The Jigsaw Files: Saw III (2006)

It’s not brain surgery for fans of this franchise to view Saw III. Well, except, maybe when actual brain surgery is performed. I know I turned away when I saw it a decade and a half ago. Same goes for the rewatch. The third feature in the series is up as I recap the Saw sagas prior to the release of Spiral. If you didn’t catch my first two write-ups, they’re right bloody here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/05/09/the-jigsaw-files-saw-2004/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/05/09/the-jigsaw-files-saw-ii-2005/

Saw III finds our criminal mastermind Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) in a reflective mode as his cancer is finally about to put a stop to his intricate games. He’s still got one up his hospital gowned sleeve and it’s for Jeff (Angus Macfayden), who’s mourning the death of his adolescent son three years earlier. Depressed and seeking revenge on the many people responsible for that demise, Jigsaw gives him the elaborate opportunity. This involves potential payback for witnesses, judicial personnel, and the driver who subjected Jeff to the loss.

In a Saw pic, we know that means torture devices that test their fate and test previous meals of moviegoers watching it. Jeff’s journeys are intercut with Jigsaw’s failing health in a makeshift hospital. As we learned at the conclusion of Saw II, he’s got a partner in crime with Amanda (Shawnee Smith). Lynn (Bahar Soomekh) is the surgeon brought in (kidnapped) to save his life. Of course, if she doesn’t, Amanda has built a contraption to immediately end the doctor’s life once Jigsaw’s expires. And let the games begin!

Darren Lynn Bousman returns as director for the second time and James Wan and Leigh Whannell are back for story credit. This would mark the final time that this trio would collectively have their hands in the franchise. And they sure go out of their way to tie the first three pictures together… logic be kinda damned! Donnie Wahlberg reprises his role as the detective from part 2 as does Dina Meyer. Even Whannell’s Adam from the original is seen in flashback form.

Saw III, to its credit, creates a more emotional situation for Jeff to find redemption. Unlike most of the lead characters in I and II, he’s not a horrible person. He’s just in a horrible situation due to tragedy and he actually makes some decent choices based on Jigsaw’s vile experiments. And I have to say, this is the first time in the franchise where Jigsaw’s trials of human behavior really seem too complicated for anyone to comply with. I mean that in the context of this grisly and implausible cinematic universe, but still…

By the third act, Saw III begins to fall all over itself in attempting to connect various loose ends. It all feels a bit much. There are many who think this is second only to the original in terms of quality. I would put it a notch behind #2 as well.

Find out how this series progresses or regresses when The Jigsaw Files returns with Saw IV (2007)…

The Jigsaw Files: Saw II (2005)

As we await the release of the ninth Saw franchise gorefest Spiral, my Jigsaw Files posts continue with Saw II. If you missed my first entry for the 2004 original, you can find it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/05/09/the-jigsaw-files-saw-2004/

When Saw was released in October of 2004, Lionsgate didn’t know they had a series that would continue into three separate decades. The opening weekend grosses changed that and a sequel was immediately commissioned. Not only that – the studio wanted it out fast in time for the 2005 Halloween box office. Darren Lynn Bousman, as luck would have it, already had a screenplay outside of the Saw universe that could serve as a template. Franchise co-creator Leigh Whannell was brought in to bring the script into this demented world. And Saw II was hurried into production to meet that all important drop date.

The rushed production schedule does not deter this from generally doing what a sequel needs to do. It builds upon its predecessor. It looks like more of a sophisticated final product (at $4 million, it nearly quadrupled the budget of part one). There’s a twist ending that legitimately manages to surprise. Most of all, Saw II (even more than Saw) sets the formula for those that followed.

Whether that’s a good thing likely depends on your stomach for this type of material. Like many horror follow-ups, part II is bloodier and more sadistic. Picking up from the shocking ending of Saw when we learn who Jigsaw is, this puts a lot more meat on the bones of its central antagonist. We learn more about John Kramer (Tobin Bell) and his cancer diagnosis that causes him to develop these games of survival. Or as he describes it… “testing the fabric of human nature.” In John/Jigsaw’s world, he’s allowing his potential victims a chance to appreciate their lives and give them a second chance. A lot of them don’t see it that way.

His sights are set on corrupt detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) here. Jigsaw orchestrates the abduction of eight strangers in a dim dungeon to toy with. This includes the detective’s teen son (Erik Knudsen). The seven others are all of a criminal mind. The unexpected addition is Amanda (Shawnee Smith), who we glimpsed in Saw and was a survivor of Jigsaw’s tests (she even appreciated his unconventional method of getting her off smack).

Jigsaw is captured early in the film. It doesn’t take long to figure out that this is on purpose and he holds court with Detective Matthews as he tries to save his estranged boy. According to the ailing prisoner, the detective only needs to follow his instructions step by step. Unfortunately, the new character on the block’s temper prevents that from happening. I’m not sure if Bousman and Whannell wanted us to root for Wahlberg’s character. Probably not. If by any chance they did, that’s a failure because we don’t mind Jiggy gettin’ the best of him.

Saw II truly begins the parade of gross out gags and creative deaths that have marked the series. The most squirm inducing involves needing to find a key. In this situation, the key is the needle and the haystack happens to be needles. By the time we reach our climax, a time shifting revelation manages to fool us. It’s not as effective as Jigsaw rising from that disgusting washroom floor in Saw, but it’s pretty good stuff.

I give the filmmakers due credit with the first sequel. This was made to make a release date and it did so without seeming like a rip-off of its source material. Far from it.

The Jigsaw Files will continue with Saw III (2006)…

The Jigsaw Files: Saw (2004)

Perhaps I’m feeling like a glutton for punishment, but the upcoming release of Spiral: From the Book of Saw got me in a bloody nostalgic mood as we anticipate its premiere. Nearly 17 years after the low-budget original became one of the most profitable horror pics ever and spawned now eight sequels/reboots, I felt it was time to revisit the franchise.

Hence The Jigsaw Files where I will recap the series movie by movie. It naturally begins with the original Saw. Shot for a reported teensy budget of $1.2 million, it came out of nowhere in October 2004 to become a genre classic. So is it?

This marks the directorial debut of James Wan and he went on to be involved in numerous franchises. Some were of his own making (Insidious, The Conjuring). Others brought on his talents like in Furious 7 and Aquaman. Wan came up with the story along with Leigh Whannell, who has since helmed Upgrade and The Invisible Man (both critically acclaimed scare fests).

Most of you are familiar with the story. Whannell costars as Adam, a photographer who awakens in a dingy and feces covered washroom with Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes). The duo soon discover that they are part of an elaborate game orchestrated by a serial killer who concocts these elaborate schemes. They have to figure out why they have been placed in such a foul setting and they only have hours to do so before their time expires.

The screenplay intersects their countdown with Detectives Tapp (Danny Glover) and Sing (Ken Leung) trying to figure out who this monster is. Saw is told in a non-linear fashion that isn’t totally clear until the climax. I had forgotten about the Lost TV series connection until my rewatch. Leung was the quirky medium Miles. Michael Emerson, who is involved in the mayhem happening here, is an Emmy winner for his brilliant portrayal of Ben Linus.

What’s striking about Saw upon another visit is that its meager budget limits some of the gore we became accustomed to in the sequels. Don’t get me wrong… it’s there, but not quite as prevalent. Elwes and Whannell get the most screen time (Glover apparently only shot for two days). Both actors have their moments of extreme overacting and I’m pretty sure that’s on purpose. Some may find this exercise humorless, but there’s some winking and nodding occurring in my estimation.

The other plot point that audiences might forget is that Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw (who becomes this franchise’s Freddy, Jason, Michael… take your pick) plays a minimal role… kind of like Jason in the first Friday the 13th. This is, of course, until the surprise ending. And that ending is still one of the better twists in modern horror history. If you’re a stickler about it making sense… well, you might hurt your head deciding if it holds up to scrutiny. Yet it was effective when I first watched it and it still is today.

Saw is certainly not perfect. Its price tag limitations show, but even that adds to the B movie vibe. Wan shows right away why he’s become the in demand filmmaker he is now. And this Saw remains a cut above most of what followed and rightfully has the reputation that precedes it.

The Jigsaw Files will continue with Saw II (2005)…

The Invisible Man Movie Review

Finding its source material from the H.G. Wells novel that spawned a classic from the heyday of the Universal Monsters movies, Leigh Whannell’s take on the subject matter spins a 21st century play to the mix. While the title character wreaks his havoc, it’s the central woman in the story who is truly invisible. This is a horror tale in the #MeToo era and an often potent one at that.

We open with Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) trying to escape her abusive marriage in the middle of the night without being seen. Her husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), we discover later, is a controlling and dangerous figure. He’s also a mega rich tech genius (think Tony Stark with far more personal demons). Cecilia manages to flee and stay with an old friend who’s also a detective (Aldis Hodge) and his teen daughter (Storm Reid). Afraid to even walk outside, her fears subside when Adrian is found dead of apparent suicide. The relief is short-lived when an unseen force starts stalking Cecilia yet again and all signs point to the apparently departed husband.

Whannell has been an integral player in the scares genre with his involvement in the Saw and Insidious franchises. He is a stylish filmmaker who knows how to construct a suspenseful setup. We have grown rather wearily accustomed to the jump scares that permeate these genre exercises. They are here, but I will say a couple of them really land the jab. There’s a scene in an upscale restaurant where still or sparkling water becomes an afterthought due to a genuinely surprising moment.

That scene and many others are tremendously assisted by the convincing and freaked out to the max performance of Moss. She conveys her fear of Adrian with wide eyed terror and, eventually, a resolve to change the power dynamic. The screenplay (from the director) smartly doesn’t employ flashback sequences to show her cycle of abuse. Her fear says enough. The two-hour running time is a bit out of the ordinary for this type of material and the final third is somewhat of a letdown when the plot becomes more literal with its explanations. However, with Moss’s work fully in control of her out of control situation, The Invisible Man is a creative modern rendering of a familiar monster.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: The Invisible Man

Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, updating the H.G. Wells novel and classic 1933 film, debuts Friday. With 90% currently on Rotten Tomatoes, the word-of-mouth should propel the pic to quite visible box office numbers. In doing so, Invisible should break a streak of underperforming horror titles in recent months.

Much of the praise from reviewers is centered on its lead Elisabeth Moss. The Emmy winner for The Handmaid’s Tale garnered a small amount of Oscar buzz in 2019 for Her Smell that never came to fruition. I look for this to be the third year in a row where an actress garners buzz for a scary movie. In 2018, it was Toni Collette in Ari Aster’s Hereditary. In 2019 – Lupita Nyong’o for Jordan Peele’s Us. Both performers received a few wins from the critics groups. They both failed to get nods come Academy time.

This will likely be the case for Moss as well, but expect lots of speculation that she could make the cut before she doesn’t. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Invisible Man Box Office Prediction

Horror pics have faced a tough road so far in 2020 as The Grudge, The Turning, Gretel & Hansel, and Fantasy Island have all posted lackluster debuts. This weekend, I don’t see the trend stopping with Brahms: The Boy II. do see it changing next Friday with The Invisible Man. From director Leigh Whannell (who recently made Insidious: Chapter 3 and Upgrade), this is an update of the H.G. Wells novel that was turned into a classic 1933 James Whale tale. Elisabeth Moss (who co-starred in last year’s Us) headlines a cast that includes Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, and Harriet Dyer.

This project was originally intended as a vehicle for Johnny Depp as part of Universal’s plans for a franchise that began with 2017’s The Mummy. When that pic brought in less than expected returns, the monster series was scrapped. The Invisible Man has undergone a significant transformation with Blumhouse co-producing. Per usual with that production company, the budget is tiny (a reported $7 million).

Early word-of-mouth is strong with screening members reporting a tense and effective crowd pleaser. Whannell appears to be a filmmaker on the upswing and Moss certainly has her fans from The Handmaid’s Tale and more.

I believe Invisible will be quite visible on the radar screens of genre moviegoers and break the streak of scary disappointments over the past few weeks. A gross of over $30 million might be the result.

The Invisible Man opening weekend prediction: $33.8 million

Upgrade Box Office Prediction

Blumhouse Productions is out with its latest low-budget flick that hopes to generate high dollar figures when Upgrade debuts next weekend. The sci-fi horror revenge pic comes from director Leigh Whannell, best known for his involvement in the Insidious franchise (including directing its third chapter). Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel (best known as the creepy housekeeper in Get Out), and Harrison Gilbertson are among the cast. Early reviews have been decent as it currently stands at 73% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Upgrade is slated to open on a rather low 1400 screens and that will limit its potential. I would not anticipate this coming anywhere near the massive successes that Jason Blum and his studio have achieved with titles like the aforementioned Get Out, Split, or Happy Death Day. Instead it appears destined to premiere similar to BH Tilt’s lesser offerings like The Belko Experiment, The Green Inferno, or Incarnate – none of which managed to clear $5 million for their starts.

Upgrade opening weekend prediction: $2.8 million

For my Action Point prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/05/23/action-point-box-office-prediction/

For my Adrift prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/05/24/adrift-box-office-prediction/

Insidious: The Last Key Box Office Prediction

The first new wide release of 2018 is out next Friday when Insidious: The Last Key enters theaters. This is the fourth chapter in the franchise that began in 2011. Like Chapter 3, it’s a prequel to the events of the first two. In other words, no Patrick Wilson or Rose Byrne (the stars of the originals). James Wan, director and 1 and 2, produces with Adam Robitel behind the camera. Leigh Whannell, who’s served as writer for all of them, costars along with Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, Josh Stewart, and Bruce Davison.

One factor that could assist The Last Key is the absence of horror flicks in the marketplace at the moment. That said, this franchise has been losing its luster. The 2011 original debuted to $13 million but legged out very nicely for its genre with an eventual $54 million gross. The 2013 sequel was the pinnacle with a terrific $40 million opening weekend and $83 million total tally. Chapter 3 in 2015 premiered to $22 million, but ended up as the lowest earner of the series with $52 million. 

I don’t see a compelling reason why part 4 will rebound. For comparison sake, I could see this performing similarly to 2014’s Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, which opened in the first weekend of January to just over $18 million. Like this, that was an entry in a franchise whose steam had dissipated. That number seems to be where Key fits best.

Insidious: The Last Key opening weekend prediction: $18.6 million

 

Insidious: Chapter 3 Box Office Prediction

Focus Features has had a nice little horror cash cow in the Insidious franchise and the third edition hits theaters Friday. Chapter 3 is a prequel and therefore original stars of its predecessors Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are nowhere to be found (in fact Byrne is busy this weekend with Spy).

Dermot Mulroney and Stefanie Scott headline with Leigh Whannell making his directorial debut after writing chapters 1 and 2. Insidious: Chapter 2 surprised prognosticators when it landed a $40 million debut in September 2013. It would be a bit of a shocker to see this follow up post that number, but you never know. I believe this will manage a start in the mid to high 20s, settling for second to Melissa McCarthy’s Spy.

Insidious: Chapter 3 opening weekend prediction: $26 million

For my Spy prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/05/30/spy-box-office-prediction/

For my Entourage prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/05/31/entourage-box-office-prediction/