It’s a pity that the Saw franchise is the number one name associated with media claims that American horror has turned into snuff films and torture porn. I say this not in defense of Saw’s integrity, but rather the fact that such derisive, ultimately pussyfooted horror receives such uproarious controversy.
The movies aren’t complete shit, but they’re not that good at what they try to do.
They contain slight whiffs of inspiration, but none of the revolving trio of writers/directors have proven fully capable of locking on to the scent. It may, indeed, be an issue of the filmmakers caving to a fan base’s pressure; of a forced supply of elaborate, mindless traps and blue collar plot twists.
Or, and this is the more probable scenario, the Saw-ers just don’t have it in them to provide anything other than C+ average material. They’ve fashioned a rudimentary appearance of intelligent design, but anyone with half an eye for smoke and mirrors can see that the magic ingredients the series’ relies upon are nothing but misdirections and hollow promises. And Saw III makes this more obvious than ever.
This go around finds Jigsaw, once again, on his death bed. His assistant – the emo kid’s dream girl, Amanda (Shawnee Smith) - kidnaps a doctor , straps a necklace of primed shotgun shells around her neck and forces her to try and save Jigsaw’s life. All this while some Joe Everyman named Jeff is forced to trudge his way through another one of Jigsaw/Amanda’s factory (literally) sized series of traps.
The trio give the series’ its most compelling argument on the value of life yet, as Jeff is forced to face a trap packed path filled with people who played pivotal roles in the hit-and-run death of his only son. It works off and on, but the broken camel’s back comes by way of the film’s ridiculous climax. After sitting through test after test, Jigsaw proceeds to reveal the hidden tests…the reality behind his already fake reality. But after heaping that bale of straw on, the script loads on a volley of these mini-twists until the neurotically edited finale becomes absurd beyond a point of safe return, effectively negating any potential for a lasting objective aside from bloodshed.
The bloodshed, the traps and the suspense contained in Saw III are a step back from Saw II‘s fun sense of the gruesome. More often than not the traps have little creative imagination behind them other than promising work for the effects department. The makeup itself is as red as ever, but the brunt of it all is wasted when the deaths themselves lack backbone. The dead-pig sequence in particular is plain silly and sufficiently pales in comparison to even some of the stunts on a prime time reality show like "Fear Factor".
On the upside, the acting is the best of the trilogy. Tobin Bell continues to rock as Jigsaw, even as Jigsaw himself becomes redundant. Angus Macfadyen successfully embodies a working man who got dealt a shitty hand. Bahar Soomekh and Shawnee Smith round out the cast with committed performances for material that, when not riding mortality, is generic and familiar.
At the end of the day, the most interesting moments that wound up in the final cut of Saw III happen to be ones that loop back to/explain the prior films’ dangled plot threads. A quality a sequel should simply never posses, especially one that attempts to establish its own identity as a morality play only to later crush itself under the expectations established by the aforementioned films’ twists and turns.
I’d call it a viscious cycle, but that may imply a degree of pity on my part.