Among all three of these pieces, I was dreading rewatching these ones the most, one of these is awful short of an ending, one is a barely connected spinoff led by a comedian, and the other is, well actually, I can’t say anything super negative about Jigsaw other than it creates a really funny continuity problem.
Again I need to reiterate, these are not traditional reviews, I’m more than aware these movies are not good, this is intended to serve as a focusing lens to discuss the series, and of course with spoilers included. And now, I’d like to play this game with you all.
Movie 1: Saw VII 3D: The Final Chapter (2010)
Potentially the worst this series has ever or will ever offer, it’s just so mean-spirited and visually incoherent that it just hurts to get through. We continue from the end of the last film, like most every entry prior, now with Hoffman with a vendetta against Jill Tuck for her initiating John’s test against him, and the introduction of professional wool puller, Bobby Dagan and his entourage who convinced millions he survived a trap when in fact he never was in one. This also features the return of Dr. Lawrence Gordon, again played by the impeccable Cary Elwes for all 2 minutes of screen time he has here. A minor tangent but this is important, in the other entries in the original saga when an “innocent” was involved in a trap it was to teach who was being tested a lesson or to choose who lives and who dies, stuff like that, like for example most everyone in the third movie, or a lot of the traps in 6.
That’s important because here, Dagan’s entire trap is built around rescuing his wife… who Jigsaw captured(which based on a scene early on and at the end of the movie, you can figure out who the mastermind is for this game) and essentially says if he fails to save her with his own lie, then he’ll roast her alive, which why? That’s not how the MO worked in any prior case like this, it feels unnecessarily cruel, involving his publicist, his lawyer, and his friend as speak no evil, see no evil, and hear no evil I get, but involving the wife is a step too far. Beyond all that, this movie abandons all pretence about Jigsaw and those who bear it existing to punish the wicked and give people back the survival instinct as here Hoff becomes a serial killer, I mean not just with traps but with machine gun turrets, knives (he’s very fond of those), and even snapping necks, it’s a whole different kind of schlock that feels completely at odds with what this series is known for and good at both.
Saw-Trospective Part I: Saw-Trospective Part I: Kramer Trilogy Review (‘Saw’, ‘Saw II’, ‘Saw III’)
After the failure of Dagan and the death of Jill, Hoffman retires into the night only to be ambushed by more pigheads… the leader of which is revealed to be Dr Lawrence Gordon who was nursed back to health by Kramer and has been his secret and most loyal subject all this time, ending the movie and this era of the series by leaving Hoffman back where it all began but without the very chance he had all those years ago. As a bookend to the legacy of John Kramer, this falls really flat, it feels like a completely different series at points, with the exception of the Skinhead garage traps (featuring a cameo from Linkin Park frontman, Chester Bennington) but even that’s mucked up by it being a massive ruse to do a body swap to get to the cops. This is far and away the worst Saw movie and I’d be shocked if any future movie makes reference to any of this beyond a passing allusion.
Movie 2: Jigsaw (2017)
After a seven-year hiatus, the franchise is back on the grind, this time finally updating its visuals to HD, and the pristine look really suits the series, it’s a much-welcome addition. Although with the fresh coat of paint, also comes the absence of some of the charm and almost amateur attitude of the prior entries, most prominent of all is the frenetic editing is absent entirely. That’s not to say that nothing in this movie works, if anything a lot more works in this one than a lot of its predecessors, and it’s because it’s played safe and risky in the right ways, specifically with the timeline. The timeline in the Saw movies has always been a headache to handle, from when Jigsaw got a first apprentice, to who it was, to when his first game was, and as this movie asks…when flat screens were invented.
In layman’s terms, the movie’s setting is a ruse, an illusion, it’s actually set sometime before the other games while it misleads the audience into believing the trap-centric story and the police-centric story are happening concurrently through clever editing and similar bodies being found, which in and of itself is actually a subtle nod to what Saw II did with the nerve gas house being two days off the feed given to Kramer’s hideout. All that aside, in a lot of discourse I’ve personally seen surrounding this movie, it’s always brought up that this reveal doesn’t work because flat screens weren’t in the other Saw movies. Which I suppose fair point, but also, who said they’re flat screens, they could just as easily be a monitor display or something else that John Kramer rigged up, knows the dude made all kinds of engineering and chemical marvels, maybe he also figured out the logistics of flat screens before they were commercially viable, I don’t know, suspension of disbelief goes a long way with helping create dramatic reveals.
Saw-Trospective Part II: Saw-Trospective Part II: Successor Trilogy Review (‘Saw IV’, ‘Saw V’, ‘Saw VI’)
Digital displays notwithstanding, this is pretty solid, we have one of our more sympathetic lead characters, and as the trend goes, they either are a dirtbag lead and they die horribly, they’re a good lead and they die tragic, or they’re an apprentice, and take a wild guess which one the ex-marine doctor that lost his wife to the failures of the criminal justice system and made a mistake that nearly destroyed John Kramer’s life falls under. Yes, Logan Nelson is the first in the timeline and the latest in release order to be under John Kramer’s tutelage, and while he doesn’t come up with more than one trap of his own this time, good lord is it’s one for the ages, he’s also the first apprentice to intentionally design traps without even a possibility of escape, fully accepting what he is without lie. This is alright? It’s not anywhere near as bad as Final Chapter but it doesn’t live up to the highs of the first two or even VI, it’s decent leaning towards the better end, I just wish it had more connective tissue to everything else.
Movie 3: Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)
Aside from a killer using traps and mentioning Kramer a couple of times, this is so loosely connected it might as well be another series entirely, counting it as number nine is a stretch at best, but spinoffs are good enough to get us to a movie with X in the title. If I had a nickel for every 2023 release in a major franchise with X in the title, I’d have two nickels, which isn’t a lot but it’s weird that it happened twice. Did that joke feel entirely out of place? Then you just got a small taste of what listening to Chris Rock’s rejected stand-up routines that he runs every minute or two in Spiral feels like compared to the much more focused movie happening in the background of him cracking himself up. The traps this time feel like there wasn’t a ton of effort put into them because “this character isn’t an architect”, I mean there’s an easy workaround for that, and it was in your last movie.
In Jigsaw, through El we see that there are whole fansites up for Kramer in the modern day where people sell copies of his plans and any schmuck could feasibly recreate them, boom a great setup and it would allow for some fan service to showcase old favorites as well as open a mystery box with some traps that haven’t been seen yet, setting up more games we haven’t seen just yet with John. Much like in Saw VI, this one tries to tackle a real-world issue, in this case, police reform, except while Saw VI was built around karmic justice in a shady industry at a confusing time, this is…not that.
So the main villain to nobody’s surprise is a cop, one who as a boy saw his family die to a cop committing murder on someone who was gonna testify against a corrupt cop, and then he decides, hey you know what, me a guy with no association to John Kramer, Mark Hoffman, Amanda Young, Logan Nelson, or Lawrence Gordon am going to repurpose what this serial psychopath did, and take his signature spiral of change and use it for the noble cause of police reform by killing exclusively corrupt cops, which Det. Finch, that’s Chris Rock, his dad the former chief, played by a criminally underutilized Samuel L. Jackson, allowed to run rampant.
The idea of a Saw movie about a Jigsaw copycat inspired by the legacy, one without the blessing of any of the other predecessors has promise, I’ll even say, with the right team it has potential for sure, but this is so blasé, there’s nothing interesting about Finch, half of what he yells are bad jokes, the other half is about how good and awesome he is and how everyone else is bad, there’s nothing interesting about William, it’s like if you took the worst elements of Jigsaw’s hypocrisy and then decided, hey you know what he needs, a movement to stand behind of genuine progressive intent, that’ll make that cause look sane and rational.
It’s hard to say which is worse for me, this or Final Chapter, but this is more frustrating that’s for sure, for all its flaws and its mean-spiritedness at points, it was still a Saw movie, this is not a Saw movie by any stretch of the imagination.
These movies are a hard nut to crack, not just these three, but all nine, some are really fun, some are a slog, some are brilliant and some are completely insane, some vindicate Jigsaw and some villainize him. In a weird way, I think that makes the good ones more special. For a lot of horror series, hell not just horror series but series of all types, the quality is pretty consistent one way or the other until a drop-off point, but with Saw?
Some early ones are really bad, and some later ones are really good, and they don’t seem to care which is which as long as they entertain you with an over-the-top story with the subtlety of a brick to the face, and in a way, I love them for every ounce of that madness. These movies know exactly what they are, and I love them for it, hell the whole reason I did this series and revisited these movies for the first time was because I was just so excited for the soon-to-be-released Saw X which is so far getting amazing reviews comparative to the rest of the series promising the return of John and Amanda together on a crusade of John getting revenge for being cheated in a story that much like the series’ best looks equal parts cathartic and cruel.
I hope we keep getting these movies at a somewhat consistent rate, and in a weird way, I don’t want anything consistent from the Saw series, jump the quality all around, make another video game, do a whole new genre, keep putting that proverbial slice of bread in with the batch of cookies that is this series so it keeps staying fresh forever, chaos is beautiful and maybe that’s what I took from this. There’s beauty in the predictably unpredictable, you just have to appreciate it as it comes to you and hope for the best.