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How do you continue on a successful horror series when your antagonist is very, very much dead? Unlike your Friday the 13ths and Halloween movies, Saw‘s lead baddie is down for the count, for good, no crazy reincarnation, no sudden body disappearance, Jigsaw’s body is autopsied in the first scene of the latest sequel in the franchise in gruesome detail, and there’s no body coming back from that.

Still, a little problem like being worm food will not stop Jigsaw’s work, and that’s what Saw IV sets out to do for the audience, show them that even though the frail man we’ve seen deteriorate in the past three movies has finally died, his work is just beginning and the franchise lives on.

The film works as sort of a prequel and sequel to the first Saw and Saw III, respectively. We learn how John Kramer (Tobin Bell) came to be Jigsaw after a traumatic event in his life sent him over the edge, forcing those who have wasted their lives to save themselves or be flushed from society.


Saw IV‘s timeline is a big part of the movie so we’ll avoid that spoiler here, but part of the film responds to the aftermath of the previous films in the series. After Rigg (Lyriq Bent) sees the dismembered body of his former partner Kerry (Dina Meyer), who was killed in Saw III’s rip-splitting “angel trap,” he begins to question his life.

Jigsaw sets him up to perform a series of tests, to see what he sees, feel what he feels, and do what he does in order to allow people to save themselves. Throughout the film Rigg is tasked with making the choice of saving criminals or leaving them to save themselves, he has 90 minutes to pass all of his tests before several of his colleagues will die. This is the standard part of any Saw film, a person being put in an impossible situation, testing what we come out to see as a weak point in their personality and Jigsaw giving them a choice.

The second storyline in the film deals with the aforementioned flashbacks to John Kramer and his wife, Jill (Betsy Russell), and how their relationship rapidly falls apart as John begins his work as Jigsaw. We are even treated to Jigsaw’s first trap which even falls apart and fails as his subject attempts to solve it. Luckily the killer who never kills has a contingency plan, but it’s nice to see Kramer as a normal human being for a while. In fact, as the revelation of the event that caused Jigsaw to emerge is played out, you honestly feel bad for the guy, making him the most likable character in the film and the one the audience is likely to be the most sympathetic towards.


The film’s big reveal (as with the three previous entries in the series) gives the audience a lot of information to process at once. After first viewing the movie, especially with this entry, you’re likely to be more confused than anything. However, as you digest everything that happens in the final minutes, put the pieces together, you then realize that the writers have outdone themselves once again in creating a memorable way to end yet another volume in the franchise.

After it’s all said and done, Jigsaw’s taped message for Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is very true, this was only the beginning and we’re less than a year away from finding how it all starts again.

Most sequels or sequels of sequels tend to lose some of the spice that made the original movie worthy of having a sequel in the first place. There are franchises which buck this trend and those that follow a rollercoaster ride of mediocrity and glory as the series progresses through the years. The Saw series is a good example of the ladder with both the original and first sequel building up and progressively getting better with more inventive deaths, clever schemes, and twist endings that really made you think in the end. Saw III, the latest in the annual Halloween series, manages to hold the bar firmly in place for the series, but doesn’t raise it any particular way for the franchise or the genre.

Saw III picks up almost immediately after the events of Saw II, and as an added bit of closure we’re treated to how the second (and first) movies really ended by the screenwriters desire to tie up some loose ends. Granted they do leave a few questions, but we ultimately figure out what happened to Adam (the photographer from the first film) and Detective Matthews (who was last seen chained in a very familiar looking bathroom). Luckily for us the events that took place in the previous film are not only touched upon, they are a big component of the overall movie’s plot. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is still very much near death and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) is still working as his protégé in continuing on his work.

Unlike the first two movies the main “conflict” with a character or characters being put in an impossible situation (two men trapped in a bathroom, a group of people in a locked down house infected with a virus) plays second fiddle to Jigsaw himself and his final elaborate games to test the will of a person. I’ll be honest and say that I was surprised by the movie’s final revelation about who each of these people was and who was being tested for what. While the twist is no where near as good as the original, or as out-of-the-blue as the second film, it sits well with the viewer as you pick up bits and pieces along the way. We almost called part of the ending about half way through the film, but the ultimate climax and finale were a surprise.

The beauty of this series is it knows what it is, it knows the genre, and it knows who its fans are and it doesn’t bend over backwards to appease those who are not part of its core audience. The filmmakers at Twisted Pictures and Lionsgate know that male teenagers and early twentysomethings will turn out in droves for a film like this around Halloween and are prepared for the most obscene and grotesque display they can get a ticket for. These movies are cheap to produce, very cleverly marketed, and appease a devoted fan base.

Saw III lacks the horror aspect of most of the films in the genre in which the purpose is not to scare you, you won’t find any jump-out-of-your-seat moments here, but what you will find are plenty of reasons to cringe at the screen as decaying pigs become liquid, bone meets skull, and explosives meeting the human body. Saw III handles all three of the previous statements wonderfully and delivers a rewarding experience.

The second sequel, however, may not be as accessible as the first, or even second, films in the series for new viewers to be introduced. With so many flashbacks to the previous two movies, and the events leading up to them, and after them, this is definitely a more fan oriented film geared towards bringing closure and setting up the next sequel. How the will pull off nearly-greenlit Saw IV is anyone’s guess after the finale of this installment, but I can honestly saw I’ll be in line, ticket in hand, next year at this very same time.

Sequels in this day and age are lucky to have half the inspiration that made their predecessors worth a movie-goers time. Good sequels have always been few and far between, but over the last few years we’ve been cursed with atrocious sequels, let alone horror film sequels, that bring nothing to the table other than a way for the movie studios to make money.

Imagine my surprise when Saw II actually managed to be a good movie which only accentuated the fact that it was a good horror movie sequel.

Make no mistakes about it, Saw II was made to cash in on the success of the original, but never before have you seen a movie purely made for the money turn out so well in the end. Made on the cheap, just like the original, the film should make back its entire production and marketing budget in its opening week of release.

Saw II picks up right where the first film left off, well, some time has passed, but Jigsaw, the serial killer who never actually kills, is still building engineering marvels used to split skulls and disembody his victims. The film opens up with a Jigsaw related murder in the old-school, awe-inspiring type of death we used to see in the inventive 80’s. Jigsaw leaves a clue this time for Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Walhberg) to find him, which he does. What Matthews only comes to realize, after finding Jigsaw, is that several people have been locked into a house and a deadly nerve agent is floating in the air. They have two hours to live, but some of them won’t make it that long.

Writers Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannell have really outdone themselves with this smart sequel by topping the killing games of the original. Whereas Saw featured two men chained inside a decrepit bathroom and told of the history of the killer via Danny Glover’s character, Saw II puts us right in the middle of the “games.” The cast is composed of mostly throwaway characters who will only serve as canon fodder throughout the film. We aren’t introduced to many of them, and for good reason, within an hour most of them are dead.

Aside from the no-name cast, sans Franky G (Johnny Zero, The Italian Job) and Beverly Mitchell (7th Heaven), Saw II suffers badly from horribly-cliché-ridden dialog and awful delivery. The character’s aren’t anything but standard 2D cut-outs of other seen in many movies over the year, but it’s the over-arching story and a perplexingly smart killer that gives Saw II its edge.

Much has been said about Saw II‘s ending and how some believe it to be contrived only to further the series as a money-making option for Lion’s Gate and others, such as myself, thought it was very well done, but on the border of being cringe worthy. You certainly don’t see it coming, but if anything, the film leaves you guessing like a good episode of 24, always thinking that no everyone is what they seem and there’s more to the picture than what you can see.

Where The Ring Two felt it necessary to merely tread water on the familiar ground of the series, Saw II seems to be very content with reinventing itself in each subsequent sequel. Hopefully though, unlike Friday the 13th before it, this series doesn’t approach things too outlandishly to the point where you drive away your core audience (anyone remember the “thrilling” climax of Jason Takes Manhattan?).

Sure it was made for the money and had some lofty shoes to live up to, but Saw II may be one of the most surprising hits of the year because it had virtually nothing going for it other than the installed base of the horror genre and managed to surprise a lot of people, myself included.

Is it a spectacular horror film? No, but it sure is a darn good time at the movies, and a Halloween weekend well spent, plus, based on its early success, we have Saw III to look forward to next year, even if it is only for the money.

After seeing Saw, I certainly know where the producers got their banner name of Twisted Pictures. To put it lightly, the movie is twisted beyond recognition at some parts, but under all the gore and images of dirty, dank surroundings, there is a keen little movie to see. Many early reviews of the film, which has been screened a number of times over the last couple of weeks, made the endless comparison to David Fincher’s Se7en, a film which has a similar storyline.

Se7en focused on John Doe, a serial killer who used the seven deadly sins as his guide. In a unique, intriguing twist, the ending left many very, very surprised. Saw tries to recreate the atmosphere created by Fincher by placing similar characters in similar situations. In Saw, two men wake up in a highly disturbing room chained to polls on opposite sides of the room. After some bantering back and forth, they finally realize that they are the latest victims of the Jigsaw killer. This serial killer, in name only, finds unique ways for his victims to kill themselves, while he watches via video, or a hole in the wall. Jigsaw’s latest players in his twisted game are Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes). The killer gives instructions to Dr. Gordon to kill Adam before 6PM or his family will be murdered, to do this task, Jigsaw gives the doctor one bullet and a hacksaw. Lying in the middle of the floor, between the two men, is a body, with a good portion of its head blown off, and in the body’s hand is the gun Gordon needs to complete his task. Conveniently, the gun is just out of his reach.

Saw‘s, directed by James Wan, main appeal comes from its plotline and twisted story. The killer, portrayed via a mechanical doll throughout the film, is, by far, the most interesting of the characters. Elwes and Whannell, as Gordon and Adam respectively, do their best to fit into the roles, but sometimes step over the bounds of believability in their overacting. Surely, we can’t be the ones to judge them based on the fact none of us have been put in a similar situation, but there are times when the actors go a bit over the top. Also featured in the picture is Detective Tapp (Danny Glover), and while his character appears as though he might be going somewhere in the beginning of the film, he really serves no purpose at the film’s climax.

The beauty of the script is in the way the story is told. Rather than go straight forward from the time of the victim’s capture, Wan goes back in time to show how they got to where they are today. This is one of the more intriguing parts of the picture as the storylines of each character seem to overlap, making for an interesting, suspenseful time.

Part of the sick-joy, and allure, for Saw is the manner in which Jigsaw’s victims are killed. One man has to escape through a field of razor wire before a certain time or he will be entombed in the room he is in. Perhaps the film’s most demented device can be easily summed up in three words, “reverse-bear-trap.” This apparatus, which looks intimidating just staring at it, has the tendency to blow your head up when it goes off, tearing the jaw apart at the seams.

What Saw does well is deliver a well crafter story that has enough suspense to last for the 110 minute runtime. There are parts where the story becomes a bit thin and slows down due to an attempt at character development, but if you can look past those, you will see the film’s deeper meaning, a cult classic in the making.

Much chagrin has been given to the film’s ending, which I won’t spoil, for been too contrived and for simply being in the film to have the prerequisite trick ending. I, for one, was very surprised by the ending, as was everyone else in the theater I was in judging from the gasping and “no f*$%ing way!” coming behind me. There is definitely some disturbing stuff in Saw, but if you made it through Se7en and have the slightest twisted sensibility to you, then Saw is right up your alley.