Last time I watched Saw III, I hated it. This time, I … actually rather enjoyed it. I think there are several reasons for my different reaction this time, but it all boils down to context. Since Saw III was released, horror movies have become even more gory and even more incoherent. At the time, Saw III seemed offensively badly structured, filled with pointless torture and nastiness. Now? It seems almost tame. Also, when I saw Saw III at the cinema, it’d been a year since I’d seen Saw II; this time, I’ve watched Saw and Saw II over the last two days, and I’ve already seen V and VI, so the character development seemed a lot better thought through. In particular, I enjoyed seeing Det. Hoffman lurking creepily in the background at the beginning … but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Saw III doesn’t really work properly as a standalone movie. It’s not structured well enough, and concerns itself mainly with explaining what happened behind the scenes of the previous movies as well as setting things up for those that’ll follow, and as a result the main narrative suffers from underdevelopment. Jeff is ultimately kind of pointless, and the traps he has to rescue people from aren’t very inspired. The first time I watched it, this meant I considered the film a failure. But this time, having spent time with some of these characters, it worked a lot better. Det Kerry’s fate seemed genuinely upsetting, having had her around for two movies, and Jigsaw’s final trap for Jeff is really rather nasty.
In fact, Saw III ends on just about the most downbeat note imaginable. Jeff fails his test. Lynn passes, but then Amanda fails it for her. And Amanda fails her test. Adam from Saw and Eric Mathews from Saw II are brought back and tortured some more; Adam is killed off. At the end of the movie, almost everyone we know from the previous movies is dead or dying. The body count in Saw III is sky high: Amanda’s unwinnable traps finish off several victims, Jeff fails to save anyone from his maze, including himself, and Jigsaw and Amanda are also killed. None of Jigsaw’s lessons have been learned, so there’s not even that perverted silver lining to cling to; really, Jigsaw turns out to be a really, really bad teacher. His protégé completely fails him, on every level: Amanda betrays him by going behind his back to kill people; she secretly self-harms, one of the things that led Jigsaw to test her in the first place; and before she dies, she denounces him, shouting “Nobody changes, it’s all a lie!” and “I’m just a pawn in your stupid games.”
It’s almost a shame to say goodbye to Amanda, in the same way it’s a shame to say goodbye to Kerry. Both of them felt like interesting characters who weren’t quite developed enough – Kerry more than Amanda, since the more screentime they gave Amanda, the more ridiculous she seemed. And that’s a shame, too. As the first person to survive a Jigsaw trap, she was in a unique position, and she was the only possible example he, or we, could point to to show that his techniques were effective. If Amanda lived through a Jigsaw trap and found a renewed enthusiasm for life, changing her junkie ways and doing something worthwhile with her life, then there’d be some fascinating ambiguity there; she’d be a powerful argument that Jigsaw isn’t just a psychopathic murderer, but some kind of ultra-violent vigilante. (okay, it wouldn’t be a great argument, but it’d be something). Instead, Amanda attaches herself, like a baby duck imprinting on a cat instead of its mother, to Jigsaw, and becomes his accomplice. She helps him kidnap people, helps him devise and build his traps, and guides people to their doom inside the poisoned house in Saw II. Which, if she really had changed her attitude to life, would make sense; she could argue that she’s helping other people come to the same realization she’d had.
But no. No, poor, stupid Amanda doesn’t get Jigsaw’s masterplan at all. She’s just a nasty piece of work who enjoys inflicting suffering on people she doesn’t like, including Lynn. She spends most of Saw III weeping uncontrollably at the prospect of losing John – someone who views her emotions as a weakness. It’s a disturbing, twisted relationship the two of them have, and surely even she couldn’t really consider herself his equal. On second thought, maybe it’s better that she doesn’t live to see another sequel (except, inevitably, in flashbacks). Saw III took away her reason for existing when it introduced Detective Hoffman.
Kerry, on the other hand, I’ll truly mourn. Only one of Amanda’s cheating, unwinnable traps could have conquered Kerry, because Kerry learned the rules early. She figured out the rules: do what Jigsaw tells you, and you’ll live. Try to outwit him, and you’ll lose, because Jigsaw always has another trap up his sleeve. Unlike Amanda, though, Kerry was a force for good, not evil; and, so, inevitably, she got killed. Of the original investigating team, only Det Rigg remains.
Bring on Saw IV!