• Darren Lynn Bousman
  • 2006

The annual Halloween treat of another set of Jigsaw’s tricks brings more grizzly deaths to the mega popular shock horror series. Tobin Bell returns as the game of death mastermind, ready to set his victims with the choice of a horrible death or the pain of survival by inflicting hurt on themselves. But he is not alone in his schemes. Still joined by former victim Amanda (Shawnee Smith), he brings one of his most elaborate schemes ever to fruition — one that places even his fate in the balance.

…he will have the option over their fate in yet more terrible games

Initially I thought that returning original writers Leigh Whannell and James Wan had run out of ideas by opening the film with the usual Saw conundrums. Rip metal rings from out of your body or be killed by a bomb; put your hand in acid for a key or have your rib cage pulled out. Satisfying for a quick thrill, but little more. However, these are only tasters for a main event. Jigsaw, AKA John Kramer, is dying of a brain tumour and sends Amanda to kidnap a nurse cheating on her husband. She is fixed up with a harness around her neck that will blow her head off if Jigsaw dies. All he wants to do is stay alive long enough for an greater game to finish: enter Jeff (Angus Macfadyen). He has been consumed by hate for the man who killed his son in a car accident, the judge who gave him a lean sentence and the woman who did not stop to give evidence. Jigsaw will present him with the opportunity to face each one to try to make him learn forgiveness. Each time, live or die, he will have the option over their fate in yet more terrible games. Add this to a little home DIY surgery and you get another elaborate set up that holds a few aces up its sleeve until the bitter end.

Returning director Darren Lynn Bousman continues his knack of capturing grimy spaces to make sure the action of Saw III takes place in the usual unpleasant surroundings that look as though they have been pulled out of a sewer. Coupled with a seemingly endless supply of ripped flesh, twisted bones and bodies torn into little pieces, Saw III would win the award for most gruesome appearance at a Halloween party. It will satisfy a lust for seeing others squirm as they walk on a broken ankle or watch their own skin literally burn off which has always been the hallmark of the Saw series. However, there is a sense of repetition here as few of the tricks here are as original as those in the first one, and it is questionable how far its formula can be pushed. To try to avoid this problem, thankfully Whannell and Wan have carefully developed their story to tie into parts one and two and flesh out the relationship between Jigsaw and Amanda. At the same time, the flashbacks to Jeff’s sorry home life help to stop him becoming simply a raging bull with a red rag placed in front of him. You do actually get a sense of his torment lacking from many of the by-the-numbers horror films of late. The Grudge 2 (Takashi Shimizu, 2006), this is not.

…Either surrender to their way, or leave alone

It is also not free from verging on the contrived. If you recall, Saw and Saw II placed heavy emphasis on a chain of specific events going correctly in order for them to work for both the characters in the film and the audience watching. Saw III is the same. It relies upon you submitting yourself to the logic of the film, or, more specifically, Jigsaw’s know-it-all stance that he adopts with everyone. Some of his plans and ideas are frankly too questionable when removed from the authoritative tone he delivers them with. The sometimes ridiculous character set-ups come to a head at the conclusion that again leaves too much to chance to be planned. Performance-wise, Bell relishes taking centre stage despite being consigned to a hospital bed, Smith plays Amanda as simply a woman in need of anger management and the others are pawns in the script’s need for blood. I would say the audience is in a similar way refused the freedom to get under the skin of Saw III beyond Jigsaw’s mutterings and Amanda’s posturing. They are there to push each sequence forward for their own ends and to hell with reasonable thought. If you stop and think, you’ll break any control they are supposed to have on your enjoyment of the film. Either surrender to their way, or leave alone.

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