Unless you've been stuck down the back of a sofa for the last three years there's a fair to middling chance that you'll be at least casually acquainted with the Saw series of films. Kicking off nicely in 2004, Saw gave hope to millions that modern horror cinema need not revolve around horny teen slashers, pointless remakes and half-baked Japanese imports, before taking a disappointingly generic turn with Saw II last halloween. Now we find ourselves at the third and, it saddens me to say, least worthy instalment of the increasingly struggling franchise.
Somewhat predictably our old friend Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) has not quite reached death's door, and along with apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith) is putting the final touches to his last masterpiece of torture. This consists of a somewhat terse scenario involving Jeff (Angus Macfadyen of all people); a father haunted by the death of his young son in a hit and run accident who, kidnapped by Jigsaw, finds himself in an undisclosed location following a set of clues that each lead to a person involved in the demise of his nipper. This time the twist is that Jeff himself is in no immediate danger, rather those poor souls he encounters are enmeshed in a number of devious and frequently brutal time-sensitive traps, and it is up to Jeff to decide if he can forgive and forget in time to save them from a horrendous fate. Orbiting this is a Polyfilla sub-plot focusing on Amanda's deviation from Jigsaw's strict ethical code (hey, whatever helps him sleep at night, right?) and her increasingly unstable frame of mind as evidenced by some subtle self-harming along the naughty edge of a big knife.
Now, Jeff's dilemma is an intriguing premise in theory and, as far as I can tell, relatively virgin territory for the genre. it certainly has the potential to raise a few interesting questions as we peel away the layers of a pathetic shadow of a man racked by grief and wallowing in vengeful self-pity. Could you forgive the people who callously let your son die, or would you rather see them suffer as you've spent so long dreaming of, even if it's at the cost of your soul and by the hand of another? Trouble is series scripter Leigh Whannell has neither the skill nor the compulsion to see beyond the obvious, preferring instead to gloat over a series of brutal torture scenes that easily outstrip the previous movies in both frequency and shock value. It's painfully obvious that Whannell has spent the majority of his time thinking up new, horrendous ways to die at the expense of anything remotely resembling a structured plot, exposed here by some heinous fracturing of narrative which is at best confusing and at worst a pathetic attempt at covering up the cracks.
While this skipping to and fro may not be the movie's biggest problem it's certainly the most distracting for the viewer, and it seems to have been instigated both to pad out the running time and, in the instance of flashbacks to the first film, explain away plot contrivances that didn't actually need any clarification in the first place. Nothing beneficial is offered by way of plot or character through this jarring choice of editing, and it might well have served returning director Darren Lynn Bousman better to have both ditched this epileptic flapping and shed a good twenty minutes or so of the running time while he was at it. Having said that the resultant condensed stream of near continuous blood letting might well have caused half the audience to flake out, so maybe said padding is actually to be considered a minor act of benevolence.
In Summation I can find only one kind thing to say about Saw III, and that is if intense scenes of protracted torture are your bag, and if the ommission of any kind of structured story telling does not represent a big problem then you might well find this film a rich seam of entertainment. It would also probably mean you were a serial killer. Each to their own. For the rest of us who value some vague form of merit when we fork out six quid a piece to plank our arses down in a dark room full of strangers for two hours I have only one word. Avoid. I came, I Saw, I left disappointed.
Shawnee Smith (Amanda)
Angus Bloody Macfadyen (Jeff)