Saw III (2006)

*. Since this is the one where he finally dies (though he’ll continue to hang around, a lot, in flashbacks), perhaps now’s a good time to ask how we’re meant to feel toward, John Kramer, a.k.a., Jigsaw?
*. In terms of the way he functions, he’s basically just another superhuman, genius serial killer with inexhaustible stores of wealth to fund his depravities.
*. And with only that brief summary I realize I’m already at risk of upsetting his fanboys. Jigsaw himself rejects the label of serial killer, explaining on several occasions that he never kills anyone (“I don’t condone murder and I despise murderers”). For some reason critics have backed him up on this, including the usually reliable Kim Newman. This is mere casuistry. Of course Jigsaw kills his victims, and it’s very much murder in the first degree (planned and deliberate). No jury in the world would acquit. That out of the way . . .
*. Are we meant to feel sympathy for him? He is, after all, dying of a terrible disease. His tests might even be taken as metaphors of how the cure for some cancers is worse than the disease. But does anybody buy his bullshit about how he’s helping people by putting them through hell? Because it worked, and only temporarily, for Amanda doesn’t carry much weight. As with the apologists who say he doesn’t actually kill anyone this strikes me as, well, to repeat: more bullshit. To take just one example from this movie, what about all the people Jeff has to either rescue or let die in his gauntlet? Are they just being used as props? And in all these cases isn’t the punishment a hundred times worse than the crime?

*. In my notes on Saw II I mentioned how it wasn’t a good idea to give Jigsaw so much screen time (a point of view that, I also noted, was very much a minority view). I like him even less here. From being pompous and cruel he has turned bitter and self-pitying. As for what he was trying to do with Amanda, it just doesn’t bear much thinking about. I tried and it got me nowhere.
*. Turning to the movie itself, no I didn’t like it. I mentioned how in Saw II there wasn’t the same brilliant interlocking of the different plot threads as in Saw and here the separate stories are even more disunited. I say that despite the desperate and strained attempt to pull them together at the end, which didn’t work for me at all.
*. I also didn’t care about the two victim-protagonists. Indeed, I had to look up their names when preparing this write-up since I couldn’t remember either of them. And in the end they aren’t even that important since they’re both props in Amanda’s test anyway.
*. As for the tests, they’re not very inventive or a lot of fun. There is more emphasis on physical torture instead of having to beat the clock, and most of them had similar set ups with the victims being crucified in various industrial ways. The exception was the offal death pit, which was just so stupid it went beyond imagining. I like Peter Hartlaub’s take on it: “one incredibly large and intricate torture device in this movie couldn’t have been made without four or five subcontractors, but we’re supposed to believe a mentally unbalanced ex-junkie who weighs 100 pounds put it together in, at most, a few months.” However, in the film’s defence, later entries in the series explain that there was another accomplice, and Shawnee Smith sure looks like she’s been working out.
*. It was a longer film than the first two, and for no good reason. There are a lot of flashbacks but I didn’t see why they were necessary as they didn’t explain much. And just to stick with them for a second, why is it that Amanda’s suffocating Adam is always referred to as a “mercy killing”? It seems pretty violent to me.
*. Criticism, however, is superfluous. By this point we were solidly in franchise territory, which meant that audiences just wanted more of the same with an extension of the back story or (as these things have come to be known) the mythology. An odd, unsatisfying ending both seemed to put an end to things while at the same time promising there would be more. Given the profitability of the series it was a promise that would be easy to keep.

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