a critiQal film review Saw III (2006)

Plot: Jigsaw (Bell) and his apprentice (Smith) kidnap a doctor (Soomekh) to keep Jigsaw alive so he can watch one last test he's devised. The test gives a father (MacFadyen) a choice: forgive the people who caused him so much grief after his son died...or do nothing and let them die horrible deaths.

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If you missed Saw (2004), you missed one of the best horror movies of recent years. It had everything: chills, tension, gore, a plot that kept your pulse beating fast throughout, and a surprise ending that was truly shocking.

And then a sequel, Saw II (2005) hit theaters the next year, and degraded the memory of the original slightly – enough that we weren’t going to risk our hard-earned cash checking out the third in the series, Saw III, when it hit theaters in October 2006.

Still, we did want to see if the filmmakers were able to revitalize the series with this new installment, so we decided to check it out once it hit DVD. Would Saw III be the new start this series desperately needs, or would the schlock be even more evident this time around?

Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith return, with Tobin Bell being the true stand-out once again. Despite being on the verge of dying, he manages to present as evil a figure as any other horror villain in recent memory. Maybe it’s his whispery voice, or just his diabolical mind in action. Whatever the case, he’s one of the main reasons the series has made it to three films, and he helps keeps the tension level high in Saw III.

Shawnee Smith, who seemed to really step it up a notch for Saw II (2005), has let her hair grow out for this third film…and let her acting skills drop a notch along the way. The viewer has the distinct impression that she is just a bit player in the film, despite her billing as Jigsaw’s apprentice. It’s not something the viewer will be able to put a finger on, but it’s there, nonetheless. She just doesn’t seem to have the presence to be a major player this time around.

Saw III has the unenviable tasks of both introducing new and inventive puzzles and tying the film back into the first two, while at the same time introducing new characters. While the puzzles are still somewhat inventive, it’s this second task that seems the most trying. The filmmakers decide to use flashbacks to revisit some of the scenes from the first two films.

While the use of flashbacks is good as it lets the filmmakers spark the viewer’s nostalgia for those memorable scenes while at the same time introducing new parts to those scenes the viewer hasn’t witnessed before, it does get a bit annoying. Sure, the back story is interesting, but by the time the filmmakers decide to go back and visit those old scenes, a new puzzle is unfolding which the viewer wants to see through to the end. Never have flashbacks been both as much of a help and as much of a hinder as they are in Saw III.

By revisiting the old scenes, however, the filmmakers have a distinct advantage over other sequels: they are actually able to change the storyline of a previous film! This is huge, as they can alter the first film enough to make viewers believe a trilogy was planned all along. This is a huge bonus for Saw III, and will keep loyal viewers hooked. Still, those flashbacks can get a bit annoying.

Having already tried the “more is better” route when it came to victims in Saw II (2005), Saw III‘s main focus is just on one guy, a father (Angus MacFadyen) who has lost his son. He finds himself trapped in a box, and must forge his way through a series of tests. While the “more is better” victim route didn’t work very well in Saw II (2005), the sole victim works perfectly here. This personalizes the horror much more, and presents a huge new set of dilemmas for the character.

As it turns out, Angus MacFadyen’s character has the ability to save those who contributed to his lack of resolve in his son’s death…but he has to forgive them in order to do so. These tests actually make more sense than those in the previous film, and seem much more fitting. After all, Jigsaw is supposed to be trying to create better people through his tests, and his methods here are the best support of that theory yet.

Probably the biggest problem for Saw III is that it tries to cram too many ideas into one film. In the beginning, it looks like the film is going to be about Jigsaw’s apprentice, who, while seeming to give victims a chance, actually creates a dilemma with no way out. This by itself could be a whole new film. Suddenly, the film switches to a doctor who has to keep Jigsaw alive until one last test is completed.

Once the film switches to that new plot, the murders that have already happened disappear completely from the viewer’s eye, never to be heard about again. So what were those first couple of murders? Just something to entice viewers to stay?

Saw III would have been much better if those murders hadn’t happened. They contribute nothing to the storyline. Sure, some can say they are there to show how the apprentice’s traps are no-win situations, but that plot point is covered in detail later on in the film, and doesn’t need those first couple of murders to prove anything.

Despite the uselessness of the beginning of the film, Saw III turns out to be a worthy sequel in this horror series, far outdoing the rather unimpressive Saw II (2005). The only bad part about the film? It leaves a setup perfect for another movie. Why?

Saw III is a good conclusion to the trilogy. Do we really need another? The filmmakers apparently think so. I’ll have to reserve judgment until I see the inevitable Saw IV (2007) on DVD. No way am I going to pay to see the 4th film in a trilogy.

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