It is late, 2am. I’ve just finished watching Saw III for the second time tonight. I had to watch it twice for two reasons (lots of 2’s in this). First because it was more complex than I though; second because it was more confusing and finally wasn’t as complex as I thought.
I reviewed Saw II and said it was decent because it closed most of the plot holes in the first movie that made it so bad. The thought I expressed was that the third movie would be the strongest because there seemed to be an attempt to close the holes. The logic failed.
I’m not going to bother listing actors because, to a person, they all sucked. The plot is this. Rather than having a group of people attached to killing devices (Saw) or getting themselves into killing devices (Saw II) one man has the option of freeing people who, like those in the first film, are attached to killing devices. That is the Saw franchise plot. There is a parallel plot; John/Jigsaw is dying and he needs a doctor to keep him alive for the final game/test—he uses the words interchangeably which is part of the general confusion. In case someone wants to use this essay to decide, I will not go further with the plot.
Plot spoilers in the analysis
Saw III changes the rules of the game in a way that the creators could not control. This change is not exactly sudden—there are two deaths in the film that set the stage for it—but the complexity of the parallel stories presented a challenge that the creators could not ultimately rein in.
The game in the original film was truly a game that the player could win (with one exception but that is too much to go into now). Winning would have been extremely difficult given how the brain reacts to new and stressful situations—you find you have only 60 seconds to perform either an act of enormous physical pain or one of even larger psychic pain, the brain isn’t wired in most of us in such a way that would allow the data collection, analysis, and action in just a single minute. However, the fact remains that getting yourself out of the killing machine was possible. The second movie had a group of people in a house that was itself a killing machine that contained smaller killing machines. It was theoretically possible for the victims to make it out. The third installment redefines both victim and the game/test (John/Jigsaw uses these terms interchangeably as if they were the same—which they are not). This shift quickly became untenable.
Fred, the supposed test-subject, realizes he will hold the deaths of more than one person in his hands when he discovers the first possible victim. This is the introduction of the first of the major plot holes. Fred is in the game/test because he is consumed by the desire to do vengeance to the man who, while driving drunk, killed his son. The potential victim is someone who was supposedly the only witness to the drunk driving accident. First, it wasn’t a mystery who killed the son. Second, if she left the scene, how is anyone going to know who she was in the first place? No witness was necessary given the circumstances. Given the nature of the test/game, it starts out on an icy footing—if you watch the film, you will find the pun. It goes so beyond the bounds of any amount of disbelief that John can be so preternaturally brilliant as to know the unknowable. Also her crime was a misdemeanor; John prefers felons.
Possible victim number 2 is also not a criminal. He is the judge that sentenced the drunk driver to only six months. After the shock of watching a woman die, Fred comes enough to his senses to save the judge.
Possible victim number 3 is the killer himself. This presents the second major plot hole. John and his accomplice (Amanda, the only one to survive the first movie and we discover in the second has become his acolyte) really can’t handle a situation where the potential victims survive. John is on a gurney in a meat packing portion of a hog abattoir. Amanda keeps watch over the test-subject Fred from video monitors elsewhere and the doctor keeping him alive (who has a collar festooned with shotgun shells ready to go off if John dies) stays with John. One nasty family setting. Well, the place would become crowded with some extremely pi@@ed off people if Fred brought them all into this room—where he eventually winds up. There would be three righteously pi@@ed off potential victims and the test subject all of them hungry for any amount of vengeance. So they have to devise a way to insure that only Fred survives. This means, ultimately, that the logic to the game/test falls apart.
The ending becomes truly esoteric and confusing and the reason I watched the film a second time. John is going to die—bottom line. But he has discovered something about Amanda that not only erases the logic of the latest movie, but of most of the second and part of the first. That is no small task for a storyteller to cause such a conundrum that it wipes out the structure of the previous chapters. The issue in the first film is that, in a twisted way, John could claim to have murdered no one—he has no argument for denying kidnapping charges, but murder he can logically remove himself, even if not morally. This becomes impossible later because instead of creating someone who could carry on his ‘work’ of making people value their lives by having to do something horrible to save their lives; she has just become a monster who kills (and who has forced John to clean up at least 2 ‘messes’ as he calls them—the final killings in both the first and second movies which are only implied not shown).
Therefore his creation is worthless and undone. Amanda was the only one with the ability to escape, so presumably this single attribute was enough for John to believe she would carry on the game with the rules he set in place. If he is such a judge of the human character that he knows how to put someone in a terrible position, then why wouldn’t he see Amanda as just a killer, especially once she actually did start killing (and in a true twist of crap logic, she actually does kill someone to get the key out of his stomach to release herself in the first film)? This is the largest logical flaw of all. He is supposedly so driven by his game that all things must fit into it; how can he be so blind to the fact that his acolyte has become assassin rather than just a tormentor?
So, in the final wash, the third film is so maddening because it leaves not only itself in tatters but also those that came before it. Face it, the Saw franchise is not haute cinema—and I say that to remind myself just as much as any reader. However, even if a story is only so-so, it is only fair to the story itself to keep things on a consistent footing. The changing rules of the game or test (which itself is a metaphor for the problems) make trying to find the common thread that links them together impossible. The only link is a specious and silly one: at least the actors don’t change.
You can pick up reading again, no spoilers below
If you like the Saw movies for gore, then have at it—the creators top themselves in a couple of areas that are spectacularly gruesome and gross. But if you prefer a level of story consistency in sequels, some truly mature storytelling, control over the plot and the characters that drive it, don’t bother.
What did you think of this review?