I am giving Saw III a two-star rating solely on the grounds of a certain technical proficiency. I was amused to hear two of my friends vocally freak out (there was some mention of the deity I believe) at the implied grotesqueness of shots that actually consisted of nothing more than someone turning a foot a couple of inches. (Granted, the hapless fellow was supposedly having his legs twisted like strudel, but the effect was far from graphic in this case.)
On any other level, this is a singularly repellent film that seeks to up the ante on the sadistic cinema best personified by Eli Roth (Hostel (2005)) and Alexandre Aja (High Tension (2003)) — and if it doesn’t manage to up the ante, it at least matches that vile duo entrail for entrail in the “torture porn” sweepstakes. Most of the people I saw this with were hardcore horror fans — all but the youngest (who probably consider Eli Roth an important filmmaker) found it a singularly unpleasant experience. One even asked me (during a scene of a surgical proceeding), “Is this all horror movies are anymore — just gore?”
Actually, I don’t think it has much to do with the gore quotient. There have certainly been gorier films than Saw III — Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985), Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (1992) and, for that matter, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1. It’s more a question of tone. This is a dreary, mean-spirited, utterly joyless movie made to appeal to those people who post on Internet message boards how “cool” this or that scene of torture (often spelled “torchure”) is. (Frankly, I think the people who post this stuff are more worrisome than the films in question.)
There is not one moment in the film that can be said to be fun in any sense of the word — and that’s something that even such sadism-infused thrillers as Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005) remembered as a key element in schlock horror. The humor in those films is certainly twisted and pitch-black (e.g., Sid Haig’s clown-costumed psychopath complaining that a victim “got blood all over my best clown shoes”), but it is there and it clues the viewer in on the fact that the film is meant to be absurd. Saw III, on the other hand, is a straight-faced parade of torture and sadism for its own sake. It has neither humor, nor any purpose outside of its torture killings.
As with the first two films in the series, it follows the antics of a killer called Jigsaw, who, in reality, is a disgruntled cancer patient named John (TV actor Tobin Bell). Seems that Jigsaw has decided that people who don’t appreciate the fact that they aren’t dying of brain tumors (which would seem to be the largest portion of the planet) need to be taught a lesson. Rather than merely tell them to stop and smell the roses though, he engineers elaborate “tests” to make them appreciate life. The fact that these tests will almost certainly involve killing another person and/or leave the subject maimed doesn’t seem to matter. Of course, it’s really just an excuse to show a lot of B-list actors mutilated and murdered in “creative” ways, while Jigsaw waxes philosophical about his self-designed mission.
Typically, it’s never explained just how Mr. Jigsaw can afford the seemingly endless string of elaborately filthy warehouses and the nonstop parade of clever murder devices necessary to his calling, nor for that matter how he and one whack job sidekick (Shawnee Smith, Saw) can construct all this. But again, logic has nothing to do with the Saw films’ raison d’etre.
As is almost invariably the case with this type of film, the approach to horror is the cheesiest one — the one that replaces mood, carefully crafted suspense and characters about whom we care with dwelling on the physically unpleasant. It’s one thing to gross-out a viewer; it’s something else again to actually frighten one. Take one of the central set pieces here — a man is chained to the bottom of an empty vat and is being slowly drowned in a puree of rancid pig (thanks to automation and the world’s biggest Cuisinart). Is it disgusting and gag-inducing? Sure. Is it actually scary? Well, it’s disconcerting that someone actually thought it up, but it’s too fantasticated to be frightening. Then again, is it possible to be nauseated and scared at the same time? And even if it is, on what possible level is it entertaining? I leave the answer — if any — to you. Rated R for strong grisly violence and gore, sequences of terror and torture, nudity and language.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke