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The first Saw movie was a surprise hit. The (then) up-and-comers filmmakers took a budget of around a million and brought back an excess of 100 of millions in returns. They went on to do great things with both working on the Insidious franchise, while James Wan making the Conjuring movies as well as Fast and Furious 7 and Aquaman, and Leigh Whannell directing Insidious 3, Upgrade, and the Invincible Man, alongside a number of producing and writing credits for both creators. Did Saw see the same rise in quality and success as its creators? With Spiral being the 9th movie in the franchise, I wanted to go back and see all the entries to have a fresh perspective and opinion on them, and see how the newest fares; will it repeat the mistakes of the past, learn from its successes, or will it also fail miserably? Live or Die Spiral, the choice is yours.
- Saw (2004). In a twist as original as the first Saw, I’m going to start a ranking list on the internet from number 1; it lines up better this way as most of what you need to know happens in the first movies and they are the best ones, so this lines up better! Directed by James Wan, written by Wan and Leigh Whannell, starring Cary Elwes and Whannell, amongst others, Saw was an overnight sensation in 2004; in 2021, you can tell how tight the budget was, how raw the talent was, but it still holds up as a good psychological-horror flick. You can see the motionless cars stuck in a studio, you can see Whannell isn’t really an actor, you can feel the pace slowly dragging its feet; at the same time, the high-speed editing not only masks the cars but also the lack of gory effects (compared to the sequels) and utilizes its cast far better as they have to convey their pain rather than it being shown. Point being that where the movie faulters is not necessarily wholly bad; there is a “DIY” charm to the movie, to Whannell’s performance, which do not excuse its faults but certainly make them less impactful. The pacing is also a byproduct of the raw talent; give Wan and Whannell of today the same script and I think those issues won’t resurface, but Saw (2004) is a poorly-paced movie and only gets worst on repeat viewings. Regardless, once that iconic music starts playing at the ending and the visuals click just right, it still raises the hair on my arm after a dozen viewings and that is the mark of a great crew and cast, but also of a great movie.
- Saw 2. Given the success of the first Saw, a sequel was a sure thing, but coming in just a year later meant a lot of the production was rushed to strike while the iron was hot. This was visible from back then, but it also became quite clear what the studio wanted to focus on; torture and Jigsaw. Saw 2 is not the franchise’s first true “torture porn” title, but it does take the mantra of “sequels being more and bigger of what you liked” to all aspects. The “trap” is less about chaining two people together and testing their psyche; now its more about throwing a drug dealer into a pile of needles as “poetic justice”. Despite that, it never gets gnarly or mean-spirited as some of the other titles and it follows the first movie remarkably well; its not as fresh as the original, but instead of that you get a well-executed mystery with tons of thrills and “edge-of-your-seat” moments. What it can’t replace though is the charm and “DIY” feel of the first. This doesn’t feel like a significantly increase in budget (even though it went from a million to 4), because even quadrupling the budget is still low budget and the ways it works around that are basically the same as the first, so that novelty now missing, it just makes the movie less exciting to watch.
- Saw 3. Out of all the movies in the Saw franchise, Saw 3 was my biggest surprise. I remembered feeling that this is the movie that cemented Saw’s place as the undisputed ‘Gross King’ in the horror world and I was not happy about that. 2021 comes along and I forget most things Saw-related, so I watch Saw 3 with a fresh perspective. It’s not great, but Leigh Whannell (who was a writer on all 3 so far) and returning James Wan, clearly had a worthwhile concept, while series veteran Darren Lynn Bousman (who directed 2 as well, and a few others down the line) was more into that aspect than the gore and the traps; however, the thing that put Saw on the map was Jigsaw and his traps, so that follows this movie more so than any other because it is the one with an emotional core that cannot be if the gore and traps prevail. On the one hand, it is a movie about learning to let go of your father-figure and dealing with those emotions; on the other, this is a movie where a naked lady gets frozen to death. It is a complex rollercoaster of emotion, information, and red herrings that lead to a great twist ending; it is also about someone nearly drowning in pig waste. I can tell Whannell, Wan, and Bousman cared about this movie, but the contrast and the damage it does, cannot be undone. Saw 3 is mediocre, but at its best could have been a great movie; then again at its worst, it would have been an earlier grave for a franchise whose next entries made me question my own sanity on why I keep watching these freaking movies.
- Saw 3D: The last chapter. Unfortunately, I can’t illustrate with this list how big of a shift and how massive of a downgrade the following movies in the franchise got. I can only say this: Saw 7 is 4th, because it was so stupid and somewhat different than the rest, I at least found that entertaining. After powering through some of the worst horror movies, Saw 3D offers a new stylized look and a new take on the infamous twists of the franchise. The look is far more cartoonish and the twists are some of the dumbest I’ve ever seen, but they spent so little time on them that you get the feeling that they agree with you; its not complicated, its just stupid and they move on faster than a speeding train. It doesn’t make the traps more tolerable or make up for the lack of anything genuinely scary, but its funny in a twisted way; like the opening trap that is about two men played by the same woman and she just swings back and forth in loving both, while a crowd watches and films them. It’s a premise that could have something to say, but instead its just unintentionally funny. This is where some of the trends that the previous movies started running with came to an end, but some stuck over so I’ll talk about those; Saw movies got really mean in the ways they portrayed their characters, their deaths, and their traps. It started as a showing of Jigsaw as a sadist, but it went into very personal and degrading territory, before it ended up as elaborate pranks. Overall, Saw 3D is a bad movie, but it is a step up from previous entries and it is funny with certain outrageous decisions, so that is why I at least had some fun with that one.
- Saw VI. For a whole week (and some change), I watched each night one of the Saw movies. I say this, because in the context of 6 following 4 and 5, I didn’t hate myself as much watching this entry as I did with the others. Saw VI is a terrible movie, but it is painless compared to what came before it; it has no originality, no real reason for existing as it ends exactly in the same state it starts, and it is as mean and gross as the rest of the Saw movies. In particular, one of the heinous sins the “second Saw trilogy” commits is how badly they want to tie everything together; Saw 3D at least was so silly it was funny, but this one feels like they went through all of the previous movies trying to find that one moment which will allow them to shoehorn this movie in that timeline and ‘connect the dots’. That felt gross and unnecessary, but then again that is how I would sum up most of the Saw sequels anyway.
- Saw IV. Going from Saw 3 to Saw IV is like going from a fancy restaurant to fast food. Saw IV has an interesting premise (which the franchise will reuse so much it isn’t anymore), it has some returning cast from previous entries, and it has Bousman back; it ended up being the franchise’s first true torture porn entry, an introduction to the new characters that are so stereotypical and uninteresting, I struggle to name one interesting thing about them. It starts as it means to go on; Kramer on an autopsy table where everything is shown in full gory detail just for the sake of gore. It is a stupid story with silly twists, none of the self-awareness it required to pull it off, none of the charm, while Jigsaw’s chilling display of sadism and sociopathy is now treated as a heroic backstory and this once menacing villain has become a vigilante with a cause. Above everything, Saw IV is boring; it moves slowly, gets bogged down on editing and marveling its traps, has chosen a path for the franchise that is extremely uninteresting and insane. All it has going for it, is that Tobin Bell is still around, and that its not as bad as Saw V.
- Saw V. Last in the “mainline” series and deservedly so, Saw V is not only the worst Saw movie, it might be one of the worst experiences I’ve had with a horror movie; at least IV chose gore and silliness over the story of the first trilogy, but V just lacks anything of interest. A cheap movie with no new ideas, no interesting (or unpredictable twists), no themes or tolerable writing, and no fun. It felt like a chore to get through and that brought its own can of worms; I noticed stuff I don’t care about, like how “solvable” all the traps were, how obvious the twist was. Furthermore, the last common sin all movies had is at its worst in Saw V; they spent so long trying to justify and rationalize their dumb, serial killer, soap-opera that it just gets boring and frustrating to even remember what happened and why are they showing the 3rd movie again. I was too upset and bored to even care about the story, but even in that state it was easy to see through the bs.
Thankfully the “mainline” Saw movies are done and now we can move to greener pastures with a…reboot and a spin off? This will be fun, so check back in a few days!