Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfayden, Bahar Soomekh, Dina Meyer, Donnie Wahlberg, Stefan Georgiou. (2006, R, 107 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 3, 2006
Pop psychology has never been as visceral as it is in Saw III, which revisits the – sorry – old saw about people being able to live their lives to the fullest only after they have faced and mastered, and thus dispelled, their darkest fears. Serial madman Jigsaw (Bell) is back for more Rube-Goldbergian Grand Guignol with protégé Amanda (Smith), a holdover from Saw II. This time out the cancer-ridden Jigsaw is literally on his deathbed, attended to by Dr. Lynn Denton (Soomekh), a physician he's kidnapped and who awakes to find herself in Jigsaw's lair sporting a collar ringed with shotgun shells. Her job is to keep Jigsaw alive for the duration of the film; if his heart rate drops, or worse, flatlines, the good doctor's cranium is rejiggered into something approaching spin-art deco. Jigsaw's chief target of abuse this time isn't Dr. Denton, or even Detective Matthews (Wahlberg), who ends up the victim of a particularly mordant gag involving the old cop slang "flatfoot." Jigsaw's target is Jeff Reinhart (Macfayden), a parent mourning the death of his young son Dylan (Georgiou), who was killed by a hit-and-run driver still on the loose. Jigsaw's conceit is that Jeff has lived his post-trauma life consumed by ruinous vengeance and must now confront not only his child's killer but also a series of seemingly random people whom Jigsaw and Amanda have kidnapped and placed throughout an abandoned warehouse, nestled inside various and sundry hyperelaborate torture devices. Blood, gore, and viscera of an almost unprecedented level in an R-rated film follow. In the context of the Saw franchise, the third time's the proverbial charm, with oodles of backstory ladled atop the proceedings, bringing the whole series full circle, back to the first Saw, and in the case of the Jigsaw killer himself, beyond even that. As in the previous films, there's a twisted, EC Comics morality at play here, and much of the horror (not to mention the series' grim, grimmer, grimmest vibe) would fit neatly into the pages of an old issue of Shock SuspenStories or The Haunt of Fear. Even William M. Gaines and Al Feldstein might have balked at some of the more intricately designed set-pieces here, including a chain gag that finds one poor character shackled through his flesh – and his lower jaw! – and counting down the seconds until a bomb scatters his teeth to the four corners of the dank and decrepit prison. No one will ever be able to accuse series creators and scribes Leigh Wannell and James Wan of being stingy with the red stuff: Saw III is one of the most unrelentingly moist horror shows since the heyday of Eighties-era slash ’n' burn splatter fests. On the other hand, Saw's increasingly complex psychological milieu, with the icily pragmatic Jigsaw overseeing the fates of what now feels like dozens of individual characters, is so intricately layered that if you haven't seen the first and second films, you're likely to be as confused and befuddled as one of Jigsaw's kidnappees. That said, you can't fault the series' ambitious nature, which, like it or not, has added a whole new level of perplexingly amoral morality to a genre sorely lacking in all but the most basic (in)human motivations. Here's blood in your eye.