Let nobody say that Saw III is goreless: I am in no conceivable way a lightweight about such things, but herein is a lengthy, lovingly detailed surgery scene that went pretty much as far as I could tolerate without looking away. I will admit immediately that this was the unrated edition, not the theatrical cut; but by this point in Saw history, it's clear that the franchise faithful see the film in both version and regard whatever unfettered version craps its way across a two-disc DVD set as the definitive text.

It's my habit to start out saying whatever I can that's nice about a movie, and I'll indulge that now: structurally, Saw III has a pretty decent screenplay. It tells two stories in parallel: in one, Jigsaw kidnaps Lynn (Bahar Soomekh), his old doctor, to keep him alive while he and his new assistant and former victim Amanda (Shawnee Smith) put yet another innocent through yet another arcane trial. Here we have Jeff (Angus Macfadyen), who has not gotten over his son's accidental death three years ago, and is given a chance to confront his ghosts while saving or not saving the men and woman he holds accountable for his lack of closure.

The stories have a little bit in common, much more than the twin stories in Saw II, and Bousman (returning to direct), Wan (returning to shape the story) and Whannell (returning to piss on the art of dialogue-writing and then set it on fire) do just fine at developing the two threads along each other. It's organic and even kind of interesting. And the twist at the end is, for once, not only fair but actually quite clever: it works entirely because the audience assumed things earlier that were never actually stated or shown. Hitchcock perfected that technique, which I mention only so that I can have compared the makers of Saw III to Hitchcock, thereby shocking all of you my readers & completely ruining my reputation, so that no-one will ever take my film writing seriously again. I don't know why I'm trying to do that, but there you have it.

Anyway, the structure is mostly good, and it's quite bad because of a false first act (those don't come by too often, I'll have you know), in which it takes 30 minutes of a 113 minute film to actually get to the plot, spending those first 30 minutes tying up the loose ends of the first two films. It is here that trouble begins a-brewing: Saw III is the grand operatic Saw film, the one in which all of the motifs and notes of its predecessors come to full bloom. I have the most scathing possible opinion of both Saw and Saw II, and why that is therefore a terrible thing.

Where the last film offended and saddened me, this one digusted and angered me, because it replaces the foolish, venal strawpeople of that scenario with an unforgivably amoral protagonist in Jeff. Jeff's trial, which at no point involves his own physical danger, is to go through rooms of arcane death-trappery where the three people most responsible in his mind for the miscarriage of justice surrounding his son's death are being slowly tortured. Jeff can free them or not. He dithers a bit and let's just say that less than three people accompany him out of the maze.

The script makes some exceedingly weak gestures in the direction of "Jeff is as bad as Jigsaw," but they don't take, especially because of the end, and the meaning of Saw III is loud and fucking clear: any of us might do just the exact same. We might let the freezing death chamber, the drowning pig innards tub or the twisting rack machine kill off our most hated nemeses, while they screamed and begged us to help them. After all, we all (like Jigsaw) want revenge for something.

Well James Wan and Leigh Whannell and Darren Lynn Bousman, you can take your goddamn "we" and roll it up in a tube and shove it up your respective assholes. I may not have a dead son, but I know about basic morality and decency, and if I'm watching someone die very slowly, and I can stop it with very little personal risk, I would stop it. And judging on the commercial response to this movie ($80+ million), mine is apparently not a unanimously-held opinion. Well, you and your fanboys can fuck off, and the idea that I'm supposed to regard Jeff as my "surrogate," my "POV," sickens me. You bastards.

That's before the last twist. The end of the movie keeps on twisting for I don't know how long., and its clear that the Sawsmen have done as George Lucas and the Wachowskis have done before them, which is buy into their own press and believe that theirs is a Grete Epick Storie that requires an almost Wagnerian scope to its ending instead of a neat little "Kill the killer, oh it's not over, musical sting" progression like a trashy horror film which is what these are knows as its birthright.

Um...yes, the last twist - the last beat of the trilogy - is nasty. Not brutal, not mean spirited. Vicious and cruel for no reason other than to make the audience feel really shitty at the end of a movie where we, and by "we" I might well just mean "I," felt shitty pretty much non-stop. It's not like the rest of the numerous endings led us to believe that sunshine and wingéd ponies and a field of puppy dogs waited beyond the last fade-out. Frankly, the end to that point is nihilistic in a way that would make David Fincher step back and say, "Whoa, y'all are are depressing motherfuckers," redeemed only because unlike e.g. Se7en, the characters are propped-up cardboard. But that last moment is needless. Maybe it's supposed to punish the people who enjoyed the rest of the films, in which case bravo, but I don't think so. I think it's just part of the same nihilistic, amoral, self-congratulatory wanking that has cycled through each and every one of these godforsaken movies. Lookit how fuckin' brave and edgy you gentlemen are. Not that many directors who want to make a stylistic choice of implying that an eight year old girl is going to suffocate to death. Aren't you trendily nihilistic, you filthy fucks.

* * *

Wow, that got away from me. Um...

That's better.

Reviews in this series
Saw (Wan, 2004)
Saw II (Bousman, 2005)
Saw III (Bousman, 2006)
Saw IV (Bousman, 2007)
Saw V (Hackl, 2008)
Saw VI (Greutert, 2009)
Saw 3D (Greutert, 2010)
Jigsaw (Spierig Brothers, 2017)
Spiral: From the Book of Saw (Bousman, 2021)