If you haven’t already read them, make sure to check out my retrospective pieces on Saw and Saw II. Today, I’m going to revisit Saw III. The story of Saw II was repurposed from a script by director Darren Lynn Bousman entitled The Desperate. It wound up being a fantastic sequel that features the most unnerving trap in the entire franchise — at least for me — in the form of a pit of needles. For Saw III, Bousman is back in the director’s chair. However, this time, Leigh Whannell, one of the original creators of Saw, has returned to write the screenplay. What follows is a spoiler-filled review of the movie. Make sure to read this after watching the film.
While Saw II provided viewers with a few twists, Saw III ups the ante by having twists and a heavy dose of backstory, fleshing out the Jigsaw character, as well as Amanda. Shawnee Smith returns, once again, to portray Amanda, and she does a wonderful job. Her emotional performance is more potent than ever, and her exchanges with John Kramer (i.e., Jigsaw) are compelling.
In Saw II, Darren Lynn Bousman suggested capturing Jigsaw at the beginning of the movie because it created a unique and intriguing premise. This time around he said they should kill him by the end of the movie. For a film franchise that, at this point, wanted to release a new Saw movie once a year, on Halloween, that’s a ballsy move. Killing off the main character sounds like a hell of a challenge for Saw IV, let alone five additional sequels, to tackle. And I’ll get into that in my future retrospectives. But, for now, let’s focus on Saw III.
Rather than have a group of people facing an array of traps, like in Saw II, the protagonist, Jeff, is a grieving father who lost his son in a drunk-driving accident. He wakes up in a wooden box suspended on a crate, and he learns — by listening to a tape, of course — that he’s about to play a game. He’s faced with numerous individuals who played a role in his son’s death — a witness to the crime, the judge, and the drunk driver. When we’re not following Jeff on his journey, we’re watching John’s narrative about needing a doctor to help him with a very important matter. We later learn that not only is the doctor useful because she can help relieve pressure on his brain — which is one of the wildest scenes in any of the movies — but she is being used in a separate game where John is testing Amanda.
As revealed at the end of the movie, Amanda — who was supposed to carry on John’s legacy — isn’t testing people’s will to live; instead, she’s simply killing them by placing these individuals in situations where they can’t possibly succeed. We also find out that she helped set up the epic bathroom trap in the first Saw. There are a massive amount of flashbacks and character building in Saw III. It’s the first time when this franchise feels like one where taking notes and multiple viewings is encouraged.
In the end, Amanda fails her test, ultimately killing three people in the process: herself, John, and the doctor. I felt that all of these twists — as well as the one about Jeff being the doctor’s husband — were sufficient. Including the final twist about capturing Jeff’s daughter, revealing that he must play yet another game, felt like overkill, and it took away from the twists that came before it. It wasn’t needed and should have been cut out. However, I guess they felt the need to be crystal clear that Saw IV was on the horizon.
Saw III is excellent. While the original film will always be the best, this entry is just as good. It features tremendous storytelling, intricate character development, and twists galore. The traps are inventive, and the music, as always, is splendid. And, by the end, the viewer is left wondering how this series can carry on without John Kramer being alive. Saw III delivers on all fronts, and then some, cementing itself as one of the greatest horror movie sequels of all time.