(On Cable TV, October 2018) I’m not generally a fan of torture horror and extreme gore, but I do have a softer spot for the Saw series for a few very specific reasons: I do like the rhythm of its films, especially when the soundtrack goes crazy in an attempt to distract us from weaker plot points. While the series has constantly been a let-down in the way it doesn’t fulfill its own moralistic objectives, it is special in how it constantly plays with structure to indulge in temporal misdirection and surprising revelations. The obvious weakness of such complex shenanigans constantly digging in the same material for twists, acolytes and time loops is that the series feels incredibly convoluted after eight instalments. That’s why I would have much rather preferred Jigsaw to have been a series reboot than yet another increasingly untenable instalment seven years later. But it only took the opening score to put me back into the series’ twisted aesthetics and the curious comfort of a film still going for broke in its direction, set design and plot twists. Jigsaw is pretty much exactly what we’d expect from another entry in the series. Convoluted traps, bloody gore, half-hearted morality plays, death-punctuated narrative and final revelations that don’t make sense the moment you think about them. Everything is incredibly convoluted, but that is part of the charm—don’t use real-world logic and you’ll be fine. This late instalment switches the rusty industrial visual atmosphere of the series to a more rural one, and it’s not much of an improvement … or a change. The Spierig Brothers handle direction duties, bringing their usual flair to the series’ established style without much of a clash. (I’d rather see the Spierigs do more original material, but if Jigsaw keeps them commercially viable, then I won’t complain too much while awaiting their next film.) Jigsaw’s adherence to the codes of the series means that experienced viewers will spot when the film pawns a few cards—whenever a death occurs with an unusual lack of gore, for instance, it’s easy to recognize it as A Clue to later revelations. Jigsaw, in other words, is no more and no less than another instalment perpetuating more of the same. Fans and haters will react accordingly.
(Netflix Streaming, November 2015) I had previously seen bits and pieces of Saw IV, but watching it from beginning to end so soon after seeing Saw III only highlighted what I’d gathered from my cursory first look, albeit with a stronger caveat. First, the good: The integration of Saw III and IV is clever, misleading viewers just well enough to be interesting. The grimy industrial atmosphere of the series is finely upheld (if that’s your kind of thing –I’ve found that a little of it is enough to last me a long time) and so are the usual ticks and tricks: the music that blares the moment something is happening, the camera that goes wild as if to mask the gaping logical gaps of the story… and so on. As I’ve said: One Saw film per year or two is enough to satisfy: more than that, and the holes start to show. It doesn’t help that this fourth volume is less satisfying than the previous ones: The mean-spiritedness of the series (via its elaborate traps, casual disregard for human dignity and flashy gore) is far less tempered by any kind of redemption. This is partially addressed in the story (original villain Jigsaw’s legacy is being repurposed by other, more nihilistic imitators) but let’s not fool ourselves: At the fourth volume, this is also the series creators reacting to what the series fans are asking for: sadistic blood-soaked deaths, meat puppets being torn apart and rusty warehouse decadence. As for me, it feels as if I had seen enough by the previous installments: This one seems more than redundant.
(Netflix Streaming, June 2015) How fitting that one of the thematic threads in Saw III be the tension between sadism and redemption. In the universe of the film, we get an argument between the lead villain (who does allow for extreme redemption) and his apprentice (who would rather kill in gruesome ways), which finds an echo in the tribulations of a putative protagonist offered the chance to take revenge upon the killer of his son and the enablers that let him walk free. But in a wider context, redemption and forgiveness make for lousy horror franchises: The Saw series is built upon grimy traps, gruesome deaths, gross-outs and twisted revenge. While I would personally like the series to err more frequently on the side of the compassion it professes to embrace, we know that this wouldn’t sustain a fan base big enough to allow for seven installments. Part of the proof is in the way Saw III casually kills its recurring characters, forbids the rescue of its imperilled victims (all the way to a hilariously contrived shotgun blast) and embraces humanity’s infuriating penchant for self-harm. Having seen bits and pieces of the next two films in the series a while ago, I found myself intrigued by the appearance of various plot hooks (and throwaway characters) used by latter installments in the series, and a bit captivated by the decaying atmosphere of the film and its dynamic direction. I’m not as amused by the gore, the meanness or the nihilism of the series’ attitude, but then again I’m not really part of the horror audience courted by the series. And while I’m curious about the three other installments in the series that I haven’t yet seen, I have a feeling that waiting a while between films is the best approach.