The latest gut-wrenching, nausea-inducing, headache-producing entry into the Saw series has arrived right on cue. Yet, it’s not the blood and entrails that causes these physical aliments. Instead, its director Darren Lynn Bousman’s fetish for over-exposed, unfocused compositions kept constantly in motion. Like a home video recorded by a five year-old who doesn’t know how to work the zoom, Saw III spins through its list of disemboweling traps with little concern for continuity or common sense.
The film opens where the second left off and the first began. Detective Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) is chained up in the infamous bathroom with a handsaw and a choice. After Matthews cleverly “solves” his problem, the title screen flashes and the story leaves Matthews in favor of several vignettes of horrible deaths that are of little consequence to the plot, which doesn’t take shape until 30 minutes into the film. In a nutshell, Jigsaw’s on his death bed and his apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith), kidnaps a brain surgeon forces him to keep Jigsaw alive to watch his latest game. The script then dances between Jigsaw’s struggle to live, his latest victim’s progress through his funhouse and flashbacks which attempt to fill in the last two films’ plot holes.
Let’s face it, the Saw series has never been about making sense, and has instead been based on creative constructions of death. But Saw III loses sight of what made the first Saw successful, in spite of the original's bad cast and hole-filled storyline. It was the simplicity of chaining two people in a room with only a handsaw and the tension produced from wondering if they will, in fact, cut through their own legs for a greater good. Originally, Jigsaw’s (Tobin Bell) lesson-driven murders where a nice aside to the brutality; yet as the Saw series continues, Jigsaw’s lessons have become just as empty as his violent exploits.
While the first Saw had the potential to provide both visceral chills and a thematic conscience worthy of exploration, Saw III under-estimates its audience in favor of grind house blood-letting. As if in admission of having an unintelligible plot, the film explains its final twist not once, but twice – the first with Jigsaw dialogue and second, as the film cuts through the past five minutes’ events in a one-minute, MTV-style montage. When you consider the movie's dizzying cinematography and tendency towards “where-are-they-in-the-series-now” flashbacks, a recap every five minutes might not be such a bad idea.
Saw III continues the tradition of nearly every horror sequel in the genre. It forgoes an attempt at decent storytelling to increase the body count. And like any true horror sequel, it leaves an opening for another follow up featuring a villain who just won’t die. As the television previews proclaim, “If it’s Halloween, it has to be Saw.” Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that it has to be seen.
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