October Horrorshow: Saw III

Here I go again. The absolute worst thing about torture porn is that it’s like driving by a car wreck. I cannot turn away. But, I think that may have something to do with the first two Saw films. They were tamer in comparison to Saw III. The level of physical injuries inflicted on characters in the first two films was gruesome, but this third entry in the series was where my gore threshold was finally crossed. I think it was the moment when a member of the cast almost drowns in shredded putrefied pig that did it for me. This came after seeing a man pull steel hoops from his flesh and a woman have her ribcage ripped from her body. I applaud the effects folks who came up with this stuff. They did a professional job. I just think they did it too well.

The draw for this film is the killing, though. That has to be the only reason to stick around, because like the films before, Saw III’s plot is a convoluted mess. Leigh Whannell is responsible, having returned for screenwriting duties. The film was also helmed, as before, by Darren Lynn Bousman.

John Kramer, AKA Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), has set up more elaborate tortures for his victims, all in the hope of teaching them a lesson, or something. The people he chooses to subject to his games may deserve a stern talking to about the way they conduct their lives, sure, but how presumptuous of Jigsaw to think inflicting such pain and suffering is the path to enlightenment. Who gives him the right? Anyway, that’s the most sense I can make out of all this, because going any broader in assessment would mean dissecting all the twists and turns and clues scattered about the plot, and like I wrote above, that is not the point of this franchise. The plot is the pool cleaner and pizza delivery boy, and the torture is the fucking. Spending any time paying attention to the plot is just unfulfilling, not for the least part because in order to have any clue what is happening, a viewer would have had to watch the first two films in detail. And if one were to do that, one would notice there are more holes than in one of Jigsaw’s victims.

How does Jigsaw fund all this mayhem? How does he find the time to set up all these traps? He is dying of cancer, so where is the necessary energy for these efforts coming from? How does he know so much about his victims? After all, they aren’t in the public eye. Out here in the real world, Whannell and Bousman had an entire production team to set up Jigsaw’s houses of horror. In the film, Jigsaw only has Shawnee Smith (and someone else, as revealed retroactively in later films…I may have watched the entire series a few years ago). It’s all nonsense, anyway. None of these questions really matter when the end result is placing characters in harm’s way.

Despite all the narrative gobbledegook, Whannell and Bousman did throw us beleaguered viewers a bone. There are flashback scenes scattered here and there showing Jigsaw setting up his traps — a peek at the magician at work. It’s not a bad thing. It turns out that the ‘how’ of Jigsaw is much more interesting than the ‘why.’ But that’s it. That’s the last nice thing I have to say about the story.

Saw III caters to a particular type of viewer — one with a strong stomach and only requiring the loosest of threads to tie together vignettes of torture. It boils down the genre of horror to a core essence of pain. The first Hellraiser film raised the same feelings of dread within me, but its repulsive imagery was in service to a very good story. Here, it’s all gory spectacle. I can’t say that it’s art, but Saw III accomplishes exactly what its filmmakers intended. Unlike other horror films that I have not liked, this film was a success. It’s just not my type of horror film.