October 28, 2006

Movie Review: Saw III

As soon as the first one was a hit, a sequel was fast tracked. A year later the sequel opened and was an even bigger hit, and a third was immediately set into motion. Here we are, three years, three Saw movies. Arguably the father of the current trend of torture flicks like Hostel (and its upcoming sequel) and Wolf Creek.

The Saw movies are a pretty interesting beast. They offer visceral excitement, but they also try to take a step beyond into something a little more thought provoking. Just how successful any of these films are at stimulating anything outside of the visceral level is up for debate, but it is nice to see the attempt being made. They sort of remind me of the Nightmare on Elm Street films, that was the one long running series that I thought at least made the attempt at having a story.

Before going any further I must get a little something off of my chest. There is something that has bugged me about each of the movies in the series. That thing is the modus operandi of our ringleader of torture. I was never all that happy about the way his methods changed from person to person. I completely understand and like the way that he would change his little mechanical contraptions from person to person, but they always had that fact in common with each other. The problem, lies in why do some victims have the quick decision, while others have the long winded test. Why the change? It works for the movie, giving us some early tension and blood prior to getting into the story proper, but it was a little difficult reconciling. With that off my chest I can let it go and just enjoy them for what they are.

The first Saw introduced us to Jigsaw and his twisted games, the second had Jigsaw escalating the scope of his games and bringing along an apprentice. Now, in the third film, the apprentice is on her way to becoming a gamemaster, especially now with Jigsaw on his deathbed. These are difficult films to review without giving away the secrets. This is a film that works best when you go in without any prior knowledge outside of the first two films.

One of the surprising things about Saw III is just how satisfying the story ended up being. I don't like Jigsaw or Amanda, and I do not want to sympathize with them for any perceived hardships, yet I am intrigued by the choices they make and the twisted relationship that has developed between the two. Everything about the film is window dressing for the Jigsaw/Amanda relationship. Sure there are traps and other, presumably, innocent people put in harms way, but they serve as a magnifying glass for the primary baddies. He has a well thought out plan of what he wants to do and how he wants to go about achieving that end, while she may believe she cares for him, but she has a distorted version of his vision and the two come to odds with each other.

Something that makes Jigsaw stand out from the pantheon of big screen killers is that he is not a killer or a murderer, at least not directly. His torturous exercises are more of morality plays. He puts people in need of a change in their life, he provides the impetus to set them on a new track. The question throughout the series has always been about what lengths are you willing to go?

The third entry is stronger than the second, as there is a stronger focus on what the goal is. The traps are pretty gruesome, and in the end that is what this is all about. While a decent story is nice, what we really want is a little bit of blood on the big screen. In these days of the watered down PG-13 horror movie, it is nice to see something that goes to the extreme and goes about it in an unapologetic manner such as this.

The acting is decent, with the strongest performances coming from Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith. Bell is bone chilling as Jigsaw, his voice and expressionless face sell the determination and evil that is in this guy. He may not see himself as evil, more of a liberator perhaps, but the voice tells us differently. Smith, on the other hand, is a ball of emotion, watch s she gets wound up tighter and tighter the further the movie progresses. The rest of the cast is OK, even though whenever I saw Angus Macfadyen's Kevin, I kept thinking of Shawn of the Dead's Nick Frost.

I have one issue on the technical side, and that is the editing. Enough with the quick movie video cuts! I've had enough, they are giving me a headache. Please, slow some of the cuts down and let us get a better look at what you are showing us. Who knows, maybe letting us actually see it would have a better effect than cutting around it and implying it in those fast moving scenes of blood. More of what was done during the skull cap sequence, that one had me squirming in my seat.

The good thing about the series is the continuity in the creative department. Darren Lynn Bousman returns to direct, after doing the second one. Also, James Wan and Leigh Whannell return for story and screenplay duties. It is always good to have some sort of sameness on that end.

Bottomline. The beginning seemed a little rushed to get by some prior characters, but once it settles down, it is actually quite interesting. It does deliver the twisted goods, which is always a good thing. This is one to see with a large group on the big screen.

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