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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Saw III

So, before I went to see Saw III this past weekend at the Essex Cinemas I called my friend Cee Cee in Seabrook to see if she could come up and see it with me since we saw Saw and saw Saw II together at the Essex Cinemas when they both premiered there. Cee Cee, you see, is a big fan of horror movies, and ever since she and her husband Seymour moved away from Colchester I’ve been forced to enjoy my scary movies alone as has she. Seymour is not much of a fan. Seymour saw Saw and Saw II on dvd and when Cee Cee asked if Seymour wanted to go to Saw III Seymour said he didn’t want to see more. He’d had enough, so Cee Cee was either going to have to go alone in Seabrook to see Saw III or make the trek back here for old times’ sake and see Saw III with me. Like there was any question. Thank goodness Cee Cee was there because I practically needed a Sherpa along to guide me through this chapter in the saga.

First off, for fans of blood and gore, it’s there, don’t worry, but in the words of legendary “drive-in movie critic” Joe-Bob Briggs this is one of those kind of pictures that lets “way too much plot get in
the way of the action.” What made anemic-budgeted Saw such a startling success was its’ complete lack of worthwhile plot in favor of some almost admirably grotesque and inventive ways of killing off a slew of victims who seemed to be randomly plucked from their lives for no other reason than to participate in the unknown assailant’s “game”.

Saw II didn’t have that element of surprise. By then the man behind the creepy little puppet doing the talking to the victims du jour had been unmasked and so had his motives, which meant that the film had to rely entirely on the success or failure of its’ blood-spattered ballet between the players and whatever sicko surprises Jigsaw (the killer’s nom de plume) has designed to tear, rip, separate, cut, gash, burn, gouge, break, or otherwise mangle their flesh and bones. Still, while it was not as on-the-edge-of-your-seat-terrorizing as the original, it was gross and had several clever moments; unfortunately it also showed signs of possibly wandering into that oh-so-familiar “Jason” or “Freddie” phase of becoming repetitive and predictable if it went on as it was currently in future chapters.

Well, never fear, or, better yet, director of Saw II and
III Darren Lynn Bousman hopes you will fear, as he has worked hard to restructure the Saw saga and make it into something different. The thing is, what he has turned it into is a hybrid of the slasher film die-hard fans are expecting but with a healthy dose of daytime soap and a schtickle of “Grey’s Anatomy” tossed in for those wanting a bit of medical drama to heighten the suspense. For anyone who did not see Saw or Saw II this is probably going to be a completely undecipherable plot. I saw the first two, but it’s been some time since then and my memory of the minutest details of the previous movies has grown as thin as David Hasselhoff’s chances of ever winning an Oscar. It isn’t really necessary to know who was or wasn’t involved in the plots and plans of Saw and Saw II, so feeding it to us now gets a bit confusing, as it seems like it may be important later in the scheme of things, but, much like Hasselhoff himself, it’s not, so don’t put too much time into worrying about keeping track during these flashbacks.

Chief among the pleasures of Saw III is the performance of Tobin Bell as the demented Jigsaw, also known as John, who has been progressively dying of brain cancer since the original Saw and who is now bedridden and near death in this sequel. His performance is startlingly tender considering that even in these circumstances he continues the “games” he plays with people’s lives and has become so weak that he must have the action reported to him by his apprentice, Amanda (Shawnee Smith; The Island). Newbies to the franchise won’t understand the connection between Jigsaw and Amanda though veterans know that Amanda was the only person to ever successfully escape one of Jigsaw’s nightmare contraptions alive and who afterwards then became the Igor to his Dr. Frankenstein. Tobin brings a great nuance to the character of Jigsaw, and it is obvious that he is not your average “killing machine.” He is about challenging people to face their fears in the worst (and most gruesome) ways, and in this chapter we even see some flashbacks to a kinder and gentler John before his transformation into the monster he became as introduced in Saw.

We also learn other background details that fill in bits and pieces left out of the original movies, some that are adrenaline stimulating, such as giving us a glimpse into the set-up to the first Saw’s game, but others seem superfluous, like the obvious inclusion here of an outtake scene from Saw II featuring Donnie Wahlberg as Eric Matthews with Smith’s Amanda. I suppose it was simply a cheesy way to say that Donnie Wahlberg was in this movie, even if it is only for twenty seconds or less.

As for the action in
Saw III itself, the games are as bizarre and grizzly as ever. More than one is playing out simultaneously, but it would be a terrible injustice to reveal just who and what the challenges before the participants are without spoiling the surprises for any viewer. The only “big” piece of the tale that can be revealed is that one person brought into Jigsaw’s lair is a surgeon named Lynn (Bahar Soomekh; Mission Impossible III) whose job is to operate on Jigsaw’s brain tumor and save his life or face the consequences. The consequences, of course, are pure “Jigsaw” ~ she has a bolted collar loaded with explosives attached to her neck and they will automatically explode if Jigsaw’s heartbeat stops. Just to make things a wee bit more difficult, the surgery has to be performed in the hell-hole Jigsaw calls home, using whatever “instruments” Lynn can find laying around, like a power drill, a pair of pliers, that sort of thing. I’ll bet you can guess: it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that the entire procedure is going to be yours to watch in graphic close-up, step-by-step.

Large questions loom. Will Lynn be able to perform the surgery despite her lack of proper tools
and machines that go ping while facing her overwhelming terror that failing will end her own life? Will Jigsaw survive the operation and go on to make Saw IV? Will Amanda finally confess her love for John or fall back into her addiction to heroin instead? And what about Meredith? Is she ever going to find happiness with Dr. McDreamy or is he going to be constantly distracted by his on-set feuding with Isaiah Washington? Oh, oh, wait, that last bit really is about “Grey’s Anatomy”, but it could just as easily as not fit in here if you ladled on a few extra quarts of hemoglobin with every pause in the action sequences for a look in on what’s happening with Jigsaw’s health crisis. I felt like they should have subtitled this movie “Days of our Knives”.

Saw III won’t disappoint the fans, but I doubt it will please the casual horror fan if only because it stretches credulity way too far. Perhaps we aren’t supposed to be thinking of these things during the actual movie, but less than thirty minutes into the film Cee Cee leaned over and whispered into my ear “If the police found Jigsaw’s hideouts in the first two movies, then how’s he managed to find a place that looks exactly like the first two and with all this *stuff* in it when he’s as sick as he is?” The “stuff” Cee Cee referred to were the thousands of various blades, bear traps, bombs, rolls of rusty barbed wire, buzz saws, and scary-looking devices we could only hope to never encounter in real life. I leaned back and whispered my reply “Century 21?”

It’s obvious that Jigsaw couldn’t have constructed all of the booby traps and bloodletting paraphernalia used in his games and Amanda doesn’t seem wrapped tight enough to plan a pizza
party yet alone juggle the multitasking responsibilities it would take to find the large, secluded and soundproofed warehouse space that would be properly run down enough to not bring it under police suspicions, equip it with a wide variety of slice-and-dice machinery that would make any Home Depot manager blush with jealous, single-handedly design and construct the horrific devices necessary to impose the maximum amount of pain and bodily mayhem to anyone caught in their path, and, finally, also have the time to nurse a dying psychotic killer in the terminal stages of cancer, all while asking nothing in return. Thinking about it in the back row of the theater, it occurred to me that there was really only one person capable of all of this and the person destined to star in Saw IV: The REAL Jigsaw.

It’s got to be Martha Stewart.

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