The third film adds more twists, but little else.
Saw 3 doesn’t change the formula from the first two films, but instead ups the gore factor. Granted, that previous statement could be said about every sequel from here on.
This time around we wipe out most of our previous cast for… reasons? John Kramer (Tobin Bell) is dying, and his protégé Amanda (Shawnee Smith) is working with him for one final test. In a lot of ways, this one could have worked as a final sendoff for the series. It is the weakest of the original three, but it does come full circle.
Kramer is concerned with Amanda due to her not allowing people to survive the tests. Yes, you have to accept that he sees a difference between a 1% chance of survival and a 0% chance. Whatever. Anyway, this time we have a kidnapped doctor named Lynn (Bahar Soomekh) working to keep Kramer alive while Jeff (Angus Macfayden) is in a torture dungeon. These storylines do connect, but only in the final moments, and not in a satisfying way.
The tension between Lynn and Amanda feels contrived. Amanda is unstable, and jealous of any woman who speaks with Kramer, but their relationship didn’t seem to be operating this way before. The whole arc of competition is contrived for this film alone. The scenes become painful as it is like watching a 13-year-old pout for no discernible reason.
We end up with a series of cryptic tests that don’t really mean anything. Further, we once again have a lot of innocent people in the crossfire for these tests to occur. Despite several holes, the original Saw is the only one to follow through with the primary thesis of these tests focusing on the individual alone.
Jeff’s story is somewhat interesting. After a tragic accident and a miscarriage of justice, Kramer seems to be offering him revenge. Jeff watches as those who wronged him are killed in cartoonish contraptions that make little sense. (We also have to wonder how in the world these things were built.) The whole theme becomes “can you forgive,” but this rings pretty hollow as Kramer is likely the most grudge-based individual on the planet. Why Jeff needs to let go of his rage isn’t entirely clear, and his anger does seem justified. The last minute moralizing didn’t change my mind on this one, and I see this one as the weakest narratively.
The need for twists within the franchise forces a kind of incoherence into the story. The constant cycling and recycling back to old ideas becomes more tedious than thought-provoking, and shows that this series is already running on fumes. It isn’t a complete failure though—the general theme of torture and gore remains, so there is that. I actually think this is the worst of the series. The promise of originality is fully killed here, and the sequels from here are nothing but splatterfests. I think that here is where it became clear the series wasn’t going to go anywhere interesting anymore.
To be fair, the film has a horror feel, and it doesn’t completely crap the bed like Hellraiser. The films aren’t terrible—they are just kind of there. The lack of memorable moments hurts them being good, but there is enough entertainment to justify a watch if nothing else is on. 4/10