Horror review: Saw III

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, NOV. 1, 2006

Saying that the newest Saw movie is better than the last one is a bit like saying that your latest root canal was better than your last one. Either way, it’s all about the pain and suffering. Mind you, I had a root canal once and it didn’t hurt that much; the worst part is being glued to the dentist’s chair with your pie hole clamped open for several hours. Discriminating horror fans should be thankful that Saw III only keeps them in a similar state of uncomfortable boredom for 90 minutes or so.

I expected a lot better from the franchise, mainly because Saw II was such a vast improvement over the original. For one thing, it didn’t star the innocuous Carey Elwes. And it ramped up the twisted thrills by giving sadistic psycho killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) more deserving victims for his increasingly inventive deathtraps.

This time around, Jigsaw is bedridden and dying of brain cancer, and he has recruited a former victim (Shawnee Smith) to be his caregiver and to carry on his cruel “games”, which he figures teach people the value of life. But the too-cute Smith is barely believable in her role as the torturer’s apprentice. And the unhappy doctor she kidnaps to keep Jigsaw alive is played by another attractive actor (Bahar Soomekh) who struggles just to make her gasps of shock seem genuine.

The filmmakers—who apparently had to rush to get this guaranteed moneymaker in theatres before Halloween—try to inject some human drama into the plot by making the focus of Jigsaw’s latest game a father struggling to cope with the loss of his eight-year-old son. Is this tortured soul—strongly played by Angus Macfadyen—able to forgive the drunk driver who ran over his sweet child, the witness who didn’t testify, or the judge who passed a lenient sentence? Their fates (and the film’s nastiness) hinge on how quickly Macfadyen’s character can curb his seething vengeance.

Strangely enough, the most cringe-inducing moments of Saw III don’t involve limbs being slowly twisted apart by sinister machinery but someone voluntarily submitting to brain surgery. It’s a common medical practice, yet the sight of a person’s skull being sawed open to reveal the brain beneath is still an unbeatable salvo in the gross-out horror wars.

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