Previously: Saw II: Finding a Formula Saw III has been widely acknowledged by fans as the one film in the Saw series that jumped the sh...

Saw III: Jumping the Shark

Previously: Saw II: Finding a Formula

Saw III has been widely acknowledged by fans as the one film in the Saw series that jumped the shark and went against the formula established Leigh Whanell and Darren Lynn Bousman in Saw II. But the success of Saw III can also be attributed to moves by Whannell and Bousman to fully inhabit their individual creative roles. Leigh Whannell did not attempt to partner with Bousman on the script, while Bousman grew in his capacity as a director. By respecting each other’s each other’s creative spaces, Whannell and Bousman were able to create a truly unique horror film.

After cutting his teeth on Saw II, Bousman had become comfortable enough with the franchise to find his own style which is reflected in his use of cinematic transitions. While the transitions in Saw II were awkward and choppy, Bousman puts his own spin on the transitions of Saw III. The result is an elegant rendition of the smooth cuts Wan created in Saw I, as Bousman pans away from one scene to another and turns his transitions into long shot masterpieces.

In addition to smooth transitions, Saw III also hearkens back to the skilled misdirection that made the original Saw so popular. In Saw I the audience is led to believe that Zep is the killer only to find out that he is merely another pawn in Jigsaw’s deadly game.

This same kind of misdirection is applied to the characters of Saw III. When we first meet Lynn and her lover we initially think they are husband and wife, an assumption reinforced by the lover’s tired request for a divorce. We have no idea Lynn has any connection to the male test subject on Jigsaw’s screens and it’s not until the end that we find out they are married.

The revelation of Saw III finds strong parallels with Saw I and like a skilled magician revealing the mechanics of a magic trick, Jigsaw discloses the dual purpose of his test for Jeff and Amanda. Jeff must learn to put aside his vengeance and forgive, while Amanda must learn to value human life.

Perhaps the biggest reveal of Saw III is that Amanda has been working with Jigsaw since she survived her trap in Saw I, but Amanda is a flawed apprentice and according to Jigsaw, her emotion makes her weak. Initially this may seem a trite sexist, as Amanda is presented as a near hysterical loose cannon. Her cutting herself is very menstrual and she becomes unhinged several times when she perceives Lynn as a threat to her relationship with Jigsaw.

But Amanda’s heightened emotionality simply reveals that what is required to win Jigsaw’s game is rationality not pure instinct. The juxtaposition of Jigsaw’s rationale and Amanda’s hysteria crystallizes this maxim which runs through the rest of the Saw films. Her emotion ultimately causes Amanda to fail Jigsaw’s test as she shoots Lynn out of jealously.

As with Saw I, the true beauty of Saw III is the traps as each have a specific purpose connected to Jeff’s grief over the loss of his child and his inability to let go. Jeff’s first test is the Ice Trap, and as he opens a freezer he is confronted with Danica Scott, a woman who was present at the accident that killed Jeff’s son but did nothing to help, frozen in place. Poetically, all Jeff has to do in order for her to die is what she did on the day of his son’s death—nothing—as she is sprayed with jets of cold water and slowly frozen to death.

Jeff’s second test is also poignantly related to his obsession with his son’s death. In order to save the judge that sentenced his son’s killer to a slap on the wrist, he must burn his child’s personal belongings in a perverse form of grief therapy. But Jigsaw saves the best for last, and the Rack is a viscerally physical trap that twists and breaks the limbs of Tim, the man responsible for causing the death of Jeff’s little boy.

Until now, Tim has been a figment of Jeff's grief obsessed mind, “a symbol of [his] life changing” and the object of this vengeance. But Jigsaw skillfully uses the trap to show Jeff that Tim is only a man of flesh and blood, and therefore worthy of forgiveness.

Despite Jeff’s final offer of forgiveness to his son’s killer, the end of Saw III ironically confirms Amanda’s belief that Jigsaw’s games are flawed and in the end “nobody changes” Amanda can’t bring herself to value Lynn’s life and shoots her, while Jeff still cuts Jigsaw’s throat in a moment of pure vengeance.

With better traps, smoother transitions, and expert misdirection, Saw III is a thematic smorgasbord that separates itself as the diamond in the rough of the Saw series. Saw III provided an infusion of fresh blood into the franchise and new fans would stop at nothing to guarantee the suffering would continue.

Up Next: Saw IV: Remaking a Sequel


  1. Sad to say that this is the one that just did me in. I tried, god knows I tried, to get through this one, but the suspension of disbelief can only go so far.

  2. This was actually my favorite of the series. Excellent write-up!

  3. Pax,
    I know, the final tape was the straw that broke my back and it gets even more ridiculous in Saw 4.

    Ditto Cortez

  4. I really enjoyed Saw III. Interesting twists all through the movie and in some parts it was terrifying. The sequel does tend to drip on the sloppy side, but Saw III still pulls off another fascinating ending.