After six years and six movies, you’re either a fan of SAW or you aren’t. In the nine years that I’ve been running Bloody Disgusting my one major discovery was the first SAW film, and to this day I have always felt a personal connection to the franchise. Up until last year, I couldn’t believe four (rushed) films managed to keep true to the original and somehow take it one step further. SAW V hurt, it really, really hurt. While each and every “good” SAW movie felt like an accidental blessing, I never expected the fifth to be as bad as it was. It was so bad that it removed me from the franchise; I couldn’t have cared less if SAW VI was even made. Yet, comes another Halloween, another SAW… who is going to say “no thanks”? With expectations already at rock bottom, SAW VI opens in such a fury that within five minutes time I leaned over to Andrea (Mrs. Disgusting) and exclaimed, “This is already better than SAW V.”
Explaining the plot and going over the previous films is a nightmare, so we’ll keep this short. Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton returned once again to pen SAW VI and have done something they have never done before as they bring a real-world political situation into the fold. As you all know, Jigsaw was dying of brain cancer, and well, his insurance company didn’t see it in their best interest to help him find a cure. Let’s leave it at that. The movie focuses on William (Peter Outerbridge), a man who denied Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) the chance to live, thus, he must learn his mistakes through four rigorous challenges (traps) that will lead to his potential salvation.
There are a few key elements that brought SAW VI together into a solid package of blood-curdling goodness. First and foremost, I would like to congratulate director Kevin Greutert for having some f*cking balls. SAW V was shot in the laziest, safest way I have seen in nearly any movie (unless you count Hallmark specials). On the other hand, SAW VI blends elements from SAW, SAW II and SAW IV; you get some flash cutting, while there are also some beautiful establishing shots and even handheld work. Greutert was really paying attention and learned from Darren Bousman, who delivered the engaging pacing of SAW II, the mind-bending experience of SAW III and the flashy delicious gore of SAW IV – SAW VI has a taste of it all.
While Greutert was the man behind the camera, what he really did was bring justice to the screenplay by Dunstan and Melton, who proved to the horror Gods that they actually listen to the fans. The major problem with SAW V is that Jigsaw and Amanda were nearly non-existent, and even Hoffman’s (Costas Mandylor) character was extremely underdeveloped. In SAW VI, Jigsaw once again is the protagonist (or anti-hero if you will; in fact, you’re pretty much rooting for him from square one) and plays a major, major role in the unrolling plot. Even Shawnee Smith returns as Amanda and brings together a major twist you’ll have to see to believe. But more remarkable is the rise of Hoffman, who somehow goes from zero to hero in a measly hour-and-a-half. He has personality, depth and drive; and for the first time I saw him as an intricate part of the SAW world. In addition to the character development, Dunstan and Melton bring the viewer an engaging, suspenseful and coherent story that opens with a bang and leaves you screaming (pun intended) for more.
While the film has its share of issues (mostly in the acting department) and other technical flaws, in the end what it delivers is pure entertaining. What more can you ask for from a fifth sequel?
In the end, SAW VI is faithful to the franchise and the twist/finale are 100% satisfying. SAW fans WILL walk out of the theater with their fists in the air with the feeling that they’ve reclaimed their beloved franchise.
HorrorJigsawSawsaw 2Saw 3Saw 3DSaw 4Saw 5Saw 6Saw 7Saw IISaw IIISaw IVSaw The Final ChapterSAW VSaw VISaw VII)trailertrailers
AROUND THE WEB
Fact: clowns make everything creepier.
Updated: I added a new section to the end of this article, after the release of Saw 3D.
To understand the Saw series, all you have to do is look at the production company’s logo. Before each film, the words “Twisted Pictures” are ensnared by coils of nasty-looking barbed wire. Then they are impaled by a metal spike. Then the metal spike is rotated, tightening the wire and gouging deep scars in the poor letters. In less than ten seconds, this animation encapsulates the series’s infamous modus operandi: horrible pain is inflicted with low-tech tools, and we’re forced to watch. Twisted.
But think about the other meaning of the word “twisted”: as in, “full of twists.” This is far and away the most plot-heavy, convoluted horror film series ever. It’s not an exaggeration to say you stand no chance of understanding the later films without having seen the earlier ones, preferably only days before. (I recently watched all six in less than two months, and I still found myself heading to the IMDB message boards to figure out what was going on.) Seemingly minor characters return in later films, suddenly thrust into the spotlight. We flash backwards and forwards, revisiting the events of past films from multiple angles. And through it all, there’s the killer’s teasing insistence that he’s building to SOMETHING; that each death is another piece in a master plan.
The people who know the Saw movies only from the advertisements assume their appeal is the twisted traps. But for the fans, it’s the twisted PLOTLINES that has us counting the days until Halloween.
[Note: Saw spoilers follow in great quantities. Since I’ve found the series enormously entertaining, I advise anyone who’s not fully up to speed to bookmark this page and come back when you’re Sawed up.)
If you’re a Saw virgin who ignored my warning and kept reading, first of all, don’t try that stuff with Jigsaw. It tends to end poorly. Secondly, you’re probably thinking, “C’mon Matt, they’ve pumped out a Saw sequel every Halloween for the past seven years. The only way you make movies that quickly is if you’re letting the interns write them for college credit. How tightly-plotted could these films possibly be?” Well, here are some examples:
- In Saw III, we see a character read a letter and burst into tears, shortly before flying into a homicidal rage. We don’t learn who wrote this letter until Saw IV. We don’t learn what it said until Saw VI.
- Saw III shows us the five minutes immediately after the end of Saw II. Saw IV shows us what happens immediately after THAT.
- Saw IV actually takes place during the events of Saw III, which is only revealed when a character from Saw IV literally walks into the final scene of Saw III, about two seconds after the previous film cut to black.
- Saw V picks up about thirty seconds after Saw III.
- You see the traps from Saw I being set up in flashback sequences during Saws III and V. You see the traps from Saw II being set up in flashback sequences during Saws III and V. You see the traps from Saw III being set up in flashback sequences during Saws V and VI. And I’m not talking about merely reusing footage – I’m saying that the latter movies recreated earlier sets and brought back actors who were chronologically deceased, to show us new information about things we’d already seen.
- After the credits of Saw VI, you see something that took place between the events of Saws II and III. It may be a critical clue to the denouement of Saw 3D, or a red herring.
- Did I mention that the main villain, Jigsaw, dies at the end of Saw III, and yet the events of all the subsequent movies are planned by him? And no, there’s nothing supernatural about it.
Not impressed yet? The following is a chart I’ve compiled from this Wikipedia page, showing all the characters that appear in more than one Saw film:
It’s the freaking Ring Cycle, but with more rusty industrial machinery.
There is no other horror film series that comes anywhere close to this kind of unified narrative. The Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street movies weren’t building off previous installments. The Final Destination movies, released concurrently with the Saws, were basically a series of remakes. The Scream movies had some continuity, but they certainly weren’t that complex, and there were only three (soon to be four, but that’ll be a reboot). Generally when it comes to slasher flicks, you keep the villain the same, but rotate in a new cast of pretty young lambs to the slaughter. The guys behind Saw didn’t get that memo.
Hello Jack. I want to play a game.
I think to understand the Saw movies, you have to consider another cultural phenomenon that came on the scene in 2004: a little show called Lost. The lesson everyone in Hollywood took from JJ Abrams’s runaway success was that audiences could be enthralled, not repelled, by huge mysteries that unfolded over years. The fans gathered online to obsess over theories and details, the more obscure the better. The Saw producers took this lesson to heart, and built the Saw sequels to be full of twists, complete with Lost-esque flashbacks and lots of loose ends. Want to know what’s in that mysterious wooden box that Jigsaw leaves for his ex-wife? Tune in next year.
At the end of Saw I, Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes’ character) staggers away, dragging his bloody stump behind him, to bring police to the Bathroom of Doom in time to save Adam, whom he’s just shot (if you haven’t seen the movie, that sentence will seem strange). We know from the discovery of Adam’s rotted body in Saw II that help never arrived. However, we don’t learn what actually happened to Dr. Gordon after he left that room… until Saw VII (aka Saw 3D), when Cary Elwes makes his triumphant return. The series moves forward by looping backwards.
This is the kind of thing that drives Saw fans crazy, and sends them scrambling to their computers to exchange theories. On the House of Jigsaw message board, there are 67,000 posts about Saw V, 81,000 posts about Saw VI, and 66,000 posts about Saw 3D, which hasn’t even been released yet. And, taking another page from the Lost playback, the actors, writers, and directors of the series drop by the message boards frequently to answer questions and offer teasing nuggets of information.
Just FYI: there are no similar message boards about I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.
The Princess Bride was a long time ago.
Now, I don’t mean to give anyone the impression that the Saw series is a masterpiece of screenwriting craftsmanship. Clearly, when they made Saw I, the creators didn’t know that Jigsaw was working with the assistance of two, maybe even three accomplices. Saw II started out as a completely non-Saw-related story before being adapted into a quickie sequel. This kind of after-the-fact plotting leads to some inconsistencies that can’t be explained away. For instance, Jigsaw explains in Saw III that he despises murderers. But Amanda Young’s trap in Saw I requires her to murder. As part of Dr. Gordon’s trap, his wife and daughter are supposed to be killed if he fails. These make for dark “What would YOU do?” thrills, but there’s no way to square them with the Jigsaw we see in later movies. For instance, in Saw II, even though it seems like Detective Matthews’ son is in mortal danger, he turns out to be perfectly safe all along. Jigsaw might use the innocent as pawns, but he never makes them victims.
But even if every detail doesn’t add up, it’s worth celebrating how this series swings for the fences, when it doesn’t really have to. The studio would have totally accepted, and perhaps preferred, a series in which each installment stood on its own. Certainly, if you watch the trailers for these movies, they’re always marketed as, “It’s Halloween – come see some sadistic traps!” But the producers either believed that a complicated plot would hold an audience’s attention after the novelty of the traps had faded, or they just wanted to do it even though they didn’t think it was a smart business decision. Either way, I tip my creepy clown mask to them.
But the narrative complexity is only half the story. There’s also the surprising depth to the villain, John Kramer, aka Jigsaw. Horror movie bad guys usually fall into two categories: psycho killers (Michael Myers, Leatherface, the miner from My Bloody Valentine who kept throwing his pickax at me in 3D) and vengeful ghosts (Freddy, Jason, the creepy girl from The Ring who continues to haunt my dreams). Jigsaw was designed to be something new.
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