In case you didn't know it, through some feat of cryogenics or selective retention, Saw is celebrating it's tenth anniversary this year. With the original 2004 film returning to theaters tonight, and that hilarious Honest Trailer still fresh in our minds, we got to thinking about just how well the series held up in its seven film run. Which means it's our chance to turn the tables on Jigsaw and judge his works based on our own form of bias and vengeance. Seven movies, ten years, and only one column to judge it? Oh yes, there will be blood.
Let's start with the worst Saw film ever, working our way through the traps and into the light of the film that most dazzled us. If the producers of the Saw franchise are seriously planning a new film to continue/jump start the franchise, we sincerely hope they'll take the following evaluation as seriously as Jigsaw takes his reverse bear traps.
Saw: The Final Chapter
Positioned at the beginning of the 3D boom, Saw 3D (aka Saw: The Final Chapter) boasted a lot of in-your-face effects, but other than that the film is a strictly two dimensional affair. The producers knew it was their final go, so they compiled the stories for this and Saw VIII together into one forgettable narrative. It's also a total waste of bringing back Cary Elwes as Dr. Gordon, so that right there sends this film straight to Hell. Sure, the series was heading towards a logical fizzling out point, but that's no excuse to smash two films into one script and then throw us a pair of 3D spectacles, expecting us to eat it up.
Saw VI should be known as "the one where Jigsaw actually kills a man." That's right, instead of obeying his own core belief of giving someone a chance to survive, he builds a straight up death trap to force an insurance magnate to choose who lives and dies according to his rigged corporate policies. Did we mention that this was the same company that denied John Kramer's cancer treatments? Goodbye morality plays, hello killing for spite to make a message. With a rotten-to-the-core purpose, and too many apprentices for one sorcerer, Saw VI scared audiences into staying away from its sorry self, thus making it the lowest grossing Saw film, and with good purpose.
Saw IV is ridiculous, but earns points by showing us an interesting usage of Jigsaw's puzzles, particularly by leading the audience to think that they're secretly an initiation rite as opposed to just a standard haunted house of judgement. Of course, those points are nullified by basically dismissing the events at the end of Saw III, as well as weaving an even more convoluted web of continuity. Saw IV, in a nutshell, is more backstory and less actual story development. If only they'd made it a direct continuation to Saw III's intriguing teaser of a concept, they might have had a couple more good films in them.
While Saw V was the tipping point of the franchise's descent into madness, the reason it's valued higher than Saw IV is because it's the first movie that focuses on the disciple creating the traps. Rather than just focusing on the people inside of the puzzle, this novel look into the mind of a Jigsaw apprentice is the last breath of fresh air in the then-rapidly-staling series. To watch the cat and mouse pursuit between law enforcement and the villain was thrilling enough, but doing so through the eyes of the villain? In a Saw movie? With flashbacks that started to actually kinda make sense? It was all kinda brilliant, despite the series already taking a glide path into the dumps.
The original Saw, while innovative to a point, can be quite boring if you look at after all of the films that came after it. Still, the novelty of the film's story does give it points, and the ending was probably one of the best horror twists of its time. If it wasn't for Saw, we wouldn't have gotten the two better versions of the same story, so for that it gets a huge pass into the top rankings. Seeing Saw for the first time was like seeing horror films, for better or worse, getting a huge infusion of fresh blood.
Our runner up, Saw III, was the first time the series created a series of traps that not only secured the fate of the participant, but also dangled other lives in the precarious balance. Seeing someone gradually catch on to the game, and actually try (and fail) to save other lives adds drama to a series that could have used more of it. Plus, the possibility of the same participant running through another game had us intrigued... and summarily disappointed when it was all thrown away.
The best damned Saw movie, in the opinion of this ranking, is Saw II Why? Because it took the solid concept of confinement and co-operation from the first film, it used a participant outside of the game to teach another "lesson" through a second, concurrent game, and it was pretty killer to see a house of people trying to figure out how to save their collective hides. Think of it as a twisted Agatha Christie novel, with more blood and Donnie Wahlberg.
CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.
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