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Saw 3
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2006

Format: Movie
By:   Darren Lynn Bousman (director), Leigh Whannell (screenwriter)
Genre:   Horror
Review Date:   November 04, 2006
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

Doctor, you are a vital piece of what may be my final puzzle. — Jigsaw

Hollywood loves its franchises. They're an easy sell and have a built-in audience, so they usually make a profit. This is especially true when it comes to horror movies, which can be made fairly cheaply. The downside is that most horror franchises aren't what you would call "good". The standard scenario involves a strong first movie and a devolution into derivative crud. Look at the Scream series, if you must.

The Saw movies are different. The first had promise but was weakened by bad acting and too many flashbacks. The second took what worked, built on it and was a stronger film. Now Halloween has come around again, bringing Saw 3 with it. Does it continue to improve like its predecessor, or does it revert to genre formula and sink into suck?

Saw 3 picks up shortly after the events in Saw 2, and like that film it weaves several stories together. Some opening interludes bring us up to speed from last time, catching us up with the (remaining) cast. Most of them return, including Donnie Wahlberg as a cop and Dina Meyer as Detective Kerry, who is leading the hunt to find him and the killer Jigsaw, still masterfully played by Tobin Bell.

Bell's performances have made Jigsaw one of the best horror antagonists since the '80s. Jigsaw's apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith, The Island) is still with him, preparing to continue his work after the cancer ravaging Jiggy's ailing body claims him.

New victims join the cast. There are some simple victims at the beginning of the flick to remind us how his traps work, one of whom is a bit of a surprise. But they're the appetizers for the two main subjects. The first is Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh, M:I:III), a trauma doc with a failing marriage. Contestant number two is Jeff (Angus Macfadyen, Equilibrium). Jeff's flaw is that his son was killed, and he feels there was no justice for it. This makes them both ripe for Jiggy's extreme self-improvement plan.

Once more, Jigsaw's agenda is fairly straightforward. He wants to play a game with his victims, the goal of which is to make them evaluate their lives and make them better people. The puzzle traps are tests of their character and their will to live. Jeff's task is a little more complicated. He's been placed in some sort of manufacturing plant and has to make his way to the exit. As he does so, he runs into several people involved in his son's death. His test is compassion. Will he try and save them at risk of his own life, or let them die?

Like the second movie, the film skillfully weaves between events. Like the first movie, we have a lot of flashbacks, but this time they're mostly done right. Instead of showing us one scene over and over, we are shown how Jiggy recruited and trained Amanda. We see how they bonded and what she's done for him, and we get a lot of character development. The other flashbacks show us what became of Wahlberg, and some other things you may have wondered about.

The only bad flashback is a long one near the end that just drags.I can almost understand why they did it the way they did, as director Bousman wants to make sure that you "get it," but he belabors the point. If that had been trimmed just a little, I'd rate this flick as high, if not higher, than Saw 2.

Saw 3 is a good movie. It feels like a natural progression in the story of Jiggy's life and the people he impacts with his extreme view of improving people, and not a slap-dash cash-in follow up. It has the hallmark puzzle-traps of the series, and they're more squirm-inducing than ever. I had to look away once or twice myself. It has great acting, a solid plot, and is just as tense as the last movie.

Saw 3 also has an air of finality that gives it a feeling of weight as the credits roll. And while I'm sure it's not the final film in the series, it also wouldn't be a bad place to let it rest so it doesn't sink into the land of suck. You know how Jigsaw would feel about that.

RevolutionSF staff writer Gary Mitchel also had plans to torture the New Kids on the Block, but he started with Jordan.

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