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October 27, 2006 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | October 27, 2006 |

Despite its being essentially a vehicle for an unending variety of torture mechanisms, I always thought the Saw franchise had an interesting conceit — the moralizing serial killer who wants to teach his victims the error of their ways via gruesome gadgets and impossibly-executed schemes. But what really lured the audiences in was the torture part: How many different ways can gears and snares dismember people?

With Saw II, director/co-writer Darren Lynn Bousman made the mistake of piling on the cast for a higher body-count while abandoning the storytelling of the first installment. But this is a standard sophomore mistake; besides, most people lining up to see a macabre gore-fest like Saw won’t be ones to nitpick. As Bousman takes the helm again for this second sequel, he fares better by paring down the story to a more narrow focus and amping the gore up to 11.

The Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell), still dying from a brain tumor, lies on his deathbed and dictates instructions to his new protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). His latest scheme involves the abduction of two people: A depressed, bitter doctor (Bahar Soomekh) and a man consumed with rage over the death of his young son (Angus Macfadyen). While the man is let loose in a hellish maze of traps meant to cure him of his distemper, Amanda fits the doctor with a rigged-collar that will explode should she let Jigsaw die before he completes this task, his coup de grace. But of course, all is not as it immediately appears — the stories of everyone involved are related in unforeseeable ways that come together at the climax.

One of this franchise’s biggest weaknesses is its inability to scrounge up a single sympathetic character, making it hard to become interested in the outcomes through anything other than detached curiosity. The Saw films have been mired in grimy darkness, both in terms of setting and tone, which means that outside of gorehounds and horror fans, they can be pretty unappealing. Like its predecessor, Saw III is not particularly scary, but it is more entertaining and much more disgusting as a film: Limbs are twisted to avulsion, heads are shotgunned, and at one point a character threatens to become drowned in pig chum. The camera lingers petulantly over these images like a playfully sick voyeur. Bousman, to his credit, boils the franchise down to its essentials and then plays them up.

Adding to this dynamically twisted mix is the finale, which pulls every aspect of the film together in a trademark surprise ending. Truly, not a blessed thing manages to escape Jigsaw’s almost Godlike machinations — as usual, it’s a preposterous climax that stretches even this series’ credibility to the limit, but it is a surprising one, I’ll give it that.

Saw III manages to improve on its predecessor in both critical terms and as raw entertainment. Theatergoers moved by the spirit of Halloween to sit through a grisly and unpleasant movie will not be disappointed by the buckets of blood and inventive means of human disposal. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it is entertaining.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.

Goregasm 2006!

Saw III / Phillip Stephens

Film | October 27, 2006 |

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