Week 2: Month of monsters

By Chris Withers
Week 2: The Saw Franchise

Movie poster for Saw (Photo by Nicole Rollo)

(Read following in Jigsaw voice)
Hello reader, I want to play a game. Many of you consider my films to be completely without merit, claiming them under the “torture porn” label. Lumping them in with “Hostel” or “Turistas.” You ignore a film series based on broad assumptions, yet you act as if you still have a right to claim them as “bad,” despite not seeing them. But those of you who blindly follow my films are just as bad, believing all of the films to be great simply because of the traps and not looking at the story or the characters. Today all of you will learn the true meaning of the “Saw” films. Now I’m going to hand back control of this review to my homie CW, word.
(End Jigsaw voice)
Well thanks Jiggy; anyways this week we are looking at all seven “Saw” films. So as before I’ll be giving out awards for the Best, Worst, Scariest, Least fun, and Most fun “Saw” films. For those of you counting, these are films 5-11.
Two people wake up in an abandoned bathroom trapped by the serial killer Jigsaw and told to kill the other man in order to ensure their survival.
“Saw” and its sequel, “Saw II,” are the frequently referenced “good ones” of the “Saw” series. Looking back on the first film it isn’t hard to see why – its incredibly low budget is hidden well through a fantastic new style of direction. Utilizing quick cuts, spin shots, and fast-forwards, the direction makes you feel the disorientation that the characters in the traps must feel. Overall the story is also very good, small and character-focused; it’s an intimate look at two people who are more connected than they think, and being forced to kill one another.
“Saw II”
A group of eight people are trapped in a house by Jigsaw. Poison is being pumped through the house and each must find an antidote by completing a trap set by Jigsaw.
The sequel to “Saw” adheres to the “bigger is better” school of horror sequels. This isn’t to say that the film is bad, by any stretch, but it certainly doesn’t have nearly the amazing script of the first. The traps are the real stars here and on that level the film is great. The traps are less focused on blood and elaborate set-up and more focused on skin-crawling scares and plausibility. The infamous “needle trap” is easily the scariest moment in the franchise and for good reason; it’s a pain that the audience can understand. Overall the film has some great scares, and while the script is uneven it’s still pretty good.
“Saw III”
Jigsaw is dying, and so to slow his death he’s kidnapped a surgeon to operate on him. In the realm of his traps he’s kidnapped a man who lost his son and now has given him control over the lives of the ones responsible for his son’s death and the killer’s light sentencing.
I know several people like this movie, but I’m not one of them. Part of the problem is the film’s length; the previous two movies were only one hour and 40 minutes, and 90 minutes, respectively. “Saw III” is two hours, and it feels like it. Part of that seems to be that originally this was meant to wrap up the story of the previous films, which is the other big problem – it doesn’t. Several scenes are clearly meant for sequel bait, multiple scenes have no purpose beyond this, and it ends on sequel bait anyway! The actual trap plot is better than “Saw II”’s, but that isn’t saying too much. It’s still really rushed and doesn’t have a whole lot of surprises.
“Saw IV”
Detective Hoffman, one of the detectives on the Jigsaw case, is captured and put into a game with two others. His friend and partner, Detective Riggs, is put through a game to think like Jigsaw thinks. Also Agent Strahm does things that won’t matter until the next movie anyway!
This movie tries too hard. While watching “Saw IV” that was the only criticism running through my head, but it applies to everything. The gore scenes are really over the top, the twist is confusing, and the cinematography apes the original, just swapping the color from green to red. It doesn’t help that the film is very boring and the twist is far too easy to guess.
“But wait,” I hear you cry. “Didn’t you say that the twist is confusing, how can it be easy to guess and confusing?” Well, because the overall twist is confusing, and the trap twist is really easy to guess and stupid. The film suffers from not being its own movie; most of the plot is essentially just a lead-into “Saw V,” so nothing much of actual importance happens, causing the film to have to pump up the gore to keep the audience entertained.
“Saw V”
Hoffman is now the only one in contention for Jigsaw’s legacy and he has to tie up all the loose ends. Also, a stupidly-easy-to-figure-out trap is involved.
This movie is stupid and pretentious. The word pretentious is supposed to apply to something that essentially thinks it’s smarter than it is, which describes this movie a lot. The plot of the FBI agents is repeated ad nauseum from the twist at the end of IV, and the film’s pacing suffers as a result. The film really is a bad Part II, moving the plot of the Part I ahead slightly but really has no conclusion of its own, seeing as how most of the major plot points have to be resolved in the Part III. The trap segments in this one are also the weakest of the entire series, and it’s painfully obvious what the twist is; you end up being mad at the characters for not figuring it out.
“Saw VI”
The saga of Detective Hoffman continues as a new challenger for Jigsaw’s throne appears. And because political commentary is always smart, let’s take a violent stab at the American health-care system, eh?
This is my favorite “Saw” film. One of the reasons for that is the change in director. Kevin Greutert, one of the head editors of the previous films, is now director and he has a more subdued style and sensibility. He uses the quick cuts and rapid editing style of the previous films very little, preferring instead to use slow, deliberate camera motions. This creates a very different sense of tension in the film. Whereas the previous films were edited in such a way that they made you feel like you were the person in the trap, giving you more of a voyeuristic feel, this – coupled with the much simpler trap design – makes for a more plausible and enjoyable film. With the exception of the ending, which falls all too familiarly into the Saw III, IV, and V traps of being too silly to take seriously. The last trap should have been a critical moment in the film; it really is an emotionally devastating moment that explores the main character’s sins in a truly horrifying light. It’s also pretty damn grim; it starts to lead you to believe that the main character will be forgiven but ends the opposite way, truly leaving on a dark tone. But the trap itself is hilariously gory and thus is almost impossible to take seriously.
“Saw VII”
The battle for Jigsaw’s legacy continues with a three-part twist ending, which makes even less sense as an ending to the franchise than the end of “Saw III.” Get ready for some insane amounts of stupid in the epic conclusion to the “Saw” franchise.
When I first saw this movie – in the theater, on opening day, in 3D – I was disappointed. The very first “Saw” film that I saw was VI, which I already admitted was my favorite of the franchise. That film also had a great twist in the end that really seemed like it would set up for a great film, and Kevin Greutert was returning as director.
But there are two simple reasons why the film doesn’t work: the traps. One of my favorite parts about VI was the traps. I thought that the traps in VI were plausible, and not too difficult to get interested in. VII, on the other hand, goes for big, bombastic and criminally stupid traps. If you wanted gore then this was probably your favorite “Saw,” as the gore is ramped up considerably, reaching “Saw IV” levels of the sticky red stuff. But Greutert’s directing style isn’t suited to gore; it’s slow and deliberate, much more suited to something focused more on skin crawls then full-blown gore effects. Some of the traps, particularly in Bobby’s game, do have a skin-crawling effect, but others just seemed boring, or too explosive.
The other big problem is the plot. The story of “Saw VII” was actually supposed to be two movies, but was meshed into one after the disappointing box-office take of “Saw VI.” This is both a blessing and a curse. The story clearly wasn’t big enough to fit two whole movies but at the same time it introduces several characters we either forgot existed or haven’t existed up until now, and acts like we’ve always known them. This makes the story incredibly painful to follow as it does have the seeds of a grand operatic finale, just with the entire second act of the plot missing.
Awards for week 2
Best Overall: “Saw VI” This is my favorite for a reason. While above I rambled on for quite a while about the stylistic choices and direction, I didn’t even begin to explain what I like about the film. The story does feature an attack against the health-care system, but it does it very well. The film makes several legitimate points against it but at the same time does make sure to depict many of the people working for the main character as human beings with families, and who are probably nice people.
Worst Overall: “Saw IV” Bad cinematography coupled with overdesigned traps and mediocre writing, the worst possible combination of terrible laziness and trying too hard. Originally this award was going to go to “Saw III,” which was boring as tar but I eventually realized that “Saw IV” is the worse film. The third film may be boring but it doesn’t botch its narrative nearly as badly as the fourth does.
Scariest: “Saw” There is a reason that this is remembered over the other films. It’s got a unique directorial style, great acting, and a brilliantly simple main trap. The simplicity of the film is what causes it to be so scary, something a lot of modern horror films could relearn.
Least Entertaining: “Saw V” A huge pile of plot dump. Not even necessary plot dump since most of the film is fairly simplistic, and after figuring out that Hoffman was the second apprentice most audiences understood everything that had happened previously.
Most Entertaining: “Saw VII” I can’t even believe I’m saying this. Seriously I may just have lost my damn mind. I hated this movie when I saw it in theaters, but rewatching it I laughed my ass off. The story is clearly a takedown of self-help gurus – a very blatant parody of them, in fact. That’s actually part of what makes it so enjoyable. It’s a terrible movie, that cannot be argued, but it’s enjoyably bad, the twist upon twist upon twist ending, the straw-man main character, and Cary Elwes insanely entertaining performance. Overall the film really is a barrel of laughs and sickening groans that does legitimately entertain. If you’re looking for a ‘so bad its good’ movie in the Saw franchise, this is your movie.