James Wan’s psychological horror film “Saw” brought audiences to their knees with claustrophobic sets and a giant plot twist of an ending. “Saw II” offered ample narrative excuses and opportunities for blood-letting and expanded upon the themes of its predecessor. Both of these films raise questions of how anxiety, desperation, and fear thrive when humans are hurled into extreme situations. “Saw III” (also directed by Bousman) further develops the motive and intent of its antagonist(s) and delivers sufficiently stomach-turning violence.
Bousman’s film begins where “Saw II” left off: Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) is trapped in the bathroom where Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) found themselves imprisoned in “Saw.” Rather than fully follow the detective’s story, though, “Saw III” focuses mainly on two new test subjects. Jigsaw, a.k.a. John (Tobin Bell), has chosen Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) and Lynn (Bahar Soomekh) to be recipients of the life-or-death game. Jeff has let his rage over the death of his young son sap every cell of his being until he becomes nothing but an angry drunk. Lynn is an amazingly skilled and talented trauma surgeon who loses sight of all the riches of her life; she neglects her family, takes on a lover, and relies on pills to control her depression.
The characters in “Saw” discovered that their lives were connected through Jigsaw’s orchestration; the characters in “Saw II” all had something in common by chance. Given the narrative development and the implications of the plot twist in “Saw III,” Jeff’s and Lynn’s actions are not only very consequential but also intertwined. If Jeff can make it through three mini-tests, he will find the man who pulled a hit-and-run on his son and can either forgive the man or exact revenge. Lynn is fitted with an explosive collar that will detonate if the now bedridden Jigsaw dies or if she ventures too far from his bed. If Lynn can keep him alive through the duration of Jeff’s tests, then she will be released unharmed. The mastermind behind the torment unleashed upon the characters in the first two films is dying of cancer and is confined to a bed; and yet he is still menacing. Not only does he hold god-like authorship over the lives of Jeff and Lynn, but he can also keep his apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith) in line. She can move, he cannot, but she will not move without his instruction…for most of the film.
In terms of the gore content and its representation, “Saw III” does nothing original or shocking. Bodies have been destroyed in more brutal and graphic ways in other films (see Hershell Gordon Lewis, Lucio Fulci, Takeshi Miike). The combination of rapid editing, fetishistic but brief close-ups of wounds, and a crisp, screaming audio track creates the illusion of hyper-gore. The imagery is not as disgusting, but it’s no less scary either. Bousman throws in more philosophy than can be read into a typical slasher film, but he still employs conventional horror scare tactics: sound, surprise, and seizure-inducing lighting pulsations.
By itself, “Saw III” would be a solid exercise in weaving parallel storylines and incorporation of flashbacks. Considered as the third part of this specific trilogy, though, all the pontificating about appreciating life and self-sacrifice grows increasingly tiresome. As much as you’d like the characters to become better people and beat Jigsaw’s game, there is also a strong desire simply to watch violent spectacle. And somehow, there just isn’t enough of the latter.