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Saw III is a slasher horror flick a cut above the rest, with even more twists and plenty more devious traps.


The creepy puppet face, the tape recorded instructions, the underground tiled bathroom and the astounding twists throughout the story are all back in full force in this latest Saw story. The dying cancer patient/serial killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell)--a guy who is just trying to get people to appreciate life by putting them in deadly situations--was last seen handing off the baton to his new apprentice, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). Yes, the same girl he stuck in the jaw trap. And we find out what happened to Detective Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg). From there, we see just how much Jigsaw is in need of medical attention. In order to assure his own health, Jigsaw has Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh) tend to him—while being connected to a device around her neck that will blow her head off if his heart stops. Nice touch. Meanwhile, a father, Jeff, (Angus Macfadyen) is trying to deal with the loss of his son killed by a drunk driver. Jeff has to go through a series of tests, which puts him face to face with the people responsible for his son's death, in order to find forgiveness in the most gruesome ways. But don't get fooled by the poster of the hanging teeth--there is no teeth-pulling.


Finally, both Bell, as the pasty-faced mastermind, and Smith, as his timid apprentice, get a lot more play time, showing they are accomplished and multi-dimensional actors. Bell lay on the floor most of the first Saw and was attached to an oxygen machine in the second one. This time, he's in a hospital bed, but his dead eyes and logical banter is as chilling as any Hannibal Lecter or Freddy Krueger. Bell displays his malevolence as if he's doing his victims a favor. Smith turns from a sniveling, frightened child to a brave rogue apprentice, almost Renfield-like in her approach to the role. She treats the victims more brutally than Jigsaw ever did. But this time around, the victims are smart, strong characters, with Soomekh (Crash) and Macfadyen (TV's Alias) doing a fine job. Rather than a whole lot of screaming and pleading, they face their predicaments with much more bravado. Maybe the filmmakers are getting a better quality of performer, or Jigsaw is finding a better quality of victim--or both.


Director Darren Lynn Bousman, who took over the reigns from James Wan in the second Saw, eases us right back into the third installment, keeping all the reveals and the back stories hidden until he can slowly peel them away, piece by piece, like a fine onion. He also co-writes Saw III with writer Leigh Whannell. Some of the questions that crop up in the first two Saw movies are answered, but even more questions are raised. And, for the super-fan, some of the bodies and sets from the previous movies are stumbled upon and revisited in this third movie. Saw III just continues the rollercoaster ride, and also offers a lot more depth to the whole franchise's philosophy. Where they go from here seems impossible to predict, but no doubt the Saw-ing will continue.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.