By: Rod Williams on November 9, 2006  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell
Country: USA
Australian Release Date: November 2, 2006
Distributor: Hoyts Distribution
Running Time: 108 minutes
Any horror film that gives special thanks to a real slaughterhouse in its end credits must have something going for it. Another financial success for Lionsgate, Saw III should please fans of the previous two entries in this grueling trilogy. In fact, some genre pundits and keyboard jockies have even stated that this is the sharpest saw of the bunch. How does their enthusiasm stack up against the critical bashing Saw III has received from the mainstream press, which benefits from objectivity, but at the same time is often guilty of not understanding horror on its own terms?

Certainly, the involvement of creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell was vital for maintaining character and story continuity, not to mention filling the quota of sadistic games, mindfucks, and flying gore. No doubt this is what devotees were hoping to see more of – full credit to Lionsgate for not killing the golden goose by softening the approach and going for a wider audience. When I caught the film in Melbourne on November 2nd, the opening night crowd filled the large auditorium to about 95% capacity. As the house lights went down, the anticipation and festive atmosphere was more electric than for any cinema release in recent memory, including Saw II. A female friend who loves movies such as Hostel squealed in delight when I told her a third Saw film had been released. And as we've heard, the US opening weekend box-office revenue for Saw III topped $33 million, earning back triple its estimated budget in a matter of days. Five minutes into the film, this hype was forgotten because everyone's expectations had been met.

Following on from Saw II, Detective Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg, Dreamcatcher) contemplates his predicament and takes a drastic course of action that had the entire crowd groaning. Good start! Meanwhile, as his police task force, led by Detective Kerry (Dina Meyer), searches for his location, they stumble upon the human wreckage of another Jigsaw victim. Upon closer inspection, this particular scenario – which we see happen in one of many flashbacks in the film – betrays a disturbing trend that raises the stakes further. The catalyst for the escalation becomes apparent when the co-dependent relationship between Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) aka John Cramer and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) is explored in the central drama. A witness to their power struggles and impending moment of truth is Doctor Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh, Crash 2006, Mission Impossible III), who is abducted and forced to keep Jigsaw's brain tumor from killing him before his final game is played out. This time, instead of a house full of scum and reprobates, the lone participant is a middle-aged father of two called Jeff (Angus Macfadyen, Braveheart). This poor grieving slob runs a gauntlet of mind-bending horrors to test the moral strength of his character in the face of a past tragedy. More of an Inquisition than a test, the full extent of Jigsaw's machinations can't be known until the very end...

An ambitious climax for the series to be sure. After a sluggish first act, the movie gets going when the parallel threads are set in motion and doesn't let up. While the overall story hangs together well, some aspects of it fall down under scrutiny. For example, the relationship between Jigsaw and his female apprentice threatens to crumble into a pile of nonsense; the revelation that Amanda might continue Jigsaw's legacy was the weakest moment in Saw II. That being said, the writers go to great lengths to demonstrate adequate character motivation by delving into Amanda's insecure, self-destructive personality (as shown by an idea last used in Secretary). In a less manic production, you'd heckle Smith for such overacting, but in Saw III her jittery performance keeps you on edge. On balance, however, the acting from the cast is excellent. Tobin Bell, looking more decrepit than he did in Saw II (if that's possible), is effective once again in a role that must have given him bedsores for weeks. His brand of torpid, lyrical derangement contrasts well against the not-too-bright Amanda, who takes advantage of her mobility to show off the impressive sets by production designer David Hackl and art director Anthony Ianni. A flashback involving Detective Matthews doesn't quite work, and another character is dispatched by being stupid beyond belief (in other words, the climax would have been problematic if this person survived). In fact, the schizo narrative could have been handled better by returning director Darren Lynn Bousman, who probably showed his inexperience when it came to keeping the audience up to speed with the shifting time scales. Luckily, in the tradition of other Saw movies, the ending comes off beautifully, though with the inevitable opening for another sequel.

Now, let's talk about the gore, violence and sadism. There is plenty of all three elements on offer here, as well as some female nudity which, I might add, is totally essential to the plot. Fans of Hellraiser (present) should get a nice jolt of déjà vu watching one grisly set piece, while the Rack device has to be one of the most excruciation death traps conceived for a horror film. That Jigsaw referred to it as his "personal favourite" should give anyone pause for thought. And then there's the improvised brain surgery sequence that seems to last for a whole reel, bringing back fond memories of similar cranial abuse in Re-Animator, Death Warmed Up, Happy Birthday to Me, and of course The Dead Pit. Tempting as it is, I won't spoil the other surprises waiting in store. The splatter make-up was provided by Damon Bishop and crew, whose credits include Silent Hill, Land of the Dead, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Dawn of the Dead (2004), Jason X, eXistenZ, and the up-coming Skinwalkers. Suffice to say that some latex carnage appears to have been trimmed to appease the US censors. Even in its uncut form, Saw III wouldn't reach the heights (depths?) of a bona fide chunkblower – the events don't call for it. But you could easily say that it's one of the most violent movies of 2006.

Mainstream critics, who by and large would have been obligated to attend preview screenings, had little patience for (a) the fact it was a second sequel and (b) the intensity of the torture sequences. The Bunnings Hardware medical procedure – in all its inexplicable gratuitousness – didn't sit well with them, either. How funny is that. Personally, I applaud this kind of horror filmmaking. These movies are repulsive, nihilistic, ghoulish fucking nightmares from start to finish. Derivative of Se7en and the usual suspects, true enough, but in my opinion, they're still at the vanguard of studio fright flicks in this new millennium.

As for the prospect of a sequel (groan), this reviewer wouldn't mind another one if it had to happen, except for the uncertainty of RMIT graduates Whannell and Wan being involved. In an interview for the Herald Sun entertainment gazette, Leigh was hesitant about the prospect of doing a fourth movie. Based on what happens here, the franchise could go in a number of directions. For now, enjoy this berserk third installment, because it literally goes for the jugular.
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