You know when you go out and drink a few too many drinks, and you wake up the next morning, asking yourself “Why did I think that was such a good idea?” over and over as your head pounds like a drum? Yeah, I get that feeling everytime I see a bad horror movie. As you can guess, I tend to avoid them as much as I can. Case and point, for years I stayed as far away from the Saw films as humanly possible. Why? Cause all it looked like torture porn and mindless violence and “deep” philosophy that would wind up nowhere because it was just meant to try and justify the torture and violence. And most of the time, I’d be right.
But oddly enough, not this time. When someone finally forced me to sit down actually watch the first three movies in one sitting as part of a Halloween charity event (these are the things I do, people, don’t question it) and I realized how wrong I was. So whether you’re a believer, or a doubter, let’s discuss the merits (and yes, pitfalls) of the Saw series of movies.
Now, let’s be honest here – there’s no way in Hell I’m going to be able to cover all of the Saw movies in one article. And I wouldn’t want to because as much as I now love them, there’s no way any review of mine would do the series as a whole real justice. Therefore, if you want to go through the movies in great detail, my advice is to check out Welshy’s most excellent retrospective (still in progress at the time of writing) for the entire series, right here.
If you haven’t seen these films for reasons like being incredibly squeamish, feeling uncomfortable around torture or traps, having gone through a traumatic experience, or just not being able to physically, emotional, or mentally deal with this kind of stuff, that’s fine, and 100% acceptable. If you haven’t seen them cause you don’t like being scared, or just think they look bad, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice, so suck it up and just watch one. They’re all on Netflix at this point, so it might at least be worth the watch since there’s nothing good in the horror department coming out for a while. But since me usually yelling at people through the computer usually gets me nowhere (at least, not unless Skype is on) I’ll convince you with logic! SUPREME LOGIC!
1) Yes, there is a real story that arcs over the 7 movies. And it makes sense.
One of the biggest misconceptions about these movies is that every film is a mashed-up mess of plot that only serves the purpose of connecting scenes of the traps. But actually, the films themselves tend to have well thought-out plots which help span across the entire seven movie stretch. Basically, the story begins with Jigsaw, a mysterious and ailing man who decides that those people who don’t appreciate their lives enough or have committed terrible crimes, have to prove themselves through one, or a series, of challenges where they must fight to survive. And while that is pretty psychotic, it actually makes sense. And this isn’t just the plot or theme of the first film, it’s the overarching idea of the entire series.
While tonally the films can differ (Hell, even the Harry Potter movies weren’t all tonally the same) the films do a good job of leaving virtually no questions unanswered by the time it was all over. By the end of the series, all of the major questions are answered. Even just from movie to movie, most of the pressing questions get answered. Lost couldn’t even do that and it had how many seasons to get there? The point is, the Saw series does actually have a plot, and does actually work to make sure it’s an engaging, interesting one that does lose steam as it hits its finale.
2) The scenes of the traps 9/10 times actually serves a purpose or mean something symbolic.
These films don’t use shocking scenes just for the sake of scaring the crap out of you (because, let’s be honest here, they are designed to scare you). For example, there is one trap for someone who is a fake cutter, so his trap is a nest of barbed wire where he must reach the end before he cut himself open too much and bleeds to death. All of the traps are intricate and specific to the crimes of each of the “players” (victims isn’t really the term here) and thus, they tell small stories all on their own, even the ones in the beginning. Personally, after the shock and horror, I actually began LOOKING FORWARD to these scenes. They are incredibly creative, unique to the genre, and manages to add to the story…
3) It’s actually pretty terrifying. Or at least elicits emotional response.
… that being said, the scenes themselves are pretty freaky and realistic. Remember how I said I saw these movies at a charity event? Yeah, everyone was screaming and shielding their eyes the entire time. Because, really, the films themselves are meant to scare and shock, and that is exactly what it does. While, as I mentioned before, the scenes of torture serve a purpose but they are also terrifying. Hell, even the part where no one is dying is really creepy, with figures in pig masks jumping out of the shadows, the eerie silent hallways, the creaks and groans of factory floors. It’s a series of films that does it’s job well. Now a days, it’s tough to find ONE movie to get the horror right.
4) You can tell the people who worked on it really loved and believed in it.
Now, you meant think to yourself, “But wait, don’t most people who work on a movie care about it and want it to do well?” And to that I say yes, but it’s very quickly apparent when the movie falls to pieces cause it’s a bad movie, or when it fails to pieces cause it’s a bad movie and the entire cast and crew more or less screamed “Fuck it” and just completed the film as fast as they could. And trust me, there are plenty of films that shoot out that vibe like it’s the motif of the movie.
But this is not one of them. The screenwriters really work hard to make each film fit with the others, linking themes, answering questions, figuring out new and interesting traps. The actors, like the amazing Tobin Bell, really work hard to give their characters depth and purpose beyond just “loner photographer” or “crazy cancerous torture-machine-creating psychopath.” While the directors change (and yes, it shows) they are all clearly invested in the movie itself. And because of it, the movies feel like a flowing narrative all together rather than separate slices of a choppy, hash-and-slash-for-popularity film that only the producers were interested in making.
5) Nothing is wasted. Ever. EVER.
Okay, that’s a little extreme. I should really say nothing’s ever thrown in there for the sake of plot-device-ness or to look good, or just cause the screenwriters thought it would work for this particular scene. Everything means something, there’s always a double meaning to the tape recordings and the symbolism used. And that’s really good considering that after the first three, three more were added on because of its popularity and not because it was originally designed that way. Everything links back to other films, no props are used extraneously, no locales that can’t be located within the bigger plot, twists that have been present all along and don’t actually insult the audience. And that’s not something every series can pull off, in any medium.
Whether or not you will end up liking these movies the way I do, or the way most hardcore fans do, is not something I can guarantee. But I can tell you that the majority of what I once thought, and what a lot people still believe about these movies is actually fundamentally wrong. Hopefully I didn’t just spend this entire article preaching to the converted, and some of you will now go see one of these movies, just to get a better idea of how good, legitimately un-ironically good, this franchise really is.