So here I am, contemplating the remaining four entries of the Saw series, and wondering where the hell to start. Well, not literally, obviously I am going to start with the next chronological sequel Saw IV. However, just going into it doesn't allow you a chance to prep for what's coming, even though you know what's coming: a long-winded series of remarks about how bad it all is.
You're not wrong. I just question the necessity of retreading this long dead field. But what the hell does necessity have to do with this anyway? "Needless" is in the title. So I'll stop vamping and just tell you to check out Part 1 here if you haven't already, and dive recklessly into the maw of a gaping dragon.
I would say I want to play a game, but that'd be too obvious and this is my life now.
Last time I stated that Saw 1, 2, and 3, worked well as a trilogy, and I stand by that. There's marked improvement, more and more intrigue is revealed, and the final entry has a definitive conclusion feel, with the deaths of practically the entire cast, including Jigsaw himself. How do you come back from that?
By changing the established canon of course!
Saw IV begins a trend that will frame the series from here until the bitter end: Retcons and Archival Footage. Sure, the increasingly elaborate traps and grizzly deaths put asses in the seats, but those are not the focus anymore. They hit paydirt with this series so it has to keep going and the only way to do it is by frantically showcasing how they didn't tell you everything before.
It kicks off hard with Jigsaw's autopsy. There can be no question, Jigsaw's dead for realsies bro. The docs just removed his brain and cut open his chest! Don't worry though; we will still get plenty of time with the lovely Tobin Bell because they start in early with the archive footage from the previous movies. I'd even say there's more footage of Jigsaw in this entry than any of the previous, as there are new scenes of him as well!
This, I feel, is the biggest problem with this one, it fetishizes the killer. They pull out as much as they can to make Jigsaw sympathetic, like owning a rehab center and losing his touch with his wife after a tragic miscarriage. There's nothing wrong with filling out a backstory, but is the serial killer who kidnaps and tortures people to death on a flimsy pretense of Darwinism someone we should be feeling sorry for? We already had all we needed to understand Jigsaw, cramming all this in feels like they want us to see him as a tragic fallen hero. Not to mention they crank him up to criminal supergenius levels. It's difficult enough to let some of these deathtraps go unquestioned, painfully elaborate as they are, but to believe that this man on his deathbed not only set them up (yes he has help, I'll get to that) but also planned for every contingency with more elaborate traps, kidnappings, and pre-recorded messages.
If I tried to explain the entirety of the plot, I'd need 1500 words for each entry so you can get your plot synopsis for the series elsewhere. The big reveal in this one is that Jigsaw had another apprentice aside from Amanda. Former extra "Forensic Hoffman" played by Costas Mandylor is promoted to the prominent killer. All there is to be said about that is, "...Okay." Like every remaining character in the series, he is just a list of attributes slotted into the most convenient place. Hoffman is the killer because it was unexpected, we won't get any background on him until the next movie. The primary game subject is a cop that wants to save everyone, the agent chasing Jigsaw is hot-headed and tenacious. They are all rote and boring.
"Boring" encompasses the film. The traps are visually impressive at least, but there's no tension in any of it when you know everyone is going to die. That formula was established in the last movie, and they certainly are not going to deviate from a path that pays. They attempt to pull a fast one at the end with some time confusion and more retconning, but we saw that trick already in Saw II.
There's little here worth seeing. A few of the contraptions are complicated enough to be momentarily engaging, and there are some genuinely good camera work and transitions, but those morsels are encased in a convoluted, bland, misguided package. Definitely not worth the time.
"Jigsaw" Kill Count: 8
Final Thought: The next few are going to be easy to write.
I may have spoken too soon. Talking about Saw V in any way that isn't reiterating the problems of Saw IV isn't as easy as I had figured.
I guess I could say that it's more of the same. Seriously, MORE of the same problems. The characters are even more archetypal, the formula established previously is strictly adhered to, and they even pipe in more cliches. For instance, one of the death traps is a recreation of the classic horror icon The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe. Can't get more played out than that.
Unfortunately, even the safety of familiarity is not enough to cover the ever widening plot holes that increasingly perforate the series. They established that Jigsaw is an engineering genius, unparalleled in design and construction of his signature games, to the point where he's become a celebrity of sorts in universe, even after his death. However, we see that Hoffman has been designing and constructing them on his own since before being recruited by the master. How does a forensic investigator develop the expertise to imagine and create elaborate death traps of such quality to be mistaken for Jigsaw himself?
The worst of it, however, is how self-satisfied it feels. While Jigsaw continues to be idolized, it seems like the movie is in love with itself and the series at large. Amid callbacks to previous entries filled with mounting levels of archival footage, played over and over, there's a sense that the film is trying to show off. "Look how intricate the games are! See how much stuff we have kept hidden from you! I bet you never guessed that there was so much going on since the very beginning!" Sorry Saw V, I'm afraid it's tough to get hyped when we've seen your act already.
Your moves are weak babe.
The egotistic tone compounded with the boilerplate plot and characters as well as the vast and numerous plot holes easily make this the worst entry to date. It is tough to get worse than this, but we have not hit rock bottom yet.
"Jigsaw" Kill Count: 8
Final Thought: They dragged poor Edgar Allan Poe into this?
Luckily, this is not rock bottom. It's actually a marginal improvement. Saw VI is the last of the "real" Saw movies, but we will get to that... oh boy, will we get to that.
For now, though, it is important that we all learn what a great guy John Kramer/Jigsaw was. A man of the people, he wants to show those corporate bastards that life has more value than numbers on a spreadsheet, and it's more complicated than a series of averages. Yes, this time the filmmakers want to shoehorn social politics into their movie about a serial killer mutilating victims in overblown death machines. Usually, I would say putting a message in a movie is not a bad idea, if you have something you want to say in your art, by all means, say it. But this isn't art, this is a product intended for mass consumption. The lip service it pays to equality and humanism is insultingly transparent. There's no nuance or exploration of ideals; the message is as simple as "insurance companies tend to dehumanize their clients." Wow, revelatory. A simple, inoffensive message to make the product appear deeper and more meaningful.
Noteworthy, at least, is the change to the long-standing formula. People actually survive some of these! The main subject, an insurance company sleazebag, is forced to choose who lives and dies outright, though he does have to subject himself to harm in the process.
Wait... A man who decides who receives health care coverage has to literally pick who lives and dies!?! ISN'T THAT CLEVERLY IRONIC!?
I have to say though; the fact that he only chose to save women sat somewhat uncomfortably with me. It is tough to say there's an agenda in that, it could be entirely coincidental, but it was noticeable.
The only other remarkable part was the Carousel Scene. Unique in execution and visually arresting, this scene stands out amid a sea of gray sludge. It exemplifies the Darwinistic philosophy of the series, showcasing how far people will go to save themselves despite the expense of others, even ones close to them, and does so in a way that hasn't been done in the franchise at all. Bravo.
So once more we come to the end, and I am running out of ways to say that it's not worth your time. The Carousel Scene is pretty intense, but it's not really worth the watch just for that. So I'll do you a favor. Check it out here. You can thank me later.
"Jigsaw" Kill Count: 13 (-1 person retconned back to life)
Final Thought: I'm too good to you folks.
Saw: The Final Chapter
Sweet Christmas, what a dumpster fire.
Hoffman Kill Count: 22 (-1 person retconned back to life. Big one this time too)
Okay okay, I'm not getting off that easy. Though I would argue that watching this atrocity was not remotely easy. By the time I made it to "The Final Chapter," I was angry and exasperated, the ham-fisted attempts at a message of the previous film coupled with the increasingly nonsensical plot had me on edge.
Then the movie started.
The intro scene felt disparate from the rest of the series. Sure it was three people caught in an overly complex death scenario, but the set was much to clean, and the lighting much too soft. We see rotary saws and intestines flying directly toward the camera, while a crowd of onlookers gapes in horror. Oh right, this game takes place in public. Hoffman is now fully calling the shots since it required three films for Jigsaw's death to take, and we have quite a different feel. So, we have our first of many, many deaths and they shove the titles in our faces.
Wait, wasn't it Saw: The Final Chapter? Afraid not, boys and girls. Get ready for the trashy, rushed, cheap cash-grab that all films with "3D" in the title are apparently required to be. This title explains almost everything we have and will experience here. Its whitewashed visuals, meat-headed plot, and cardboard characters all reek of potboiler filmmaking. The movie is overrun with some of the most overplayed cliches out there. Let me run of few of these by you:
- Newscast exposition dump
- Eating an apple to appear casual
- Dream sequence
- Standing around and explaining motivation
- Overly intense cop with an ax to grind
- Secret history with the villain
- "He was under our nose all along!"
Then there are games themselves. The main game subject here is a self-help guru who makes a living selling his story as a Jigsaw trap survivor. The catch is that he is a fraud, he was never actually in a trap he's just capitalizing on the story and taking advantage of other people. Not a bad concept, I will say. In practice though, it is just the same things over again with the laziest trap designs to date. Just pull a fish hook out of someone's throat, but wait, uh... they can't scream because their fault is not telling people they knew the truth. Guide your friend who has been blindfolded across some planks a few floors above the ground, but ummm... you better do it quickly because he's going to get hanged in one minute if you don't reach him! Finally, you have to go through the not-actually-lethal game you claimed you were in, and if you win, your wife is your trophy for winning. His wife is actually referred to as a "trophy." Lazy writing leads to bad messages. Oh, you want another example? How about a trap with a bunch of teenagers that are mutilated in glorious detail, but don't worry, they were all racists, so you don't have to feel bad.
This film makes me angry. It is not art; it is garbage, offensive in every way. I could go on and on about the inconsistencies and plot holes the size of Buicks, so much that I considered making a third part just to talk about this one, but I'm just tired of it all. I don't want to think about this series ever again. It's dead now, let it stay dead.
Series Rating: Low to Mid
Total Kill Count: 72 (30% of total just in Saw 3D)
Final Thought: See you at the reboot.
Next Week: Something brighter! It was requested that I do TMNT, another series I am familiar with and have fond memories of. Here's hoping it doesn't get ruined for me as well.
Damn it, I forgot to say Game Over.