If the Chucky series was too humorous for watching on Halloween, then the Saw movies will certainly deliver bloody body horror in spades.
(USA 2004, director: James Wan)
Two men wake up trapped in a room and find themselves in a sick game of life and death initiated by the psychopath Jigsaw who makes his victims atone for their sins by overcoming his deadly contraptions.
It doesn’t happen very often that a horror movie defies expectations and creates something so special that it’s difficult to compare it to other titles of the genre. But Saw just does it by mixing thriller and gore elements in a way that it keeps the audience on its seat until the end with quite some gruesome scenes thrown in. Unlike so many other slasher or horror movies one doesn’t so much want to know the identity of the killer (the term of which also becomes questionable, as he gives his victims the chance to survive), but to know how everyone makes it out alive, while also trying to see the big picture of Jigsaw’s chess-like game. Learning about each characters’ backgrounds and how they’re connected is just as suspenseful and engaging as seeing how the two men try to find a way out of their prison. The gory sequences are quite effective, as even those who’ve seen their fair share of blood and guts will cringe at times.
Jigsaw himself is also a very memorable villain. These lines might serve as a perfect description of his character and attitude: “Yes officer, I’m sick. Sick from the disease eating away at me from the inside, sick of people who don’t appreciate their blessing, sick of those who scoff at the suffering of others. I’m sick of it all!” It’s not only imaginary language, but an interesting way to look at society and how everyone seems to have forgotten what it means being alive. This constant struggle for survival and getting out of a lethargic life style would of course drive the later movies as well, but introducing Jigsaw with these lines is also enough to make him an instantly recognizable character. So all in all, this is a great first start for a movie series with more than enough twists to keep the audience guessing right until the great ending.
(USA/Canada 2005, director: Darren Lynn Bousman)
A group of people is trapped inside a house with poisonous gas, while a detective and SWAT team pins down Jigsaw.
Isolating people and making them play sick games isn’t a particularly new thing, and with the stereotypical former prison inmates involved, it doesn’t take long before some less than friendly things happen to them. However, the way how Jigsaw plays them against each other and especially the detective by just sitting and talking is pretty unique, and one also learns more about the man behind the death traps, making him even more human and almost easy to relate to.
The disgusting and gory parts take more center stage here, though, as there are some particularly nasty ones, including a very uncomfortable needle in a haystack of dirty syringes scene. It’s more horror and less thriller this time, turning it more into a standard slasher flick, spiced up with Jigsaw’s philosophical view on life and a very cruel and surprising ending. It might not be as original as the first movie, but it still remains a worthy successor that is just more gratuitous in its depiction of violence.
(USA/Canada 2006, director: Darren Lynn Bousman)
A doctor is abducted by Jigsaw’s apprentice for an operation, while a man who lost his little son during a car accident is put through hell to either avenge his death or find forgiveness.
For some people, this might be the beginning of the end for the franchise, with the term “torture porn” becoming synonymous with the later installments. It’s true that much more time is spent on the devious Jigsaw traps and there are more than enough disgusting moments that are difficult to watch, but one shouldn’t forget that the way how the story lines as well as Jigsaw’s and his apprentice’s past slowly come together is a masterful example of suspense.
One doesn’t only want to find out what the next trap is, how much blood is spilled and bones are broken in the process, but one also wants to know who or if anyone survives at the end. Despite not being the most fleshed out or most likable characters, one can still somehow relate to them, even the ones who showcase psychopathic behavior. So it’s not all blood and guts, but human drama as well, most of it just being hinted at and finally revealed with a surprising and awesome ending that is difficult to surpass in tension. A very sick, but also very cool third installment that might not feature many police thriller elements, but is just as suspenseful and entertaining to watch as the original.
(USA/Canada 2007, director: Darren Lynn Bousman)
A police lieutenant plays a dangerous game to save one of his fellow collegues and is tested in the Jigsaw way of redemption or revenge, even if the psychopath himself isn’t alive anymore.
It’s amazing to think that even after three movies, the tried and tested formula of gore and thriller elements still works, which is even more surprising, considering that the main villain is dead. Of course the kills and torture scenes are more elaborate and disgusting than before, but this time the police investigation, as disconnected as it often seems from these horror sequences, makes the mix even more appealing to watch.
The way how past and present events are mixed up so that one has difficulties to see what happened before and what is happening now makes the proposition of taking part in a game one only understands at the end more interesting. Even if the acting can be a bit off, the quintessential question about what is right and what is wrong in society is constantly put to the test. There are enough uncomfortable scenes to watch with sick people who seem to deserve what they get, or maybe not. Prostitution, rape, domestic violence and child abuse are obviously very controversial themes and even if they’re only tackled with a quick glimpse into the characters’ psyches, this makes the movie as important in content as in the grand scheme of Jigsaw’s game. The ending is again a master stroke in bringing everything together in a highly effective and surprising way.
(USA/Canada 2008, director: David Hackl)
After apparently saving the life of a young girl and escaping a Jigsaw game, a detective is still under scrutiny of a distrustful FBI special agent, as similar survival games mean more deaths.
Going back to Jigsaw’s past and also showing more connections between the killings and who else helped Jigsaw with his work has become an excuse of introducing more or less logic revelations, but this time everything feels too convoluted without any suspenseful thriller elements. Trying hard to focus on the investigation that is only a recap of what happened before from different perspectives, originality or character development become unimportant.
Fortunately the new games participants have to play to survive are again cleverly and deviously designed, resulting in more than just a few very uncomfortable and bloody scenes. The way people react also shows how self-centered and brutal they can become when pushed to the limits. Despite offering nothing particularly new, the twisted finale makes it still worthwhile to persevere. It might not come together as smoothly as in the third or fourth installment, but the the ending stays true to the tradition of making the audience surprised and eager to see the next movie.
(USA/Canada/UK/Australia 2009, director: Kevin Greutert)
A life insurance executive and his team have to play a game that has wide-reaching repercussions for the present and future of Jigsaw’s protegé and collaborator who still tries to evade the police.
After a rather disappointing fifth installment, the series is back on track with a movie that encapsulates everything the franchise stands for: ultra violence and gore, ingeniously sick traps, but also social criticism and a story full of suspense and unexpected twists. Even if Jigsaw’s flashbacks have become overused, they work very well this time, as they show how inhuman medical corporations and insurances are in the way they treat their patients and customers. Jigsaw says it best himself: “Did you know that in the Far East, people pay their doctors when they’re healthy? When they’re sick, they don’t have to pay them. So basically, they end up paying for what they want, not what they don’t want… We got it all ass-backwards here. These politicians, they say the same thing over and over and over again; “Healthcare decisions should be made by doctors and their patients, not by the government.” Well, now I know they’re not made by doctors and their patients or by the government. They’re made by the fucking insurance companies.”
The movie would already work on this premise alone, but the way how all the other missing pieces and characters are brought together is amazing. The traps are even more elaborate, how people change their behavior in order to survive is more aggressive, and one really feels pity for most of them. Unlike previous installments it does matter who survives and who doesn’t. There isn’t a single boring moment in it, and the ending is just as explosive as in the third movie, maybe even more impactful, so that one again wants to see what happens next.
(USA/Canada 2010, director: Kevin Greutert)
The hunt for Jigsaw’s successor continues, while a new game with one of an alleged survivor who makes his money on TV with his story starts.
Also known as The Final Chapter, the concluding installment doesn’t offer much originality and focuses more on some devious traps and disgusting scenes, everything a gorehound could wish for. It also becomes clear that all the death sequences are made with 3D effects in mind. Sometimes one can’t shake the feeling as if a best of or rather leftovers from past ideas are carried over when it comes to these contraptions, as they’re so over-the-top that it’s difficult not to smile about them despite obvious gruesome results.
Unfortunately, the story itself and how it comes to an end with a twist that feels like an afterthought isn’t very convincing. The same holds true for a new detective whose acting is as bad as his background story. In a way, everything seems rushed, which is a shame, because the preceding movie built such a momentum, so that the storyline here plays everything too safe without any real surprises. It’s still entertaining stuff and way better than the cop thriller attempt of the fifth movie, but it could have been so much better as a conclusion.
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