It’s quite amazing what has been accomplished in so little time, here I am two years after SAW pretty much catapulted Lionsgate into the realm of a “real studio” and already a third film in the franchise is being released. I still remember the day I first had the pleasure of seeing James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s SAW like it was yesterday. The only thing I knew about the film was that my brother saw it at Sundance and pretty much hated it – but his opinion was skewed considering he was piss drunk and completely sick. I had taken a trip to LA in May of ’04 to visit some friends and my buddy Sean Keeley over at Lions Gate Films (at the time) invited me to a private screening of SAW and OPEN WATER. All I knew was that Danny Glover starred and at the time thought he woke up in a bathroom chained to a wall. That’s it. After the screening I was mind boggled… I instantly knew Lionsgate had something special on their hands. So when the film made over $500 million worldwide when it was all said and done- let’s just say I wasn’t shocked. I have always had a very close relationship with the franchise and will always have a special place in my heart for it, but it’s kinda scary hearing that a studio is rushing a sequel. In the history of horror cinema, no quality usually comes from a rushed sequel- just more bloodshed, which is what happed with SAW II… so when SAW III was announced for a year later I couldn’t help but cringe just a little- besides the fact it left little room for “hype”. Being a horror writer (every day of my life), I get really, really sick of hearing about a movie by the time it’s released- and here comes Lionsgate giving me no room to breathe. I’m so sick of hearing about SAW that the only reason I was excited about the third entry is because I have a lot of love for Leigh Whannell, who is such a talented writer, and couldn’t wait to see how Darren Lynn Bousman grew as a director. But could the team behind the entire SAW franchise, in honor of the late Gregg Hoffman, pull of a third film in three years without it becoming just another crappy sequel? Quite simply put… yes.
With his new apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith), the puppet-master behind the cruel, intricate games that have terrified a community and baffled police has once again eluded capture and vanished. While city detectives scramble to locate him, Doctor Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh) is unaware that she is about to become the latest pawn on his vicious chessboard. One night, after finishing a shift at her hospital, Lynn is kidnapped and taken to an abandoned warehouse where she meets Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), bedridden and on the verge of death. She is told that she must keep the madman alive for as long as it takes Jeff (Angus Macfayden), another of his victims, to complete a game of his own. Racing against the ticking clock of Jigsaw’s own heartbeat, Lynn and Jeff struggle to make it through each of their vicious tests, unaware that he has a much bigger plan for both of them…
One of the worst things that happens in a franchise is when someone in charge of development says “this has to be bigger, better, gorier, more outrageous than the first (two),” because the focus tends to be more on specific elements instead of the entire film. Leigh Whannell deserves a standing ovation for not only building on his creativity, the story and the gore but for wrapping up the trilogy so wonderful tight that no sh-t it coming out. The only problem is that there was not enough time to tell this “epic” story and the final version of the film felt compacted for time (do I hear a Director’s Cut anyone?). Without spoiling anything, SAW III is not only a quality stand-alone film but also a gorgeous homage to the previous installments. Nothing is forced and everything appears to be organically placed, which is a shocker considering how thick the plot gets – it’s as if they had planned this trilogy from the start, which we know isn’t the case.
“Oh yes, there will be blood.”
The only downside, which ironically is an upside, is the strong opening that shares with us three individuals’ dilemmas – to “live or die, make your choice.” Within the first 15 minutes we watch blood fly across the screen like you’ve never seen before. I cringed at the opening, gasped after the credits and was completely in awe as the tale began to unfold. The opening was so strong in fact that we all were wondering “is this going anywhere?” It takes a little too long to develop and one of the early victims’ kill sequences could easily have been cut for time – but who doesn’t want to see a guy ripping chains from his own flesh (yup, his junk too)? Once the story kick starts we are following two separate stories about survival, both of which are disgusting and disturbing for nearly every second of the film (people drowning in pig guts? F-ck yeah!). Sure it felt like blood and guts for the sake of blood and guts, but that’s what so beautiful about the SAW franchise – they earn the right to give it to us. Unlike hundreds of other horror films, the bloodshed is part of the story, which is why I hate to call this film “horror porn”. The Guinea Pig films are horror porn while this is quality cinema flooded with the color red.
After the film I was talking with Director Darren Lynn Bousman a little bit about THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING and how SAW III differs. TCMTB is shocking and disturbing, and ultimately “too real” for some people. It leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth and makes sure you leave the cinema shaking your head and asking yourself “what’s wrong with me for enjoying this stuff?” In short, you leave the theater depressed and saddened. SAW III on the other hand is the complete opposite of the extreme horror spectrum as its ultimate aim is to entertain. You get the same quality of film, same quality of gore and same quality of terror only you are giving your friends high-fives and leave the theater with a giant smile on your noggin. In the end that is why SAW III will make a bundle more money because it has more of an audience. Does it make it better than the new TEXAS? No… they’re equally good in my mind, just two completely different films with two very talented directors.
Speaking of talent, Darren Lynn Bousman has really put on a showcase effort here and has made sure to stamp himself as one of the new elite horror directors to watch. His use of the camera was very reminiscent of Steven Miller’s work in AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION – the action sequences are to energetic that it feels like you just drank 10 Red Bulls after each scene. Your heart pounds as you shake your head in disbelief… “Did I really just see that?” You sure did!
It comes as no surprise that the cinematography, editing and acting (Shawnee Smith rocks!) is even better than the first two films as SAW III reunited the entire team once again, who also have grown as a group. SAW III is bigger, badder and better in every way shape and form. To be able to deliver such a jammed-packed sequel is not only impressive, but I would have bet against it. Maybe it was the work of someone watching from above (you there Gregg?) or maybe everyone is just that damned talented – or maybe both? Either way SAW III has stamped itself as one of the best all around horror films in years and has sealed the trilogy with a giant kiss. If they never made another SAW movie again, which they will, I’d be OK with that. SAW III ends the perfect circle; it’s the next great trilogy that the next gen horror fans will be “discovering” years from now. Our kids and our kid’s kids will now be talking SAW with other great franchises such as HALLOWEEN, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and FRIDAY THE 13TH — Jigsaw may be dying but his message is now officially immortalized.
(In remembrance of Gregg Hoffman)