Would you like to play a game?
It’s only taken me 15 years or so, but I have finally hacked my way through the SAW franchise. The reason? Morbid curiousity.
So here is the ‘Short Film of the Day’, 2003’s SAW. Oh, and some thoughts on the franchise as a whole (excluding the new Chris Rock one as I haven’t seen it yet)
Written by Leigh Whannel (THE INVISIBLE MAN) and directed by James Wan (FURIOUS 7), here it is:
So the short itself is in my opinion, very unsettling. Due to cultural osmosis, I knew the premise but what struck was how effective it was seeing this. The low budget aesthetic, the inventive camera and the reveal all work together to make a successful short film.
The reverse bear trap ends up in the first movie, with it teased and then used in subsequent sequels. Its the kfact that we know as an audience that if the victim were to stop and think rather than let base impluses take over, they might actually survive. Something which Jigsaw, or John Kramer, makes all too clear.
The lore drops in the SAW series is perhaps its strongest attribute, I have often wondered why there are so many of these films. And now I know its the ongoing story.
The thing with most horror series – think about the most famous, FRIDAY THE 13TH, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, HALLOWEEN, EXORCIST – they all just end up ignoring previous entries or making weird left turn narratives decisions or just ignore the reverence of the original. The best films in those series, most of the time actully show themselves to care for the rules and narrative that had been set down in the original films – think about JASON LIVES, WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, HALLOWEEN (2018), EXORCIST III: LEGION – and these are the ones that in my opinion are the most successful (HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, JASON X, and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET III: DREAM WARRIORS also rule hard). But as a whole, there are a lot more weaker entries than strong ones.
And here we arrive at the SAW series.
The gore and the inventive deaths are a trope. Some are gross for the sake of being gross (Pig Vat in SAW III), some are logistically too difficult (Public Execution Trap in SAW 3D) and some are just quite funny in hindsight (Shotgun Carousel in SAW VI). Whilst creative, I still prefer Jason Voorhees over Jigsaw, no death is as amazing as the Liquid Nitrogen kill in JASON X. The SAW series relies on the audience knwoing the rules behind why each victim is there. Long gone are the days of sex and being a teenager that will get you killed, now its not living your life the way it should be lived. Well, that was the case when it was John Kramer.
After the death of John Kramer, the series got more convoluted. It just kept piling on the backstory, the twists and the reveals. The series sequels wanted the audience to feel more empathy for John, and to grow to hate Mark Hoffman and Angela Young. John Kramer had a motive which had set rules that meant he never actually killed anyone. Mark Hoffman and Amanda Young are flawed, taking on the lessons of John Kramer but using it for thier own selfish means. Think about the death of Joyce Dagen in SAW 3D, arguably the most undeserved and unjust death in the whole series (honestly, apart from the film being horribly misogynistic, she died because someone else failed(?), not because she failed? Mark Hoffman deserved what came to him just for that.)
The fact that I am able to even speak at length about the lore and backstory of the SAW series, and have it actually make sense, and not be bored by it makes me think that this is basically the big screen horror version of a CSI episode. The first one is a taut, effective thriller, taking on the premise of the short film and continuing to do something interesting. Each sequel has its strengths and weaknesses. Each twist and turn doesnt feel out of place, it feels like it belongs. Even the one at the end of SAW 3D (which is perhaps my favourite), and the reveal of Logan in JIGSAW.
For this reason alone, I have become more shocked in myself to discover this is not just a series that is “torture porn for the sake of it”, there is a surprisingly rich and narratively interesting story behind all of this. I am looking forward to SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW perhaps more than I was initially. That inital reason was because I wanted to know what a Chris Rock SAW movie looked like. Now I want to know where the story will go.
Who knew that would be the lesson I would learn after eight SAW movies?