"What? Who's that?" I shook the sleep away. It was 2:30 in the morning. I had dragged my butt back from watching the midnight showing of Saw III and was fighting sleep to write an early review of it.
"Let's play a game."
"Who's talking to me?" I asked.
A squeaking sound came from the dark corner of my attic office. A tricycle slowly rolled into the circle of sparse light that illuminated my desk. It was Papa Smurf.
"I am Jigsaw. Your life is an empty shell."
"You're not Jigsaw! You're Papa Smurf!" I cried, frantically pinching my hand to wake up.
"You're Papa Smurf with large red targets painted on his beard." I pinched harder.
"I am here to help you face your fears. Of course, you may die in an extremely painful and gory way, but you will thank me in the end."
"Okay, look, when Zombos said I needed to cover these midnight showings while he's away, he didn't mention sh*t like this." I gave up on pinching my hand. It hurt anyway. "Okay, I'll bite. What's the game? I’m dreaming all this so it doesn’t matter, anyway."
"Look at you; you are tired, overworked, and barely notice the richness of life around you. Your entire existence is now focused on only one thing. Blogging. How sad. To lose the gifts of Twitter, of Facebook, and yes, even the gift of World of Warcraft, just so you can type away on that cold, hard laptop keyboard. Click, click, and click all day and well into the night.
You have lost touch with your inner self, Zoc, and those most important around you. I will help you find the way back to your social obligations—did I mention you may die horribly like a twisted pretzel, or maybe a ribcage deboned would be visually cool—back to your social life that is waiting patiently for you, and the loved ones who miss your tweets and incessant profile changes on Facebook."
"What's the catch?" I asked.
"The game is simple. Write the review. If I like it, you will live and have fame and fortune. If I don't like it, you will make like a corkscrew and go pop in a shower of crimson. Make your choice."
I always knew deep down that Papa Smurf was evil. I just didn’t know how much until now. Creepy little guy, anyway.
"Okay," I agreed. I was dreaming, so what did I have to lose? I also vowed to give up either midnight showings of horror movies or drinking that fourth cup of coffee. I started typing on my cold keyboard and relived the horrors of Saw III.
Before you can get comfortably nestled in your theater seat with your drink and popcorn, Saw III starts with a little game. Should the victim saw his foot off or just mash it down to a bright red pulp in order to slip it through his shackle. Let's see, you're a horror fan, what would you rather see? Oh, wait, sawing off a limb was done in the first Saw, wasn't it? No sense repeating that, then.
And before you can take a swig of Coke, and eat a handful of popped kernels, another game brings us to a room, a guy who is about to have a really bad day, and another set of chains, although these have large hooks at the ends.
Bloody chunks should have been the tagline for this movie. You do get to see lots of them.
Funny, but no one sitting around me in the theater—it was surprisingly packed for a midnight show—ever touched their drinks or popcorn after that one.
—do you really care there’s a story linking all this gory carnage together?—
revolves around two plotlines: Amanda (Shawnee Smith) is back with a vengeance as Jigsaw's eager apprentice, and a man who must come to grips with the loss of his son, and the witness, judge, and killer involved with his son's tragic death.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman moves between both stories using a fair amount of woozy camera shots, dark lighting, and grainy, garish coloration to move characters through a succession of torture tableaus highlighting the devious, extremely unkind, and painfully realized Rube Golderg devices that come into play for unlucky victims.
Once Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) escapes into Jigsaw's maze, he must face the people he blames for his son’s death. Will he save them from horrible, painful deaths—and disappoint horror fans if he does—or will he let them suffer and die gruesomely for our entertainment and sadistic voyeurism?
Surprisingly, even knowing what must happen—this is a horror movie, after all—the tension is still palpable, the expectations still hopeful. Everyone’s acting sustains this suspense well as does the direction, although the woozy camera is used a bit much and dilutes some scenes down into confusion.
As Jeff makes his way to salvation or damnation, Doctor Lynn (Bahar Soomekh) is kidnapped by Amanda. Good old Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, of course) is not doing so well. He needs a doctor. In one of the most gorily effective scenes I’ve seen to date, the doctor tackles his brain tumor with a few handy Home Depot tools lying around the old torture device workshop. I tried the old standby of closing my eyes, but Bousman put the foley (sound effects) guys into overtime with this scene. The squishy, ripping, sucking, peeling back the scalp, cutting the skull, and wrenching the bone fragments out audio is the best use of nauseating sounds I’ve heard in a horror movie.
So many directors forget the sounds and the smells of horror, you know? and only focus on the visuals.
Considering the stark, bloody chunky close-ups of peeled away skin and the drill bit biting into his head—with a lot of close-up blood bubbles dribbling around the drill bit—this scene is one sustained gorefest treat.
Did I forget to mention Doctor Lynn is sporting a beautiful new shotgun shell collar, designed by Amanda?
A bit showy, but definitely a party conversation starter (or ender, depending). If Jigsaw dies, Doctor Lynn's head goes bang. If things weren’t bad enough Amanda is going off the deep end and Jigsaw is having trouble staying alive and keeping her in check. Woozy flashbacks tell the story of Amanda and how she came to be Jigsaw's apprentice and heir apparent.
Jeff finally meets the man who killed his son, tidily stuffed into the Twister, a fiendish device that does exactly what its name implies. His arms, legs, and head are locked into a 360 degree rotating armature.
Guess what happens next.
Will Jeff save him, or spend too much time debating what he should do while bones crack and sinews snap? While Jeff deals with this latest conundrum, the doctor and Jigsaw have a nice chat about suffering and murder.
Tobin Bell is so convincing as Jigsaw he makes your hair stand on end; much like Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter charisma. Jigsaw is so self-righteous, so certain what he is doing is proper; his character embodies the insanity of extreme moral superiority and certainty without a grounding in reality.
In a twisting climax (pun intended), Jeff confronts Jigsaw, the doctor, and Amanda.
Will he make the right choice? Will Jigsaw once again play his game too well?
Exactly who is Jigsaw playing games with here and why does he think he’s teaching people lessons when he’s not leaving anyone alive in his classroom?
Saw III is hard horror. There’s supernatural horror, sensual horror, ghostly horror, rational and irrational horror, and hard horror. Hard horror guts you like a fish and makes you flop around after being gutted. Hard horror doesn’t care about messy character involvements, or deep narrative, or witty scripting. It filets your senses.
The midnight showing I attended was sold out. I am not sure if that's a good thing for horror in general, but it certainly may bode well for Lionsgate and the Saw franchise. The acting and scripting is done well enough, and the ever ingenious evolution of the main star of this franchise, the convoluted machine of death, is an unforgettable draw for the more demented gore and torture fan—
"Um-hum." Papa Smurf Jigsaw cleared his throat.
—for the more avid horror fan of the genre.
"Well," I said.
"It will do."
"So I win, then?"
"What? You said I would win!"
"Surely, Iloz Zoc, you of all people should realize that you will have to wait for that."
"Wait for the sequel of course; there is always a sequel," said Papa Smurf as he and his tricycle squeaked back into the darkness.