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Saw III (2006)


According to the Scream series, horror movie installments follow certain conventions. The third movie, for example, tends to be bigger, more shocking, and more over the top than its predecessors, winding up to a climax that will leave you gasping for breath. Saw III is no exception, as torture masterminds Wan and Whannell wanted to wind up the series and end it with a bang. (It didn’t work, incidentally, but the thought was there.)

Saw III is the third movie in the Saw series, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and written by James Wan and Leigh Wannell. It stars Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus MacFayden, Bahar Soomekh, and Donnie Wahlberg.

Three interweaving storylines unfold during the course of this movie. In one, the police investigate the latest string of Jigsaw-style traps, discovering that these have been rigged in various ways to be inescapable. In another, Jeff Denlon, eaten up by grief over the death of his son, who was hit and killed by a drunk driver, is kidnapped by Jigsaw and forced to perform a series of tests to face his feelings of vengeance against those he sees as responsible for the driver escaping justice with a slap on the wrist. In a third, Dr. Lynn Denlon has also been kidnapped by Jigsaw – actually, his apprentice Amanda. Denlon’s task is to keep Jigsaw, now bedridden from advanced brain cancer, alive until Jeff completes his gauntlet of tests. If Jigsaw dies before then, a trapped collar around her neck will fire shotgun shells into her head, effectively erasing same. However, Amanda has become increasingly unstable since becoming Jiggy’s apprentice, believing that people cannot be redeemed and thus setting up in escapable traps. As Jeff is forced to confront his own demons and Jigsaw’s condition deteriorates, the question of who will survive this twisted game becomes less and less clear with every passing minute…

When I went to see this movie in the theaters, I already know what sort of movie I was getting into. You can imagine my surprise when, while I was waiting for the movie to start, I saw two theoretically responsible adults enter the theater with an eleven-year-old girl. WTF? Thinking that maybe they’d wandered into the wrong theater, I warned them that this movie wasn’t really for kids, but they said they were fine. Okay, I think, your therapy bill. And I was right – this movie is brutal. I’ve seen my share of gory slashers and other horror movies before, but Saw III went for the guts in a way few horror movies have before. Not only are the traps gut-wrenching and physically traumatic, but the story that unfolds with Jeff’s journey makes the audience understand him and sympathize with him, even if they don’t agree with him. He is forced to choose between his vengeful grief, which he has been holding onto for so long that he’s forgotten how to live otherwise, and forgiving those he believes has wronged them. The choices that each room gives him kick him repeatedly in the nuts – he wants vengeance at all costs, but you get the idea that he’s a good man underneath, warts and all. Lynn’s subplot is also hard to watch – kidnapped by a pair of psychopaths, forced to keep one alive even as he’s dying from cancer, while the other one seems to be growing more unstable by the minute. And the climax where everything crashes together in a giant pileup to rival the opening sequence of Final Destination 2, based on the fateful decisions of two of the players in this game, nearly had me on my feet screaming at the screen.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Saw without the deathtraps, and they are accordingly efficient and diabolical. The simplest one would have to be the Meat Locker, in which a witness to the hit and run is chained up naked in a giant freezer and periodically sprayed with water, while the most nauseating is the one where the judge is locked to the floor of a collection vat, slowly filling as rotting pig carcasses are liquefied and the soup poured in. This is obviously not a movie for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. The torture happens to so many levels – physical, psychological, and emotional, and would have made an effective ending for the series had the studio execs not decided keep the franchise going for the sake of profits.

Saw III is a brutal film that will leave you feeling queasy and wrung out, and emotional roller-coaster that goes for the guts in ways few modern horror movies have. If you think you can handle it, though, check it out, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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