My road to JIGSAW: How I Survived the SAW franchise

When I first heard that the eighth installment of the Saw franchise was in the works, I probably had the same thought that many others had; something along the lines of, “another one?!” For seven years, Saw owned Halloween - at one point the franchise even used the tagline, “If it’s Halloween, it must be SAW.”. Following the release of the original film in 2004, each October brought in a new bunch of no-names that we’d watch fight their way through puzzles and traps, getting more dismembered and disfigured with each new “game”. Now, seven years after Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, it turns out it wasn’t “The Final Chapter” after all and a new bunch of no names are here to get sliced, chopped, and pulled apart. As the Jigsaw release drew near, I realized that not only had it been years since I had seen any of the original films, but I actually missed installments VI and VII (The Final Chapter). So, I went to Target, found the collection of all seven films at a ridiculously low price and when I got home, my journey began.

Saw, the original film, still holds a special place in that tiny sick corner of my heart. I don’t generally enjoy watching people hack and be hacked just for gore’s sake, but as a horror lover, I really appreciate the indie-horror nature of the first film. Saw really is a testament to what a couple of guys with some passion and a dream, a camera, and a minimal budget of just over one million dollars can do. I really enjoy the small-scale, contained feel of Saw and I think Leigh Whannell and Cary Elwes give great performances as Adam and Dr. Lawrence Gordon, respectively. At the time of its release, the concept of a couple of guys locked in a singular room where most of the film would take place, still seemed like a fresh idea that brought something new and exciting to the world of horror. The twist that caught us all off guard at the end, you know, that moment (which coincidentally is the moment that made Tobin Bell want to sign on to the production after reading the script), was the cherry on top that made this film hugely memorable for myself and many other fans of the genre. The original film still remains my favorite of the franchise.

Then, the sequels came. The plot thickens and the traps grow more and more gruesome with each new sequel and the characters become increasingly more unlikeable. One of my greatest issues with the franchise in its entirety (save the original title film) is that all of the characters are so insufferable. I get that that’s what we’re supposed to want, I guess; these awful people who are suffering their deserved fates because they suck at being humans, but I think the story would greatly benefit from a character makeover. I would be much more invested in the characters’ successes if they were a bit more likable. Because if the audience doesn’t care about whether the characters fail or succeed, where are the stakes? Here’s a thought. What if the victims were normal human beings who we could sympathize with, who actually have a shot at winning “the game” and making it out alive. After all, that was John Kramer’s original intention for his games, right? He wanted people to go through these horrific, near death experiences so they would come out on the other side with a greater appreciation for the lives they previously had taken for granted. I mean, we do get a glimpse into the lives of some survivors in The Final Chapter, but I truly feel like that film was a huge missed opportunity. The direction they went with it was interesting in itself, but I think things could have been much more interesting had they spent some more time letting us get to know some characters who were previously “flawed”, survived Jigsaw’s games, and went on to truly have a different outlook on life, having been changed for the better.

Now, some may question why anyone is even invested in these films to begin with. I know my reasoning, beyond just being a horror fan, is that I was sucked in thanks to the episodic and procedural nature of the films. I’m a sucker for procedurals (former Law and Order: SVU addict), and I am a big fan of watching television series so I really enjoyed how each film picked up quite literally from where the previous film left off. The chronology of the films is really what hooked me and had me returning to the cinema each October to find out what could possibly happen next. Because the films are chronological, it also somewhat made sense to binge watch them in a week, but let me tell you, it was rough. Especially because we chose to watch them during dinner each night, which in retrospect, may have been a poor decision, (depending on how much you sympathize with Hannibal Lecter).

However in my opinion, the journey was well worth it because the payoff (Jigsaw) was actually a lot of fun. The original three films (which were ultimately meant to be a contained trilogy from Leigh Whannell’s standpoint) are my favorites of the series, but I think Jigsaw may be up there with them now as well. Jigsaw, directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, is everything I wish all the other sequels were. It’s fun and memorable without as much of the mean-natured aspects the other films revel in. I found that the characters were well developed and easy to sympathize with and I was really rooting for them to succeed. There were even a few plot twists that I didn’t see coming, which made for some good surprises as well. In addition to the story being more interesting and the characters more likeble, the film in itself also felt like a huge upgrade from the original seven films. Jigsaw shook off that low-budget, indie horror feel and adopted what really felt like a big-budget blockbuster role thanks to some beautiful aerial shots and wide angles that made the film feel like a complete 180 from the contained, claustrophobic feeling that the other films were so known for. Surprisingly, Jigsaw only had a budget of $10 million (as did the third, fourth, and fifth installments), while The Final Chapter, which is my least favorite, actually had the highest budget of all eight films at a whopping $17 million. There were even some technology upgrades within the story, which made for an interesting new take on some of the lore; one of the first pieces of evidence found being a USB drive instead of the mini-cassettes that were once a staple of John Kramer’s, however we did see some of those too.

Depending on the franchise, I often find myself in the “STOP REBOOTING THINGS” camp, but I think the Saw franchise really benefited from a fresh take (thanks, Spierig brothers!). The Saw films are fun, gory popcorn flicks, (although you may want to skip the popcorn, depending on your stomach) and just trying to follow the convoluted lore is addicting. Jigsaw continues that legacy, and I’ll keep seeing these films as long as they keep being made, unless they like, move on to making cute dogs play the game, then I’m out.

Jigsaw is now playing in theaters nationwide and all seven original films are currently streaming on Netflix, or if you feel the need to add them to your collection like I did, you can find the seven film collection on dvd or blu-ray.