"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. If you survive."
"Okay, look, when Iloz Zoc 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. "Okay, I'll bite. What's the game?"
"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 gift of MySpace, of Yahoo Messenger, and yes, even the gift of World of Warcraft, just so you can type away on that cold, hard laptop keyboard.
"Click, click, click, all day and well into the night. For what? You have lost touch with your inner self, John, and those most important around you. I will help you find the way back – did I mention you may die horribly like a twisted pretzel, or maybe a ribcage deboner would be visually cool – back to your life that is waiting patiently for you, and the loved ones that miss you."
"Er, 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 did not know how much.
"Okay," I agreed. I also vowed to give up either midnight showings of horror films, or drinking that fourth Dunkaccino. I started typing on my cold, hard keyboard, and relived the horrors of Saw III.
Even before you can nestle in your theatre 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, which would you rather see? Oh, wait, sawing off a limb was done in Saw, wasn't it? No sense in repeating that, then.
And before you can take a swig of Coke, and a handful of kernels, another game brings us to a room, a guy who is about to have a really bad day, and another set of chains – with large hooks at the ends. Bloody chunks should have been the tagline for this film. You do get to see lots of them. Funny, but no one sitting around me in the theatre — and it was packed for the midnight show — ever touched their drinks or popcorn after that one.
The story — do you really care there is a story linking all this gory carnage together? — revolves around two plot lines: Amanda is back with a vengeance as Jigsaw's apprentice, and a man must come to grips with the loss of his son, and the witness, judge, and killer involved with the tragic death.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman moves in between both stories, using a fair amount of woozy camera shots, dark lighting, and grainy, garish coloration to move characters through the succession of torture tableaux that highlight the devious, extremely unkind, and painful Rube Goldberg devices that come into play for his unlucky victims.
Once Jeff, the father who lost his son, escapes into Jigsaw's maze, he must face those people he blames for his loss. Will he save them from a horrible, painful death — and disappoint horror fans — or will he let them suffer and die? Surprisingly, even with the knowledge of what must happen — this is a horror film, after all — the tension is still palpable, the expectations still hopeful. The acting sustains this tension well, as does the direction, although the woozy camera was used a bit much, and diluted the tension in some scenes.
As Jeff makes his way to his salvation or damnation, Doctor Lynn is kidnapped by Amanda. Good old Jigsaw is not doing so well. He needs a doctor. In one of the most gorily effective scenes done to date, the good doctor sedates Jigsaw and tackles his brain tumor with a few handy Home Depot tools lying around the old torture device workshop. No one in the theatre touched their drinks or popcorn after that. Not once. I tried the old standby of closing my eyes, but Bousman put the Foley (sound) guys into overtime with this scene.
The squishy, ripping, sucking, peeling back the scalp, cutting the skull and wrenching the bone fragment out images were "graphically" enhanced with audio. It was the best use of disgusting sounds I have ever heard in a horror film. Considering the stark, bloody, chunky closeups of peeled away skin and the drill bit going into his head — and the attention to detail as the blood bubbles up around the drill bit — this scene is one sustained gorefest treat for fans of that sort of thing.
Did I forget to mention that Doctor Lynn is sporting a beautiful new shotgun shell collar, designed by Amanda? A bit showy, but definitely a party conversation starter. If Jigsaw dies, Doctor Lynn's head goes bang. If things were not bad enough for the good doctor, 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. She definitely does not like the relationship growing between Jigsaw and the doctor. Of course, anytime anyone gets into your head, a relationship soon follows.
Meanwhile, Jeff finally meets the man who killed his son. The man is tidily stuffed into the twister. Each one of his appendages, and his head, are locked into a 360 rotating armature. Guess what happens next? Will Jeff save him, or spend too much time thinking about what he should do while bones crack and muscles are twisted? While Jeff deals with his 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. So self-righteous, so certain that what he is doing is right; his character echoes reality uncomfortably for us.
In a twisting climax (no pun intended), Jeff confronts Jigsaw, the doctor, and Amanda. Will he make the right choice? Or will Jigsaw once again play his game too well? And exactly who is Jigsaw playing games with? A surprise or two is in store. If you last.
Saw III is a Hard Horror rated R+. Last night's showing was also sold out at the theater I attended. I am not sure if that's a good thing for horror in general, but it certainly may bode well for Lionsgate and the franchise. The acting and scripting is well done, and the ever ingenious evolution of the main star of the film, the machine of death, is an unforgettable Halloween confection for the more sadistic…
"Umhum." Papa Smurf Jigsaw cleared his throat.
- for the more gore-headed fan of the genre.
"Well," I said.
"It will do."
"So I win, then?"
"What? You said I would have fame and fortune!"
"Surely, John, you of all people should realize that you will have to wait."
"Wait? For what?" I asked.
"The sequel, of course. There is always a sequel," said Papa Smurf, squeaking back into the darkness.