The latest entry in the Saw franchise, Saw X, hit theaters this weekend. In anticipation, I decided to prepare by catching up with the entire series. I started three weeks ago, a simpler time in my life, one where I had only seen the first, second, and ninth entries. I come out the other side a changed man, largely for the worse. I am not, and never will be, a fan of the Saw films. This is my warning for the franchise’s biggest fans. 

This is a light spoiler warning, nothing unreasonable or not largely known already will be spoiled. Don’t worry. 


Saw (2004)

I would say it’s surprising that the film that essentially kicked off the torture porn subgenre doesn’t really contain any torture or, for that matter, anything over-the-top disgusting at all. But it’s not surprising that everyone pretty much knows that the first Saw film wasn’t like the films that came after it. It’s an incredibly low-budget indie, shooting for just a million bucks, that utilizes some clever tricks and theatre of the mind to create a not-so-terrible viewing experience that builds up the persona of the franchise to come. It uses extreme close-ups to hide the fact that there isn’t any stuff around the actors, throws a green sludge on the screen (effectively creating an entire horror aesthetic) to mask those indie misgivings, and relies on your memory of everything being grosser and more disgusting than it actually is. I’m honestly surprised that this was such a smash hit – I think we were just more forgiving of bad movies in 2004.

Saw II (2005)

The mastermind behind the Jigsaw killings, John Kramer (as played by now-horror icon Tobin Bell), has an ethos that guides his sick and twisted work, one that he reveals in this first sequel: “I’ve never murdered anyone in my life. The decisions are up to them.” He doesn’t want to kill them, he wants them to appreciate the life that they have – the life he is losing every day to his cancer diagnosis.

Donnie Wahlberg’s cop character responds, “Yeah, well, putting a gun to someone’s head and forcing them to pull the trigger is still murder.”

And that, my friends, is the self-awareness that immediately, just one sequel in, sends this series off the deep end. Sure, it is “technically” possible to escape these booby-traps if you don’t step here or don’t place your hand there or don’t open this door, but no one in their right mind could think any of that through while their head is in a reverse bear trap or they have to jump into a pile of used needles (NUMBER OF TIMES I HAD TO LOOK AWAY DURING THESE MOVIES COUNTER: 1). It’s basically impossible, which is the same thing as impossible. If we’re already losing credibility when it comes to the entire conceit of the franchise, then there’s basically no hope for this to make any sense.

Saw III (2006)

I’m writing these reviews in real-time after each entry, and just 30% of the way through this ordeal I have to ask: Are there people who care(d) about John Kramer?

The first film introduced him, the second film explained him, and now this third film … they want us to … feel bad for him? The cancer he has is killing him, so he’s training his protégé, Amanda, to take over for him in his ridiculous schemes. But she doesn’t want him to die, so she kidnaps a brain surgeon and forces her to perform brain surgery with nothing but power tools (NUMBER OF TIMES I HAD TO LOOK AWAY DURING THESE MOVIES COUNTER: 2) to save his life.

And I can’t help but wonder, who cares?! Do people watch these for the plot? The first seven movies came out every October for seven consecutive years.

People wanted to be scared for Halloweentime. Grossed out! Maybe even throw up in their popcorn!

Plot? Yuck!

I know it’s hacky filmmaking to just go from set piece to set piece without regard for story or feelings or plot or characters, but they are way past hacky. Have you seen the editing?

And what is even the point when you have “twists” so painfully obvious like the one in this film? I knew where it was going within minutes, I didn’t even realize it was supposed to be a secret! I didn’t realize the movie thought it was hiding something from us! And it’s not like I’m a genius! In fact, I often try to not figure out twists ahead of time and just let the movies do their thing. Their thing, unfortunately, is bad.

Saw IV (2007)

Well, I was correct, it seems as though three movies was about how long it took them to stop caring about the plot. This film has more traps than ever, which doesn’t even include the most disgusting scene in the entire series so far, when they show the complete autopsy of John Kramer, including folding his cranium skin over his face (NUMBER OF TIMES I HAD TO LOOK AWAY DURING THESE MOVIES COUNTER: 3). Naturally, it also adds even more throwaway characters to dismember in those traps. It’s grosser, bloodier, and all-around more akin to the “torture porn” tag synonymous with the franchise.

Imagine this: It’s Halloween 2007 and some kid, maybe 16 years old, donning a Gilbert Arenas jersey and cargo shorts, takes his low-rise jeans-wearing girlfriend to the movies hoping that the horror film in front of them will be so terrifying that she’ll hide in his arms for the entire film, matching the most amount of action he’s received in his entire life combined. They haven’t seen the other movies, but who needs to? The film then OPENS WITH A TWIST (yes, there is some plot) that means nothing to you if you haven’t seen the other films, and within minutes they’ve witnessed multiple people, dead and alive, scalped in front of them on a screen that is 30 feet tall and 50 feet wide.

I just find that really funny.

I had a lot of time to think.

Saw V (2008)

This movie is just a highlight reel of Saw III and Saw IV. And I don’t mean that as a joke, it’s probably 50% flashbacks and clips. The other half, characters walk in and around the settings from those movies, so there’s basically nothing original happening here.

Saw VI (2009)

At this point, it’s pretty clear that they just don’t give a crap. These movies were money-printing machines every Halloween. This film particular grossed almost $70 million on an $11 million budget, good enough for lowest-performing movie in the franchise thus far, and you can tell that they can tell time is running out and patience is wearing thin for this nonsense.

They hand the directorial reins to first-time director Kevin Greutert, who had edited the previous five entries. After years of terrible editing, they thought he had earned his shot at terrible directing. He didn’t disappoint. I’ve watched 578 minutes of this crap now, and it’s basically impossible to tell each movie apart. Jigsaw died three movies ago! Now I feel bad for complaining during those early movies. Little did I know…

This one does have one cool set piece at least, which is the most I can say for the past three movies or so. There’s a shotgun carousel that’s as gnarly as it sounds.

Saw 3D (2010)

Two titles for this movie…

Released in theaters as Saw 3D:
Yep, you can tell that it was supposed to be in 3D! Stuff comes right towards the camera, which in the cinema means it comes right at your face! It’s a gimmick, but a natural progression for a series this balls-out that has approached its seventh entry.

Released for home viewing as Saw: The Final Chapter:
Seven consecutive Halloweekends (2004-2010) saw a new Saw movie, and the end has finally come. You would imagine that there are a lot of loose ends to tie up. Instead, they opt for even more twists and turns. If your first Saw movie was Saw: The Final Chapter (this seems silly, but if you had already seen Paranormal Activity 2 in October 2010, you may have wanted something else spooky for Halloween – and don’t forget it was called Saw 3D! Not Saw VII!), you would have absolutely zero fun because it makes zero sense – it does nothing but bring back characters and moments from the other entries.

Unfortunately, it still makes zero sense and is zero fun even if you have seen the other movies.

The franchise would lay dormant for seven years…

Jigsaw (2017)

I have absolutely nothing to say. This series renewal does nothing new or different (well, it’s not green anymore!) and is just more of the same crap.

I promise that I watched it. But you shouldn’t.

This movie made over $100 million, by the way. Insert classic I am in the wrong business! joke.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)

Turns out that I’m just not a Saw person (that will come as no surprise to anyone who has read to this point) because this is, by far, my favorite film in the franchise. It also seems to be the least favorite amongst Saw devotees. What do they call themselves? The Saw Firm?

If your main character dies in the third film, it might be a good idea to try something new instead of regurgitating the same dreck every 90 minutes for 11 years. It worked in the ’80s with Halloween III: Season of the Witch (it’s not the movie’s fault that people missed Michael Myers – sound familiar?) and it worked just last year with Prey, the Predator film set in 1719 Comanche land.

It works here too. Who needs the Jigsaw Killer to have an apprentice? Why can’t we just use the basic concept in another storyline? What if someone completely unconnected to John Kramer became a copycat killer?

Turns out that if you also make an effort to gather a pretty good cast (no offense to most of the actos from the previous eight movies), like Chris Rock (he’s a good actor!), Samuel L. Jackson, and Max Minghella – some of this stuff can even be believable! We’re far away from the torture porn days now, moving instead into police procedural territory, but how big of a loss is that?

I know it’s nothing like the other Saw movies. That’s why I liked it. Which is why Saw fans don’t.

Saw X (2023)

Learning absolutely nothing from the last movie and what made it successful, those behind the Saw franchise decided it was best to just go back to what they were doing before. If numerous flashbacks weren’t enough, they decided that this entire film should be a flashback, taking place between the events of the first and second films.

This is not a particularly bad idea, largely because Tobin Bell has become synonymous with the franchise despite only being a shadow in most entries. Because of this, it’s worthwhile to explore more of his original Jigsaw games. However, this is like telling someone you’re going to show them prime Michael Jordan, but instead of showing him finally taking down Isiah Thomas, you show an old tape of November 7, 1990 – a random Thursday night in Minneapolis where he quietly scored 17 points. This isn’t All-Star Jigsaw, and it doesn’t play to the heights that Saw fans deserve.

It’s a character drama above all. Traps are interesting, but not scary (the NUMBER OF TIMES I HAD TO LOOK AWAY DURING THESE MOVIES COUNTER ended at 3 – and was last updated during Saw IV), and despite a few cameos and callbacks from some old pals, it doesn’t even really feel like those older entries.

But what do I know? I’m clearly not a Saw fan, despite binging all of these movies over the past three weeks. I know I’m not (and you know too if you’ve read all this) because when I was in the AMC bathroom after my screening, I heard someone say, “That was great! I can’t wait for Saw XI! I can never get enough of the Jigsaw Killer!” It was so generic that I couldn’t tell if it was sarcasm or a plant from the Lionsgate marketing department. But when I looked over, I could tell that she was definitely not kidding! She had a blast!

At least someone did.

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