The story follows Jeff Denlon, a man who, after his son is killed in a hit-and-run, is put through a series of tests by Jigsaw in order to try to get him to let go of his vengeance for the man that killed his son. Meanwhile, a bed-ridden John Kramer has his apprentice Amanda Young kidnap Jeff's wife, Lynn, who is tasked with keeping him alive for one final test before he dies.
The aftermath of a Jigsaw game is discovered by a SWAT team. The victim, Troy, was meant to rip chains from his body in order to escape from a bomb. Lieutenant Daniel Rigg calls Detectives Mark Hoffman and Allison Kerry to the scene. Kerry, who is guilt-ridden over the disappearance of Eric Matthews, points out that the room's only exit was welded shut, breaking Jigsaw's modus operandi of giving his victims a chance to survive. That night, while reviewing the videotape, she is abducted and awakens in a harness that is hooked into her ribs. Kerry manages to retrieve the key from a suspended beaker of acid and unlock it before the timer expires, but it tears her rib cage apart anyway, killing her.
Now bedridden from cancer, John Kramer instructs Amanda Young to abduct Dr. Lynn Denlon from her hospital. She is brought to Kramer and instructed to keep him alive until the other victim has completed his game. As Kramer explains the rules, Amanda locks a collar around Lynn's throat that connects to Kramer's heart rate monitor and will detonate if Kramer dies or Lynn moves out of range. The other victim, Jeff, awakens in a box in an abandoned meatpacking plant and learns from a microcassette recorder that he must undergo tests which will lead him to "the man responsible for the loss of his child". Jeff has become unstable and vengeful in the three years since his son Dylan was killed by a drunk driver, and is now estranged from his wife and neglects his daughter Corbett.
Jeff's first test leads him into a meat freezer. He finds Danica Scott, the only witness of Dylan's death, who refused to testify in court; she is naked and chained at the wrists between two poles which begin spraying ice-cold water at random intervals. In order to save her, Jeff has to reach through a gap in a wall made of metal poles to reach the key. The key is so far away, he would have to press and freeze his cheek to the pole, grab the key and then tear a large chunk of his face off the frozen poles in order to save her. Danica manages to convince Jeff to help her, but freezes to death before he can retrieve the key.
His second test leads him to a vat, at the bottom of which Judge Halden, who gave Dylan's killer six months in jail, is chained at the neck. Large dead pigs drop into a liquidiser and spray Judge Halden with liquified pig, but Jeff reluctantly sets fire to a cage full of Dylan's toys in order to retrieve the key (hidden inside one of the many toys) and save Halden. His third test brings him before Timothy Young, Dylan's killer, who is strapped to a machine that will twist his limbs and neck in turn until they break. The key is tied to the trigger of an enclosed shotgun. Jeff eventually tries to free Timothy, but taking the key discharges the shotgun and accidentally kills Halden, and Jeff is unable to stop the machine before Timothy's neck breaks.
Meanwhile, Lynn realises she will have to perform surgery to save John, but Amanda is reluctant to get her the appropriate tools and allow her to perform it, so she is forced to improvise. During the improvised surgery, in which Lynn removes a piece of Kramer's skull to relieve pressure on his brain, he hallucinates about another woman and declares his love out loud, distressing Amanda. She leaves, and flashbacks show her time with Kramer, as well as her abduction of Adam, which left her guilt-ridden to the point she gave him a mercy killing out of guilt some time after his game. In the present, she reads a letter addressed to her which drives her to hysterics. As Lynn confesses to Kramer that her ordeal has given her new appreciation of her family, Amanda returns with the news that Jeff has completed his tests, but refuses to remove Lynn's collar. She reveals that she no longer believes in Kramer's philosophy, and has designed her traps simply to kill, including Troy's and Kerry's. She also fought with Eric Matthews after he escaped the bathroom by breaking his foot; she implies killing him, but Kramer believes she left him to die.
Refusing to listen to Kramer's warnings, Amanda shoots Lynn in the back just as Jeff arrives. He retaliates by shooting Amanda in the neck with a gun provided by Kramer during his tests. As Amanda slowly dies, Kramer reveals that Lynn's test was actually hers: aware of her modus operandi, and unwilling to allow a murderer to inherit his legacy, he decided to test "her will to keep someone alive"; to this end, he told her nothing about Jeff and Lynn, including their marriage. Kramer then addresses Jeff, offering to call an ambulance for Lynn if he accepts one final test: he can choose to kill Kramer or forgive him. Jeff tells Kramer he forgives him, but then slashes his throat with a power saw. The door to the sickroom seals itself as a dying Kramer plays a final tape, which tells Jeff that he has failed his test by killing Kramer, the only person who knows the whereabouts of his daughter; to save her, Jeff must play another game. The tape ends as Kramer dies, and the collar promptly detonates and kills Lynn, leaving a screaming Jeff trapped in the sickroom with the three corpses.
Producer Gregg Hoffman unexpectedly died a few weeks after the release of Saw II. Darren Lynn Bousman, director and co-writer of Saw II, James Wan, director of Saw, and Leigh Whannell, screenwriter on both, turned down the offer to make a third film. Wan and Whannell were among the executive producers of Saw II. Bousman, Wan and Whannell got together to have lunch the day they heard of Hoffman's passing and came to conclusion that Saw III was going to be made with or without them, so they decided to make the film in dedication to Hoffman. Whannell aimed to make Saw III more emotional, describing the plot as essentially a "love story" between Jigsaw and Amanda.
Bousman said they did not intend to have a twist ending, as distinctly as the previous films, noting that "I think most people will figure it out in the first 15 minutes of the film". Whannell added, "What Darren and I struck for Saw III was to have an emotionally impactful ending. We wanted something that would almost make someone who was really invested in the story cry. We have Jigsaw, this character who's been so cold and clinical, he's been presented throughout the previous two films as someone who's very much in control. He's more like a reptile than a human being. In Saw III he becomes a human being. You see him crack. His veneer cracks and that was what was most important to us far and above any sort of gimmick or twist". Whannell also answered questions from previous films that were brought up by fans on the official Saw message board. As with the previous two films, the ending was only given to the actors who appeared in the final scene at the time it was filmed. At one point the script was stolen from Bousman's chair; however, it was returned before it was leaked online.
Soomekh became close with Lionsgate after appearing in their film Crash (2004) and they wanted her in their next big film. Not a fan of horror films she found the role challenging. "I had nightmares the first month I was on set. We were shooting it for two months. People say because you're an actor it's not a big deal because you go in there and it's fake or whatever. But what they don't understand is that it's actually the opposite because, as an actor, when you go in there you have to believe it's real to make your performance real. You have to get lost in the mindframe of this character", she said.
Larose was in Bousman's first short film titled Butterfly Dreams and helped finance Bousman's second short, Identity Lost.
Saw III was given a larger budget of $10 million, compared to Saw II's $4 million. Principal photography took place for 27 days at Toronto's Cinespace Film Studios from May 8, 2006 to late June. Production borrowed the bathroom set used in Scary Movie 4, which parodied Saw and Saw II, since it closely resembled the old set. Almost all the transitions from one place to another were not made using digital effects; the transitions were shot on the spot. For example, when the camera moves from Troy's crime scene to Kerry being in the bathtub, Meyer had to run, take off all her clothes, and jump into the tub. Visually the film is akin to the previous two with using quick cuts and fast-paced rhythms. Bousman said, "We're using a lot of whip pans and flash frames to create a dynamic feel". Post-production services were provided by Deluxe.
Bousman described the hardest scene to film was the "Pig Scene", explaining that they had to rush and it involved filming "so many moving parts". The pig carcasses were made out of foam, rubber and latex. The pig props had live disinfected maggots attached with honey. Bell said in an Empire interview that the "Pig Scene" was his favorite trap in the entire series.
For "The Rack Trap", Whannell originally conceived it as a trap that would fold a person into a box, though it eventually morphed into the twisting of body parts. Bousman wanted to have a trap that involved freezing someone to death since the films have already touched on burning to death, bleeding to death and being cut to death. A body cast was made of Debra Lynn McCabe for "The Freezer Room" trap, but because of safety regulations a person cannot be entombed, so only a front or back body cast could be on the actress at any given time. For the "Classroom Trap", J. Larose's character was originally going to be hanged from the ceiling by meat hooks, but it was decided against since he would not have been able to rip the chains out himself (as the script calls for). It proved to be a challenge since it is done with prosthetics and practical effects.
Saw III was released on October 27, 2006 in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. It was released in Australia on November 2, 2006 and on January 4, 2007 in New Zealand. According to executive producer Daniel Heffner, the film was toned down seven times to obtain the "R" rating. According to Bousman, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ratings board was less concerned with the film's graphic violence because television shows like CSI have expanded the scope of what is acceptable viewing with their graphic depictions of crime scenes and autopsies. Bousman said the MPAA is more concerned with emotional torture that disturbs the audience. In Japan, Saw III received a R18+ rating while the previous two films received an R15+ rating. At screenings in the United Kingdom, five people were reported to have fainted at separate cinemas with three at one cinema, resulting in ambulances called.
The opening scene of Troy's trap was shown at San Diego Comic-Con International on July 21, 2006. The same clip was planned to be shown before the opening of Crank in theaters on September 1, 2006. However, the MPAA would not allow it. On October 10, 2006 Bell, Smith and Bousman appeared at Spike TV's Scream Awards to promote the film and the clip of Troy's trap was shown.
Lionsgate's president of theatrical marketing Tim Palen thought of the idea to make 1,000 posters with a small amount of Bell's blood, which was mixed with the printing ink. He said, "We decided to do a poster and he's wearing a red cloak. I was talking to the printer and asked what we could do to get the deepest blood red. I asked if it would be possible to use actual blood. There was silence. He said, 'We could try, but are you serious?' I said I was dead serious." The posters were sold for $20, with the first being auctioned off; all the proceeds from the auctioned poster were donated to the Red Cross. Lionsgate also held the third annual "Give Til It Hurts" blood drive for the Red Cross and collected 23,493 pints of blood.
The soundtrack was released on October 24, 2006 by Artists Addiction. James Christopher Monger of Allmusic gave the soundtrack three out of five stars. Ed Thompson of IGN Music gave it a 7.2 out of 10.Track listing
Saw III was released to DVD and Blu-ray Disc through Lionsgate Home Entertainment on January 23, 2007. It topped the home video charts in the United States and Canada with 1.6 million units sold its first day and finished the week with 2.5 million units sold. The "Unrated DVD" was also released that day and features a 113-minute cut of the film that includes more gore. A 120-minute-long Director's Cut was released on October 23, 2007 to coincide with the theatrical release of Saw IV on October 26. It also included an alternative ending. The director's cut was released on Blu-ray in Region B on October 7, 2008, in France only.
The original cut of the film ran for slightly over two hours, and several scenes were cut out, including a scene which depicted an extended scene of Kerry and Rigg examining Troy's trap, where Kerry reveals to Rigg she has had nightmares about Eric, and she blames herself for what happened to him. Adam had more scenes in the original cut. A scene that showed Jigsaw regretting his actions was also cut. Bell said, "I'm glad they cut that scene. This guy knows exactly what he's doing. Does he start off with a model, then refine it? Yeah, he probably does. But there are certain things that are interesting and advance the story, and there are other things that are basically sort of backstory, and you don't really need to know".
Saw III opened at number one on 4,700 screens at 3,167 theaters grossing $33.6 million on its opening weekend, a two percent increase from Saw II's $31.7 million. It held the biggest Halloween weekend debut for five years until it was beaten in 2011 by Puss in Boots ($34 million). It was also Lionsgate's highest-opening weekend. Lionsgate's exit polling indicated that 69 percent of the audience was under 25 years old and 51 percent was male. In its second weekend it placed number four dropping down 56% to $14.8 million, compared to Saw II's second weekend drop of 47% to $16.9 million. The film was closed out of theaters on December 14, 2006, after 49 days of release.
Saw III opened at number five in the international market with an estimated $6 million. It opened at number one in the United Kingdom to $4.7 million. In Taiwan it placed third and opened to $320,000. For its second weekend it opened to number two with an estimated $9.7 million. In Spain it made $3.1 million, an improvement over the previous films. For its third weekend, Saw III grossed $8 million, including Japan's opening on 86 screens with $1.1 million. Australia made $4.3 million, Spain grossed $3.8 million and Brazil made $3.8 million. In its fourth weekend it placed fourth place with an estimated $5.6 million from 24 territories. Its best market was a second-place start in France.
The film has come to gross $80.2 million in the United States and Canada and $84.6 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $164.8 million. Saw III has the highest-grossing weekend in the series and also holds the records of highest-grossing in the international market and is the second highest-grossing film in the series worldwide. It is also Lionsgate's fifth highest-grossing film in the United States and Canada.
The film was not screened in advance for critics. The film received mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 28% of 87 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 4.2 out of 10. The Rotten Tomatoes consensus states: "Saw III does little beyond repeating its predecessor's tropes on a gorier level." Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 48 based on 16 reviews. CinemaScore polls reported that the average grade moviegoers gave the film was a "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Variety's Robert Koehler gave the film a mixed review. He criticized the use of several flashbacks in the film, saying that it "[...] hinder[ed] the movie, ratcheting down its tension and pace". He explained, "A bigger problem lies with Leigh Whannell's script, which utilizes so many flashbacks and explanatory inserts that the tension, a defining feature of the first Saw, is lost". He praised Smith's performance and called MacFadyen's performance "a strong, almost silent performance that conveys a pained father's dark night of the soul", and Soomekh as "reasonably convincing as the surgeon". Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel gave it two out of five stars, criticizing the plot and acting.
The San Francisco Chronicle's Peter Hartlaub gave the film a negative review. He said, "It doesn't go much of anywhere until the infuriating last 10 minutes, when everything is sort of tied together while still producing more unanswered questions. The movie seems at times to be told in random order, often with flashbacks, and the closest thing to a plot is a weak story about the father who keeps confronting the people responsible for his son's drunken-driving death". He pointed out the lack of realism in the script, saying "One incredibly large and intricate torture device in this movie couldn't have been made without four or five subcontractors, but we're supposed to believe a mentally unbalanced ex-junkie who weighs 100 pounds put it together in, at most, a few months". Michael Ordoña of the Los Angeles Times said that "More gore is really all Saw III has to offer", saying that "the first few minutes cram in more graphic brutality than you can shake a bloody, pointed stick at". He listed other problems being "flat dialogue, uninvolving characters and a creeping sameness in the no-brain- required puzzles". He concluded his review saying, "Bottom line, those in the Saw factory know their audience and have brought along the appropriate buckets and bibs. Even devotees, however, may note pacing problems and tire of Jigsaw's selective omnipotence (he can acquire copious amounts of deadly nerve agent but not a bottle of Ativan?). Those who see Saw III are in for ups and downs".
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "C". Randy Cordova of The Arizona Republic gave it a negative review saying, "Saw III is devoid of any suspense or terror or common sense. It's simply an exercise in gore. And really, if that's all the filmmakers have up their sleeve, why bother with a plot? Just show one grisly makeup effect after another and you'd create the same sensory experience". Empire's Kim Newman gave the film two out of five stars. He said the acting was "surprisingly good" but criticized the script and torture devices, calling it "more contrived, and thus less effective". He ended his review saying, "It requires a stretch of the imagination too far, but there's still plenty of gore and tricksy murders here".
Saw III was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Horror Film, but lost to The Descent. It was also nominated as the "Choice Movie: Horror/Thriller" at the Teen Choice Awards, but lost to Disturbia. Bell was nominated for a MTV Movie Award for Best Villain. He lost to Jack Nicholson for his role in The Departed.