The first two chapters in the Saw franchise aren’t going to be considered to be laugh-fests by too many people, but it’s with Saw III, which functions as the emotional conclusion to a trilogy, that a truly grim tone has been attempted. The darker, moodier music, more graphic violence, and darker, emotional themes make it feel this way. It keeps with the Saw tradition in that it’s still a brutal horror film with quasi-philosophical sequences, but it takes itself more seriously this time around.
I cannot say for sure whether or not this is a direction that worked better. A more realistic approach can be seen as more boring. The traps, puzzles, and “games,” as the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) likes to call them, are less exaggerated, and more about the lead character’s moral compass and not about how gruesome they can be, although a few parts of the film are, as you’d expect, downright painful to watch. The lesson that must be learned this time around is how to forgive those who have done you wrong.
That aforementioned lead character is Jeff (Angus Macfadyen), a man who lost his son a few years ago to a drunk driver, watched that man get a grand total of six months in prison, and whose focus in life has been in seeking vengeance — without actually doing any of the “seeking.” He wants vengeance, tells everyone he’d kill the murderer if they ever came face to face, and essentially ruined his entire life brooding over the death of his son. Jigsaw saw this (somehow), and decided that he needs to be taught how to let go and forgive.
Like Saw II before it, this third installment has two stories. This other one involves Jigsaw lying on his death bed, finally succumbing to his cancer. As revealed in the last film, Amanda (Shawnee Smith) has now become partners with the man who put her through two trials, and she is now taking care of him. They’ve captured a doctor, Lynn (Bahar Soomekh), who is forced to try to keep Jigsaw alive until Jeff finishes his trial. If she can’t, the collar around her neck explodes. This premise results in an open-brain surgery scene that will either please or disgust, depending on who you are.
I suppose whether or not you’ll really like Saw III depends upon why you are watching it in the first place. If you like the twists in the plot, the lessons that the characters have to learn, and the constant tension that they’re able to keep up for the majority of their running times, then you’ll still probably like this one. If you’re here to see a bunch of one-dimensional characters get killed, you’ll want to go watch a slasher film, or perhaps Saw II again, because you won’t really get that here.
You will see some deaths, including a particularly gory (and slightly disappointing, depending on which characters you’ve grown to like) ending. As Jeff goes through his trials, he comes across three people in torturous situations. He is quite often not the one being put in danger, which is a departure from the earlier films. It’s these people, each of whom impacted his life earlier, whose fate he has to decide. Here is where most of the scenes which might make you look away appear.
It’s nice to see the character growth from the first film to this one. Jigsaw has become stripped of all mystery and is now hours away from death. Amanda is now the main threat, and the film explains that she was actually behind many of the events that Jigsaw would physically be unable to perform. Finally, we get that explanation. I’ve been waiting for it since part way through the second film. Some twists at the end are revelatory and this is the first time in the series that these don’t feel like they’re trying to be too clever.
The story continues to be implausible, and with each film, the connections between all of the characters and their stories grows less likely. But I can’t say that I don’t like it. All of the reveals feel like true reveals — you’re not likely to guess most of the things that happen in this film — and they help keep things interesting. They also make you want to rewatch the film, and the earlier ones, in order to see if these twists hold up after closer inspection.
Surprisingly, one of the things holding Saw III together are the performances, especially in the second, non-Angus-Macfadyen-led, story. The trio of Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith and Bahar Soomekh makes for the best threesome of actors in the whole series, and because their story is the most emotional, this is crucial. Several scenes of length dialogue exchanges are extremely intense, and become even more thrilling than some of the “games” the characters must play.
Saw III isn’t the best of the Saw films, and I’m not even sure if it is better than either of the first two chapters, but as a slight departure from the series’ formula, as well as a strong emotional conclusion to a trilogy, it is very effective. It might be too “realistic” for some viewers, and it might still be too graphic for those who aren’t a fan of gory scenes, but if you’ve enjoyed the previous two Saw movies, you’ll definitely want to see this one.