Jigsaw: In defence of the early Saw movies

Jigsaw (2017)

After seven years off, the Saw franchise is back with its eighth edition, Jigsaw, which I haven’t seen but can only assume is crap because there have been no press screenings for it even though it comes out tomorrow (or so I was told by Lionsgate UK). The series has become increasingly rubbish and known for its torture porn content, but it didn’t start out that way.

I understand that a lot of people will be put off watching any of the films now because they assume they’re all the same; just a bunch of gratuitous, graphically violent and bloody scenes strung together without much plot or character development to invest in. That is certainly true of the latter half of the franchise but the earlier ones were soooo much better than that.

I have seen the original Saw (2004) many, many times and I’m not a horror fan, but then again, I would say it’s more of a thriller along the lines of Se7en. It isn’t focused on multiple people facing heinous games, but one central, elaborate game in which two men Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam (Leigh Whannell) are handcuffed to pipes in a disused bathroom in an unknown building with a dead man on the floor in between them. The film follows them finding clues that could be their means of escape.

Saw (2004)

Yes, there are some gross bits as we follow the detectives trying to track the elusive Jigsaw serial killer, who doesn’t actually kill anyone but sets traps so his victims kill themselves, and we see flashbacks of some of his previous games, like Amanda and the reverse bear trap and the fat dude in the razor wire cage. Most people will also think of Dr. Gordon sawing off his own foot, which is admittedly grim, but you don’t really see him do it – the camera stays on his face and we just hear the icky sound effects. Also we had spent the whole film with him, learned all about who he is as a person, so we were actually affected by his actions.

It was well-written, extremely clever, the character dynamics between Gordon and Adam were super interesting, as was the police investigation, and the story development was engrossing. The drip-fed revelations about the characters were excellent and the final twist genuinely shocked me. The film stayed with me for hours and it’s never boring on a repeat watch.

Saw II (2005) wasn’t bad but it showed a sign of things to come as there were more people and more games. It was set in a locked house with a lethal nerve agent coming in and heavily featured Amanda (Shawnee Smith). The characters are developed somewhat and there is some sense of story.

Jigsaw’s apprentice Amanda Young in Saw II (2005)

I always cite Saw III as the film where the franchise turned crap and became what it is today. There were so many games, featuring people you had little introduction to, and the violence stepped up a notch. It was disgusting and had little story tying it together outside of the police investigation and Jigsaw/John Kramer (Tobin Bell) and Amanda’s arcs.

Once those two die, things truly go to shit and the makers screw with the timeline, making it really confusing with flashbacks and events get retconned. The victims are no longer given any time to develop before they are forced to inflict unspeakable things on themselves to win the sick games that are just gross for shock value rather than any other reason.

Despite this, they kept churning them out every Halloween from 2004 to 2010, when they realised they needed to take a break. I had hoped that Jigsaw would be slightly different because of this hiatus as it gave the makers time to think of something new. I could be wrong but it looks like it’s gonna be more of the same and the lack of screenings just reinforces that perception.

I’ve seen all the others and I’m curious to see what happens, but I really don’t want to pay for it, so I’m currently debating if it’s worth a cinema trip.

Here’s the trailer:

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  1. […] week I wrote a piece defending the earlier Saw franchise, working on the assumption that Jigsaw would be rubbish. […]

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