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It’s not often that the worst part of a horror film is too much dialogue. But Saw III nearly ruins its improbable superiority over the franchise’s predecessors with a stupefying amount of denouement gab. The theme of III is generally the same as the others’: Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), the villain whose public face is a ridiculous apple-cheeked puppet, has made it his mission to kidnap those who are wasting their time above ground and persuade them to live as if they were dying—that is, if the victims actually survive his death traps, which they ostensibly should be able to if they truly value their lives. This installment, directed by the returning Darren Lynn Bousman and written by Leigh Whannell, one of the original’s creators (along with James Wan), doesn’t exactly begin well. The first’s cut-off-your-limbs gambit is repeated, and then the popular jittery-camera cop-out obscures a few immediate and unpleasant passings. Whannell, however, then smartly pares the sadism that bulldozed the original and focuses the bulk of this movie on the psychology—i.e., the alleged crux of these slashers. Jigsaw, with inoperable brain cancer, is about to kick the bucket in his spacious torture chamber, but he guides his protégé, Amanda (a survivor from the previous films played by Shawnee Smith), through new “games” with fresh players: Lynn (Bahar Soomekh) is a surgeon who’s cheating on her husband and, it’s noted with a frown, taking antidepressants. (Who knew Jigsaw was a Scientologist?) Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) is a bereaved dad obsessed with taking vengeance on his son’s murderer, a drunk driver who got a mere knuckle-rapping for the crime. Lynn gets the prize for the most transfixing, squirmiest test here, but Jeff’s predicament is more interesting because you don’t have to be in a thriller to take a stroll in his shoes. What would you do if you came face-to-face with your kid’s killer? How elastic is your ability to forgive? Don’t worry, fanboys, Saw III is far from a thinker. There is blood, guts, and what can best be described as a vat of pig-carcass smoothie. There’s an acceptable amount of cliché and illogic, even as Whannell flashes back to explain the previous movies’ gaps. But then the writer never stops. The tortured finally meet their puppet master, and the result is worse than they could have imagined: As Jigsaw delineates his plans for them, he turns from evil genius to blathering grandpa.

—Tricia Olszewski