Saw 3

Here’s the thing that’s proving to be somewhat strange for me with the ‘Saw’ series of horror films. I had seen each of the first three movies in the franchise when they were initially released to DVD, and had developed opinions both good and bad for each of the films at the time. For instance, when I watched the first film, “Saw”, I really didn’t think all that much for the movie, I thought it was alright but not worth all the hype it had received. Then I watched “Saw 2” and felt it was a much better movie than the original, I thought the story was improved, and didn’t borrow as heavily from other influences. After that I watched “Saw 3”, but I hadn’t seen the first two in so long that I thought the third film contradicted certain elements contained in the first two, and was also much gorier and seemingly short on plot. However, after re-watching each of the movies in the franchise back-to-back my opinions have somewhat changed. I actually found myself liking the original film much better the second time around, and found “Saw 2” to be fairly disappointing by comparison, due to a lack of character development and an over-reliance on shock and gore, instead of developing an eerily creepy atmosphere and a story that would deliver genuine thrills as the original film had done. Which brings me to my re-watching of the third film in the series, “Saw 3”. Going into this film I wondered if my opinion would change as drastically as it had on the previous two films or if it would remain essentially the same as it was after the first time I watched the movie. Either way, I was curious to see what results awaited my repeat viewing of the film that I felt was the weakest in the series thus far.

“Saw 3” picks up immediately after the events of “Saw 2”, and we find Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) desperately trying to free himself in order to save his son. However, Amanda (Shawnee Smith) isn’t as fair as Jigsaw and has no intention of allowing Eric to escape. After their brutal altercation (essentially tying off the dangling loose ends left over from the previous film), Amanda joins her mentor, the ailing Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), in overseeing their latest series of tests, one involves a doctor (Bahar Soomekh) who is extremely talented and caring in the operating room yet is cold and aloof to her family at home. The second test focuses on a heartbroken father (Angus MacFadyen) who has lost his son in an automobile accident and would give anything to exact vengeance on those he holds responsible. As each of the subjects advance through their own series of tests, Jigsaw’s already deteriorating health seems to be declining at an increasingly rapid rate, but this will not deter the maniacal mastermind from seeing his carefully designed plans come to fruition.

When I watched “Saw 3” for the first time after it had recently arrived on DVD in early 2007, I initially found the film to be just another standard horror film that was intent on using as much blood and gore as the MPAA would allow in a film. Basically the filmmakers wanted to see just how much they could get away with before the audience was completely disgusted. The traps had seemed more grotesque, and were even more inescapable than those in the previous two films (which it turned out was the case due to Amanda’s refusal to give her victims a chance at life, a fact that was shown in several flashbacks throughout the movie), and the results of the traps were even more bizarre and horrifying than what either of the first two films had attempted. Also, I had thought that the story for “Saw 3” contradicted certain events of the previous two movies, especially the first movie, and a couple of moments in the second, leaving me wondering why the writers of this installment, James Wan and Leigh Whannell (who also wrote the first film together), would contradict their own work from the original movie.

Well, after finishing “Saw 3” for the second time I must say that my opinion of the film has changed in some instances. I found that the story, which I initially found contradictory, was very well put together and was not contradictory in the least. The story also felt more in sync with the tone of the original film, by having Jigsaw and Amanda’s traps be more planned out, forcing their victims to take part in them rather than the rather coincidental approach to the second film where the victims seemed to be allowed to avoid the traps if they could. One facet of the story of “Saw 3” that I really enjoyed were the flashbacks to events surrounding the first two films, which really deepened the story for the overall franchise and connected each of the films together even more than before. For the most part, I liked that the flashbacks explained the change in how the traps went from being escapable to impossible to survive, and also how careful the planning was for the traps used in the first film. One complaint I did have with the flashbacks was the fact that we are introduced to Jigsaw’s past, which was fine, but we are shown a woman with whom he is seemingly in love with, but we learn nothing about her other than the fact that we see them together for a couple of scenes. I really hate it when a movie simply introduces an element into the plot that is intended to be resolved in the next film, so that nothing comes of it in the current movie you are watching. Why bother including a segment in one film if nothing will come of that segment until the sequel, just wait and include the segment when you (meaning the writers) are ready to flesh it out further. Because the segment, though intended to show a much softer Jigsaw from the days before he became the monster he now is, was ultimately pointless and even more irritating due to the fact that it seemed like it’s sole purpose was for us to feel some empathy for Jigsaw, and view him more as a normal human who has slipped into a state of insanity, rather than a man who was merely masking the monster hidden deep within.

The traps of “Saw 3” were just as I had initially felt, they were way too grotesque and seemed to be intended to shock and gross out the audience as much as possible rather than scare us. I don’t understand why horror films have shifted from trying to scare the audience with atmosphere, story and a genuinely creepy villain, but instead have chosen to simply shock us by including as many gross sequences as possible into a 90 minute film, but that’s what the powers-that-be must feel is needed to make a successful horror film these days. Maybe it’s because we moviegoers have become de-sensitized to such things, that the only way the moviemakers feel they can scare us is by shocking us with as much blood, gore, and sadism as they can get away with under the guidelines of the increasingly liberal MPAA rating system.

As a franchise, the ‘Saw’ series has definitely fallen into the school of thought within filmmaking that feels it is necessary to show the most gore possible to give the audience a good scare. When this franchise began, the original film was more of an actual horror film, in the vein of the old school horror films from Alfred Hitchcock (“Psycho”) and John Carpenter (“Halloween”), relying more on atmosphere and the audiences own imagination to create genuine thrills with which to scare us, not buckets and buckets of blood. However, over the course of three films, the ‘Saw’ series has become just another horror franchise, albeit with much better scripts than your average horror movie (which allows these films to rise above the rest of the current crop of horror offerings), but one can definitely see the downward spiral in terms of quality that is occurring within the series.

The characters of “Saw 3” were much better than those within “Saw 2”. This time around I actually cared whether the main characters survived their respective traps, unlike in “Saw 2” where I would have been fine if the majority of them failed their tests. The new cast members to the franchise fit into the same profile as those of the previous film. Both of the two new lead characters were portrayed by acting talents that many people would recognize if they’d seen them, but most likely not by their names. Bahar Soomekh (TV’s short-lived drama “Day Break”) was solid as Lynn, the doctor who had all but abandoned her family emotionally, but in the midst of Jigsaw’s trial, discovers that she longs for nothing more than to hold her family members yet again. She was so genuine in her desire to do what is right according to the oath she took as a doctor by helping Jigsaw through the pain of his cancer, and at the same time she was so afraid of losing her life to the trap she was in that she was tempted to take a life in cold blood. The character of Jeff, the distraught father, as portrayed by Angus MacFadyen (“Braveheart”) was a character that was so consumed by his thirst for revenge that he teeters on the edge of sanity, and is struggling to retain his last shred of humanity so he can be there for his daughter that desperately wants her father back. Angus portrayed the conflict within Jeff perfectly, each of the trials that he faced tested his thirst for vengeance, while at the same time threatening to strip him of his last shred of humanity, and each time Angus played the indecision perfectly, and in the end gave audiences a character that was so deeply flawed, and yet the audience couldn’t help but relate to him and his struggles.

“Saw 3” is a better movie than “Saw 2”, and felt more in line with the tone and quality of the first movie. However, as improved as “Saw 3” was, it still fell prey to the shortcomings of its predecessor by featuring an over abundance of gross-out moments intended to shock the audience rather than scare it, and way too much blood and gore, to the point that it detracts from the overall movie.

“Saw 3” is available in rated R and unrated editions, both contain violence, language, and nudity.

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