All Saw Films (2004-2010) Reviewed

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As part of 2014 and for the 10th anniversary of the release of
I will be reviewing a different Saw film every night leading up to the sacred night itself

Lets start at the beginning but be warned there will probably be spoilers

Saw SawBloodDrive Saw (2004)

Most people are so ungrateful to be alive,
but not you,
not any more

 

Directed by James Wan and Starring Cary Elwes, Tobin Bell, Danny Glover and Monica Potter

A man wakes up in a bath, confused and in a strange place when he realises he isn’t alone. With him is Dr. Gordon (played by the wonderful Cary Elwes) and both men are chained by the ankle in a dingy disgusting bathroom.

They each find a microcassette on them and must piece together why they are there, who put them there and how to escape.

Until this review I had only seen this film once when it first came out and I loved it. I remember it being tense, gory, full of twist throughout and that ending! What a reveal!
Saw looked great with lots of atmosphere with a very good story that could handle the twist and turns it contained plus the cast.
What a great cast.
Every single actor was perfectly picked for the role they played. Though Danny Glover might be a bit type cast as a detective it’s a role he plays well and Monica Potter doesn’t have much to work with but she makes the most out of her role as Dr. Gordon’s wife then there is Dr. Gordon himself.

He is the star of this film not Jigsaw nor the traps. This film is carried by Cary (no pun intended) Elwes performance and by the end of this film when he’s driven to desperation I found it believable and could almost feel him cutting through his flesh at the same time. This is a film that is all about building to the ending and here it succeeds in a satisfying way after all the traps and gore and suspense.

Now that was 10 years ago so how does it fare on a second viewing? Well it turns out there wasn’t that much blood and gore at all. Maybe the rush I had coming out of the cinema after watching this made my mind remember there being more than there actually was or it could be the rest of the saw films don’t hold back so I assumed the first one didn’t either but I could be wrong about them too so I’ll find out tomorrow if that’s the case.

It does cut away at those points like a lot of low budget horrors do and the foot-ectomy is mostly off screen. I did watch the unrated version but even then there is only about 30 seconds of added footage and most of that is reworked scenes. This really isn’t an issue as the story and performances are strong but don’t expect it to be full of people in traps desperately trying to escape before dying in a bloody mess. Saw is to me more of a suspense story based around one trap and two peoples desperate struggle to find some way to escape on their terms.

The shock ending is still as effective and this shows the talent of everyone involved from writer onwards. A very decent film worth another watch

Saw 2

SawIIBloodDriveSaw II (2005)

I want to play a game

 

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and starring  Shawnee Smith, Tobin Bell, Donnie Wahlberg, Franky G and Dina Meyer

Starting with a man in a trap you immediately get that sequel feel. The one where a follow up to a well made, original and entertaining film doesn’t feel quite the same. Sequels usually are BIGGER, BOLDER, BAdDER with more explosions and a larger budget but lacking the care from the filmmakers that made the original a classic.

What you notice at the start is the quick edits. Yes they were there in the original but the original also would use slow motion to great effect; instead here that’s gone and it looks more like a late 90’s MTV music video.
Also in the first few minutes the gore is upped and this is the film which you could argue gave the Saw series it’s tag of being part of the “torture porn” (itself more of a misnomer used to vilify films labelled with it by people who either don’t watch horror or seem to have never seen a horror film from the 70’s and early 80’s) genre where the emphasis switches from being a more character driven thriller to shock value through violent scenes.
They are mostly practical effects than CGI so a thumbs up from me.

The story isn’t a patch on the original yet feels like it is trying to replicate the twist and tension from the first but in a sloppy sequel way. The biggest problem with the story is that it is lazy most noticeably in its characters. Lazy and clichéd and the same one dimensional tropes we are more than accustomed with.
You have the muscle bound, to the point of looking deformed, drug dealer who has no redeeming qualities and handles every situation the same way, brute blunt force.
We have the attractive but obviously will do anything for a hit junkie who’s only skill is how selfish she can be.
Then there is the black former junkiedrug dealergang memberconvict, and you can delete as necessary as it isn’t explained what his past discretions were, but is now the calm, wise father figureleader that has been seen a hundred times before.
There is the out of place average miss america who doesn’t appear to be a drug taker or a criminal in anyway unless I missed something and in fact is quite forgettable.
We have the supposedly flawed anti-hero of this film Detective Eric Matthews who is divorced, and I guess has a stereotypical nasty ex-wife bleeding him dry as shown by the run down flat he now lives in, and struggling with his son who hates him so must’ve been poisoned against him by his ex-wife because all the flashbacks show him having a great relationship with his son in quite recent times so that has to be the only explanation. All this could’ve been done differently or even just better but it seems as if we need everyone involved to be part of grimy America
He is supposed to be a cop who doesn’t care about his job despite his workload or the fact he turns down a case but then makes a break on it in his sleep and without reservation puts himself on the taskforce to try to solve it.
There is the fellow cop he had an affair with who I think wants to help him but does this by putdowns. I know that always helps me
He also is supposed to be a dodgy cop planting evidence but this just doesn’t come across to me as something he would do, even though he does, as he doesn’t seem like this villain everyone in the film portrays him as and to be honest after watching the people trapped you would want someone to plant evidence to get these pathetic individuals off the street.

It’s all very lazy and seen it before and trying to replicate the formula that made the original so good.

So it doesn’t work? Well no, I enjoyed it.
Yes the characters are the equivalent of a well worn tread and it tries too hard to be the original whilst upping the ante with the blood and gore to the point it almost becomes unrecognisable compared to the original but there still is that Saw feel.
Jigsaw is intimidating probably because he knows how much power he holds despite his frail state and after his fantastic reveal at the end of Saw everyone wanted more of him so this could’ve been one area the film could have messed up but they gave us a Jigsaw no-one expected but needed

The deaths are nice and it will really make you cringe in places. The needle pit is a prime example. The end builds very quickly and steadily in pace and tension leaving a decent conclusion which will become the staple of all the Saw films that are my favourite aspect of the series. The build up and pay-off are always satisfying; then there is the best reason to watch this film…

Shawnee Smith as Amanda. Only teased in the first film (and if you believe certain headlines the star of The Blob remake isn’t or wasn’t a horror fan) here she gets a bigger and deserved part. The needle pit is a fine example and probably the best scene in the film. A great performance and great twist.

I do find it to be a bit of a contradiction that Jigsaw punishes those who don’t value life or hurt others but then takes a young boy not so he can appreciate life as he clearly does but as a tool to punish his father. For me that is a bit out of odds with what Jigsaw is about and makes Jigsaw as bad as those he test as the boy could’ve easily been killed at several points in the film.

All in all I do like it despite my complaints and would recommend it

Saw 3

SawIIIBloodDrive(1)Saw III (2006)

Hello, America.
Do you wanna play a game?

 

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and starring  Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Dina Meyer, and Donnie Wahlberg

Now following the formula set by the second film which is lots of traps, lots of juicy deaths and gore and lots of twist the third outing seems to learn a few lessons from the mistakes of the previous film.

This isn’t just quick edits and bad pacing with a generic characters all thrown together. Much more care seems to have gone into every aspect of this film and it feels better made. The traps might be more elaborate and far fetched but I didn’t mind as this is was why I watch these films.

It doesn’t feel like they are trying to rush through the film to get to the pay off like it did with the second and the story is more involving with a lot of focus on Amanada this time and she is a mess.
Petty and insecure; everything in Saw 2 and 3 is really a test for her not the subjects and she fails miserably. Unable to control herself for too long we don’t see a changed woman like we were led to believe instead we get a woman who finally has a bit of power over others and is consumed by it.
We see the old junkie Amanda from her past and I like this.

Most films would have a character have a massive transformation almost ignoring the screw ups they were in the past so it is a nice change. She hasn’t learned anything like most of the subjects and like most of the subjects she ends up paying dearly for that inability to change.

That is the game and no-one is above the rules.

I, like a lot of people wondered how they would continue the franchise when Saw 4 was announced after they had killed off the two main characters and was even more confused when I read that both Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith were coming back but for a series that plays on surprising you this is what we have come to expect from the filmmakers.

Did they manage to pull it off?
Well we’ll have to see in tomorrows review but for now I really enjoyed this.

A massive step up from Saw 2 in my view.

Saw 4

SawIVBloodDriveSaw IV (2007)

Subject’s name is John Kramer.
52 year old male; Caucasian.
He’s seen better days

 

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and starring Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Lyriq Bent, Justin Louis, and Donnie Wahlberg.

You’ve killed off your killers so how do you continue the franchise? Well in any other genre you’d struggle but this is horror so it’s easy, something supernatural maybe? or was it really the killers mum all this time?

Well lets see how Saw deals with this.
We know there is no supernatural element in this series so we can rule that out and it definitely isn’t his mum in disguise so maybe the first 10 minutes will make it all become clear. After the standard first trap to whet our appetite we see the dead body of Jigsaw at the coroners and as they start the autopsy they cut out his brain…

Well he’s dead. No coming back from that.

What we get are another set of traps all focused on a policeman whose obsession makes him far to impatient and reckless that have been running at the same time as the traps from Saw 3. We are introduced to two FBI Agents (took their time getting involved in the Jigsaw murders) who join the Detective in charge and soon have to solve Jigsaws latest game. One of the agents Peter Strahm has a knack for seeing patterns and an almost uncanny ability to work out what Jigsaw is thinking.

Having taken Jigsaws ex-wife into custody for questioning we see how they can bring Tobin Bell back and it is through her flashbacks. We now learn why John Kramer does what he does, his reasons and motivations and the events that cause him to spend his final years testing people.
I liked it. I found the flashbacks good at showing us Johns past and each flashback was nicely placed withing the film. I liked his backstory too. Johns attempt to get  Lieutenant Rigg to drop his obsession with trying to save everyone mirrors his own attempt to do the same.

Maybe John should’ve designed a trap for himself before he started testing other people and see if he would’ve passed.

The traps are getting more elaborate but that’s ok. That’s what we want and now he’s setting them in public places including a primary school and the effects (I did notice more CGI blood than I would’ve liked) are still top notch with some making you wince though probably not as much as the needle pit from Saw 2 plus Donnie Wahlbergs death is a joy to view.
Probably not as good as 3 but not by much and the twist at the end was probably the weakest of all the films so far yet with how John got started as Jigsaw explained you wont feel shortchanged on the story front.
At the end it does leave you with a few more questions unanswered than the previous films did but that is why we have Saw 5 coming next.

A slight dip in form over 3 but still worth watching. The films are starting to feel more linked together and I suspect that is because the writers are now looking ahead at a sequel when they write the screenplay and it does leave you wanting more.

Saw 5

SawVBloodDriveSaw V (2008)

Everybody deserves a chance!

 

Directed by David Hackl and starring Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Mark Rolston, Julie Benz, Carlo Rota, and Meagan Good.

Starting with a trap that is straight out of The Pit and the Pendulum and is beautifully filmed using lots of practical effects with maybe some CGI to tart things up a little, which is how it should be, the film is off to a flyer.
Picking up directly after Saw 4, while this is how Saw does things, since Saw 4 it has become clear that each film is now written with a sequel in mind so instead of there being a decent tie up of the last film now we get whole sub-plots that are continued. Not only that but revisiting earlier films like Saw 2 with new scenes involving original cast members that makes Saw probably the most closely woven together horror franchise if not franchise of any genre in cinema.

Now Detective Hoffman is being pursued by FBI Agent Strahm whom he believes correctly to have been working with Jigsaw. Through his investigations of Hoffman we get more flashbacks of Jigsaw and how he and Hoffman came to work together. We also see more of Jigsaws convictions which help give us more of an understanding of John Kramer after I felt in Saw 4 Jigsaw came across more obsessed rather than someone who believes in what he is doing.

Agent Strahm continues to show us his talent for piecing together puzzles and how quick on his feet he can think, as shown by how he gets out of one of Jigsaws traps, to how he can read people probably as well as Jigsaw himself can. There is one crucial flaw, his stubborn refusal to do anything Jigsaw tells him which gets him into trouble multiple times.
Here is a man who should be Jigsaws equal and like how the last film mirrored Jigsaws obsession with ‘helping save’ people by giving them a choice via Lieutenant Rigg and his obsession with saving everybody he can this film does the same for Strahm by putting 5 people in a room together who don’t like each other and have them pay for not working together by following Jigsaws advice, Agent Strahm pays for not doing the same by following Jigsaws advice and working with him to avoid falling into his traps in the first place.

One way the film does this in a nice way is by bluntly pointing out what we have known from the start that if you play the game and follow the rules you can win.
The viewer knows this so by the fifth film you would think with all the press Jigsaw gets that people who wake up in one off his traps would also be aware of this. Instead time and time again you get several people together and they immediately start fighting each other to selfishly save themselves.
As a viewer this gets frustrating so now we have 5 thrown in together and we are shown two people, with one in particular, all too aware of how the game is played.

Thank fucking god.

Of course he’s killed of by the team early on and it’s back to everyone for themselves.
Is it frustrating for the viewer to finally have someone who recognises the rules of the game only to be bumped off?

Well not really.
How would we feel if they all came together and escaped? It would be different and that’s not a bad thing but then we wouldn’t have the wonderful bickering and squabbling as well as the deaths but the real reason is the last trap would not have the same effect on the viewer.

This and he too starts to ignore the rules.
I love this trap and how it was filmed. It will make you wince.

Then at the last trap to be even less subtle the film has one of the characters point out, just in case anyone missed it, that they should’ve listened to Jigsaw and worked together so all could escape. Are you listening Agent Strahm? That one was for you.

Again this is a fantastic story with an excellent reveal at the end and nice practical effects and traps.

The characters are what the film needs them to be and the actors, with special mention to Carlo Rota as the sardonic personification of the frustrated viewer and the always great but under-appreciated Julie Benz (the sexy schoolgirl vampire from Buffy) as the cold unlikeable spinster who we actually warm to in the end. Despite her involvement in 8 innocent peoples deaths and the direct murder of, well, someone who is so very similar they could be the same person.
But this is movie land rules so we forgive people of things like that as soon as they do something nice …

And are attractive. Think about it. You are all guilty of that.

An improvement on part 4 but 4 was very good to start with. Still not as good as 3 though I doubt you will notice

Saw 6

SawVIBloodDrive(1)Saw VI (2009)

I’M NOT DYING FOR YOU, BITCH!

 

Directed by Kevin Greutert and starring Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Mark Rolston, Peter Outerbridge, and Shawnee Smith.

And we are almost at the end. Not far to go just one more game after this. Opening with a test we find two colleagues who must give up more of their flesh than their colleague to save themselves. This is a bit light-hearted and comical to me. Then we have the medical insurance company with every bad cliché about corporate America and its unscrupulous men in suits shoved in your face.

From the smarmy executive to his team of young upstarts that look for any error to cancel policies. This is starting to look as bad or even worse than Saw 2. 

Thankfully the film starts to find his feet and we are treated to more backstory involving John Kramer, Detective Mark Hoffman and the unstable, insecure Amanda makes a triumphant return.
Considering how much history is added to an established franchise and how most of the new characters are woven in as well it is amazing it doesn’t become too convoluted and is actually quite easy to follow but be warned there are a lot of flashbacks and backstory here.
I liked it but have read that some don’t.

So we learn that this is all John Kramers legacy and there is a limit to how many people will be tested. Have to say glad about this. It is a series that needs closure at some point given the amount of story and twist so far. We see some of the conflict amongst Johns group which just seems to keep growing in numbers. Makes sense given the frail state of John and how many traps we have seen so far.
Back in the present day Detective Hoffman has now taken over from John and is the new Jigsaw but as he hasn’t been tested himself does he truely understand the game? Coming across as more about the violence Detective Hoffman is a more hands on killer not afraid to resort to more traditional methods when the scene calls for it.

After setting up Agent Strahm as the new Jigsaw, Hoffman must keep the FBI who are now looking for the missing Agent on Strahms trail and away from suspecting him. Meanwhile the smarmy exec must make it through an abandoned zoo trying to save not only his co-workers but also his family.

The traps are nice and brutal but some seem to forget the original Jigsaws point which was that they can be solved so it is lucky for Hoffman that he can think on his feet.

A great high energy ending rounds of another good entry in this series.

Saw 3d

finalsaw3dposterstaticSaw VII (2010)

Game over

 

Directed by Kevin Greutert and starring  Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, with Sean Patrick Flanery, and Cary Elwes.

So we end with Saw VI or Saw 3D. The least liked and most reviled of all in the series.

I like it.

It opens with a trap this time in a public city centre where daily commuters and shoppers can see and here every gruesome little detail. This time the opening trap involves a love triangle, A woman has been cheating on two men and either they can fight for her affections and kill the other or leave her to her fate.

There are plenty of films where wronged women get revenge on the man who’s been playing them like John Tucker Must Die (2006) or The Other Woman (2014) so it’s good to see the genders reversed for once.
This scene does set the tone for the rest of the film as it is violent and in your face with no shame.

The Saw films along with the Hostel series are held up as examples of torture porn by detractors and even though “torture porn” is a misnomer we still understand what people mean when they use this pejorative and Saw 7 probably fits this tag.
Some of the scenes seem violent for violences sake but that doesn’t mean the effects aren’t fun to watch. The nightmare John Kramers wife has is a highlight for me as is the garage scene with Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington but now the purpose of these traps seem to be missing.

It no longer feels like Detective Hoffman is continuing the original Jigsaws work because he believes in the message but more for revenge or a need to indulge some dark violent lust within him. That said the original Jigsaw is long gone so do we want a cheap copy and if anything Hoffman shows that there really is only one true Jigsaw that cannot be replaced.

There is only a handful of flashback scenes involving John and I would liked to have seen Tobin Bell  a bit more but the film is more about Hoffmans revenge rather than Johns obsession with testing people and that is where probably peoples biggest complaint comes from, The film turns into a slasher.

The old fashioned killer being one step ahead of those chasing him and high body count the film feels like it loses its way and it probably does but this is the final (Ha, right) of the series so everything needs to come to a head and leave us with closure which is not something the Saw films are famous for. In fact the opposite is true with every film ending on a cliffhanger so a change of pace is needed.

Whether it works for you or not is entirely up to you and I can’t argue if it doesn’t work as I completely understand that this film feels too different from the rest. The quick cuts are almost gone and the music sounds a little off to me in places plus the green tint to the picture has been greatly reduced and little things like that do make a difference.

The subplot of someone lying about being a survivor to make money is interesting and the effects are very good but bringing fan favourite Cary Elwes back is what everyone wanted to see.
Like with Tobin Bell people have complained that Cary wasn’t in this film for long enough but I disagree with that as you want a resolution to the story that has been building since part 4 and having it be the Cary Elwes show would would probably lessen the impact of having him back besides if you want the Cary Elwes show there is always the original film.
Cary’s return gives us our final twist and a satisfying one for me that brings the series back full circle so that goes in the positive section for me.

Overly gory and without enough Tobin bell along with the move into slasher territory are too much for a lot of fans which I understand but I do like it, definitely more than part 2 but my only real gripe is that Shawnee Smith didn’t return.
I guess this is the Marmite chapter and for once I like Marmite.

 Conclusions

Overall a good series that will not appeal to everyone. Definitely unique in both style and content. It has a clear structure that it doesn’t not deviate from
Opening trap
Ongoing story told with flashbacks and present day mixed in
A subplot involving someone linked to Jigsaw or one of his accomplices past forced to outsmart traps involving people in their lives for extra motivation
Both the story and subplot running concurrently
The final reveal and twist to end the film
The way the film constantly switches between main story and subplot manages to keep my interest as there is a lot going on and in most films there are slow moments in the middle where we are treated to fluff to fill the running time or used to explain something important that can almost kill the pace of the movie but not here.
With a constant influx of new characters and new backstory along with killing off the main character in only the 3rd film I can’t think of any other series that has or could have handled these new elements as well as Saw has.

Revisiting these films was actually a pleasure and although I might not watch them again for 10 years, when I do it will be over the course of a week again as they need to be watched in order and as close together as possible to really get the full Saw effect…

…and to just follow what is going on from film to film