It had been a long time since I had seen a Saw movie (I stopped watching after Part 3). I’m curious about Chris Rock‘s upcoming film, Spiral, so I decided to give the franchise a viewing, since all but Jigsaw was streaming on HBO Max. This may contain SPOILERS to the films.
The film series plays out like a soap opera…with blood. History is constantly re-written throughout the franchise to try to cover the plot holes from the previous film(s). I know these are movies. I know it’s not real life. Still, it seems like they try to place the films in “real life,” but you need a ton of suspension of disbelief in order to make any of this work. It was a lot of Saw to watch over a short period of time, so I thought I had missed a few things along the way. I did a little research trying to find out if certain questions were answered, and I usually found they weren’t.
Basic premise as I see it: A man (John Kramer) is diagnosed with cancer and decides to kill himself. After being impaled, he survives and has a newfound respect for life. Since it took a bloody, near-death event for him to turn his view about life around, he decides he is going to do the same to others. He kidnaps people (or has his minions kidnap people) and puts them into these traps they must survive. In order to survive, they typically need to put themselves through a ton of pain and/or kill someone else. If they survive, hey, great. Now, you have a new respect for life. Wasn’t it a great thing John Kramer did for you? The survivors will typically end up working for Jigsaw and carrying out his plans because I guess they “get it” once they’ve been through it. I don’t know the purpose the film-makers had in making this. I don’t know if we are supposed to think Jigsaw is psychotic, but Jigsaw is psychotic. He has a God complex and continues to say he doesn’t kill anyone. However, he places people into circumstances where someone will die. John Kramer is a despicable person. I had a feeling the films were trying to create this anti-hero where we would root for him or his traps. For the most part, the films had no one to root for. It was bad people doing things to bad people. Or, like in Part 3, a man’s son had been killed, and he was still upset over it, and Jigsaw thought that was unacceptable because the daughter wasn’t getting as much attention as she needed. Yep, that’s worth a possible death and leaving the girl without parents.
Every movie, you find out he has more and more accomplices helping him out. At one point, I assumed the entire city had to be working for Jigsaw, so who is going to go after. After he dies in Part 3 (the Part 4 twist is that it’s happening concurrently with Part 3), all these accomplices continue doing work, and, somehow, John Kramer was able to set up all these traps and have things ready to go. Everything always needs to fall into place perfectly for the games to work, and, no matter how unlikely, everyone always does exactly what they need to do to allow the game to continue. Look, this guy randomly decided to go through that door. Hey, there’s a tape recorder there. There’s a message addressed to the person who went through the door. What’s the odds that it would happen once let alone EVERY SINGLE TIME? Anyway, back to the accomplices continuing the work after Jigsaw dies, I couldn’t get over why they wouldn’t just walk away. Is Saw really about cults? Is Jigsaw the cult leader and all these accomplices are his brain-washed followers? Is that the purpose? John Kramer thinks he is doing something great for the people, but his methodologies are crazy and unacceptable? Maybe that would explain one of my other complaints – Jigsaw doesn’t work. Even though it was explained he was an engineer at one time, was he independently wealthy? I kept asking myself where he is getting all this money to create these elaborate traps. Like a cult, maybe his followers were giving him all they had, so he could do all this?
At one point, we get into the John Kramer back story, and we find out he was married. His wife miscarried their son when someone tried to rob her clinic. This is supposedly the impetus for his rehabilitation ideas. Wait! I thought it was the car crash when he tried to kill himself. Anyway, he goes off the deep-end, and his wife leaves him. But, wait. Later on, she ends up being his disciple and carries out some of his work. WHAT? WHY? Why would she leave him in the first place if she thought everything he was doing was a-ok? Anyway, it continued to play out like a soap opera as the series continued. I felt it kept turning into a farce. I don’t know if the laughs were intentional later in the series. I don’t know why I put myself through the films. I made a good decision back in the early 2000s to quit watching after Saw III. I thought the first one was good when I first saw it. It was still fine during the repeat viewing but didn’t hold up very well. Originally, I thought Saw II was a step down from the first one, and I still felt this way. Lastly, I thought Saw III was terrible, which is why I stopped watching the movies. I still thought it was terrible. The sequels after that actually kept getting worse. For some reason, I decided I was going to make it through, so I kept on watching.
Aside from the traps (and usually an elaborate one to begin the movie), the Saw movies were known for their twist endings. There were a few times I had to google what the twist was supposed to be. For Part II, even if it wasn’t a shocker that Amanda was in on the game, the fact they were watching a pre-recorded game and the cop’s kid was next to him the whole time was a good twist. In Part III, it was telegraphed pretty early that the two main characters were husband and wife, but I read that the twist was Jigsaw testing Amanda. Lame. The twist in Part IV, I think, was that it was happening at the same time as Part III. Shrug. Is that the same one where you find the cop is in on it as well? There was one movie where, at the end, they realize if they had worked together as a group (they were down to the final two with all the others already killed) they could have all survived. Their revelations were things you were already screaming at the screen while it was happening.
Lastly, I know it’s unspeakable to say this. Even the bad reviews give kudos to Tobin Bell and his performances. He didn’t do much for me in the films. He knows how to speak in a hushed tone and philosophize. Okay. Maybe compared to the rest of the acting, he seemed like a standout, like a mediocre athlete on a terrible team will be thought about as a greater talent than what s/he is just because of who they are surrounded with. Yes. When you compare Tobin Bell’s performance alongside Shawnee Smith’s Amanda, Tobin Bell stands out. When you isolate Tobin Bell’s performance, it’s fine. Then again, maybe I’m punishing him unjustly for the bad scripts he had to act from. Maybe putting forth a fine performance from a crap script is something to celebrate. The rest of the actors weren’t able to elevate the material.
Anyway, overall, I give the Saw franchise a big thumbs down. I really don’t understand its popularity. If it’s an allegory for cults and cult-like behavior, then I think they may have done a little bit better than I had originally thought (at least, there may be a point – but you don’t need that many films to make it), although the performances and scripts were still terrible. That said, I like Chris Rock, so I still want to give Spiral a shot. However, he is supposedly doing this film because he is a big fan of the Saw movies, so that knowledge lowers my expectations by a lot.
As a franchise, I give Saw 3 Puppets out of 10