While I admire the filmmakers for actually bringing something new to the table, and for attempting to inject some genuine human drama into a modern horror film (talk about a novel concept), it's still a horror film, and such long stretches between the goods can get a bit tedious, as well as throwing the movie a bit out of whack. Here's the thing--I can't help but feel the second and third installments would have worked even better had they had longer gestation periods. I think if you blended all of the elements of the two movies, created two distinct plots, and allowed the Jigsaw/Amanda relationship the room it needed to evolve naturally over the course of both movies, the resulting flicks could have made for a great one-two punch. Yes, the flashbacks presented here do give a sense of how things between the Jigsaw and Amanda played out, and they do help to flesh out the characters, but I think this would have worked that much better had it been allowed to play out over the course of two movies.
And now for one last complaint, one which has little or nothing to do with the once-a-year release pattern: Bahar Soomekh's performance isn't up to the challenge the movie hands her. Her character spends much of her time locked in one room, engaging in a battle of wills with Jigsaw and Amanda, and it's quite obvious she's out of her element. Soomekh would be fine for this type of movie if you were simply going to stick her in a trap and have her slowly die, but she stumbles in scenes that amount to the Saw version of a chamber piece.
There's no doubt the franchise will continue on until ever last drop of blood has been squeezed from the premise, and as much as I've enjoyed Whannell and Wan's efforts, I think it will be interesting to see what others do with the premise. That being said, I can't help but be afraid that churning out installments at such a fast clip will have the series chasing its own tail far sooner than it should. I fear that one day we'll be suffering through direct-to-video releases starring the likes of Edward Furlong and Tara Reid (the latter deciding to teach the world lessons in the value of life after her leaky implants begin killing her), or that Ronny Yu will be called in to pitch relief in the later innings. Hell, that sort of thing has happened before, so don't think I'm jinxing it by bringing up such scenarios.
I know I just spent as much space discussing the bad as I did the good, but don't let that fool you. Each chapter in the trilogy has its share of flaws, but the strengths ultimately outweigh the flaws. These are well-crafted movies, and they exhibit intelligence and ingenuity, which makes them a veritable oasis in the arid desert that is modern horror cinema.
One last thing: When are we going to get a Blu-ray release of the unrated cut of the first movie? My collection looks rather odd with that hole in it.
The commentary by director Darren Lynn Bousman, writer/executive producer James Whannell, and executive producers Peter Block and Jason Constantine is another of the series' jocular, self-deprecating chat tracks. Despite the joking, there's still a wealth of good information here.
The commentary by producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg isn't so hot, but anyone interested in the financial hardships of independent horror cinema might find something of value.
The commentary by director Darren Lynn Bousman, editor Kevin Greutert and director of photography David A. Armstrong is where you'll find the majority of information regarding the technical and logistical aspects of the shoot.
The Traps of Saw III and The Details of Death: The Props of Saw III (17 minutes total) provide a look into the creation and workings of the various torture devices and puzzles featured in the movie.
Darren's Diary: Anatomy of a Director (9 minutes) features behind-the-scenes footage shot by the director himself.
Amanda: Evolution of a Killer (6 minutes) offers a few minutes of interviews with Shawnee Smith combined with Amanda-centric scenes from the three flicks. It's strictly EPK-style stuff, but footage of Shawnee in a tight shirt is never a bad thing.
The Writing of Saw III (5 minutes) is self-explanatory. Wan, Whannell, and Bousman are featured in interview footage.
You also get two deleted scenes (6 minutes total). There's nothing special about the content, but because the footage is raw, you get a sense of just how much tweaking and color correction is performed on these movies.
Closing things out are the teaser and theatrical trailers.