What Is The Order Of The Saw Movies? And Where To Watch Them!

What Is The Order Of The Saw Movies? And Where To Watch Them!

Since spilling out like intestines in 2004, the Saw movies franchise has gained notoriety both for the yuk of its gory violence and also for an unkillable relentlessness despite spiralling bad reviews.

With the release of Saw X in 2023 we are at ten films. How many franchises have not only hit ten films but proudly announce so with a huge ‘X’ emblazoned on the title card?

I’m a horror fan but not of so called ‘torture porn’ movies and have steadfastly stayed away from the entire franchise.

Yet as Saw X rakes in the cash (nearly $80 million on a budget of $13 million) and – shock! – wins good reviews, I decided to take the plunge and watch every single movie one after the other for the very first time.

Apparently I am also determined to torture myself.

A quick overview then. John Kramer, aka ‘Jigsaw’ (Tobin Bell), knocks out and kidnaps people he judges to have made poor moral choices to the point of not appreciating the gift of life.

A former civil engineer, John is dying of a brain tumour, and so such disrespect for life irks him.

His victims must ‘play a game’. Said games invariably involve horrific self-mutilation in order to survive.

The game will be designed to punish the player in some way related to their perceived moral slight, and will be activated by their own actions. Jigsaw states he never kills anyone: the players have to choose to live.

That fight for life – should they survive (not many do) – will imbue them with a new found respect for the gift of existence. Usually minus a limb.

Out of these people John will frequently try to teach the logic of his own ethical code, recruiting ‘disciples’ along the way.

Can the interest in this concept be retained for ten films? Erm, let’s find out.

Saw – 2004 – Netflix

Even though I had no interest in the franchise as a whole, I had always wanted to watch 2004’s notorious Saw. Cary Elwes! A big surprise (long since ruined for me)! Locked room format! Directed by James Wan! It all sounded good.

The formula which was hardly ever deviated upon was all set here: self-activating traps; endurance of horrible pain to survive; that John Kramer apparently foresees every eventuality, no matter how remote.

It would be often carbon copied, to the point of fading into illegibility.

The real thing that Saw has going for it – that the other movies forget – is interesting characters.

By location locking two people in one room (Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell) there is as much focus on dialogue as there is the rusty hacksaw or blood soaked corpse in the middle of the room.

Saw still stands up as a fun and interesting movie with a great hook, and is well worth a watch. Good start! Would the franchise be able to keep up this momentum?

Saw II – 2005 – Netflix

Oh. Oh dear. From high to low. This film is awful. It makes the ‘bigger, bolder, bloodier’ sequel mistake of doubling down on the crowd pleasing traps.

These are designed to be more elaborate (the unpleasant ‘monkey puzzle’ hand trap for example), but are quicky reframed as the showpieces at the expense of any character work or plot to give the violence any context.

Unfortunately Saw II would set the blueprint for many of the films that came after it. A gaggle of ‘players’ shoved in a maze filled with death dealing traps that hack, burn, impale and peel for splatter’s sake alone.

It also sets the standard for shudderingly dull police characters with Donnie Wahlberg looking neither interested nor engaged.

And if you thought the FLASH FLASH FLASH quick fire editing technique was quite annoying in the first movie then boy, are you gonna have to succumb to over-exposure here.

The worst of the bunch.

Saw III – 2006 – Sky Cinema

More of the same? Some janky wooden acting? Most definitely. Saw III is considered the end of a loose trilogy as the terminally ill John Kramer is most definitely facing a terminal withdrawal here.

Saw III scrapes back some underlying reason for the traps. Main player Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) must judge those who contributed to his son’s hit-and-run death.

The traps are elaborate enough to build anticipation as to the culprit’s execution.

Bell really is the underused gem of the franchise, which seems like an odd thing to say considering he is the antagonist.

John Kramer is frequently written as inscrutable and nigh on omniscient, reduced to sitting there and never flinching because he has everything planned out.

Here, Bell’s now iconic gravelly voice and death stare do plenty of heavy lifting to keep the character in focus way beyond the lacklustre writing.

In this movie, having kidnapped a doctor, he lies vulnerable and (through a ‘dial it up to 11’ disciple in Shawnee Smith) forces the victim to try last gasp brain surgery on him. It works even as the choppy editing and OTT bonanza dates the movie.

Saw IV – 2007 – Sky Cinema

Why can’t more of the franchise be like Saw IV? Director Darren Lynn Bousman also directed II and III but seems to be having much more fun this time.

The opening sequence mercurially sets the tone and makes it very very clear as to the status of John Kramer, but what truly sets Saw IV apart is the transitions.

Go on YouTube and search ‘Saw IV transitions’ (or click here). You will be gifted with a couple of minutes of Bousman along with editors Brett Sullivan and Kevin Greutert (who would go on to direct many later Saw movies) using every trick in the book to make Saw IV a much more visually interesting film to watch.

A particular highlight is a moment when a player crashes into a mirror only to ‘fall’ into the next scene.

The central backstory as to why John Kramer was entrapped within building vicious death machines is a welcome addition and gives Tobin Bell the chance to spread his wings a little.

Yet the film is hampered by a turgid and yet hammy role for shouty FBI guy. Also, whilst the big reveal lays the path for many films with a John 2.0 it never first places the corner pieces in which to assemble this new Jigsaw.

Saw V – 2008 – Sky Cinema

In a recurring motif, Saw V takes the wrong lessons from IV. The slightly camp editing flourishes that made IV stand out are excised and instead the focus is on a cat-and-mouse battle between the big disciple replacement for John Kramer and award winning Most Annoying Character™, FBI Agent Strahm.

Timelines become increasingly fraught at this point. Flashbacks fill new events and characters into any chink of time available in the first three films, to baffling effect.

Not that the series has dabbled much with logic, but the amount of future planning John Kramer would have needed to do for these movies to work is now stretching what little credibility the franchise had.

More than anything else, Saw V is just boring. All the usual is here with little to no flourishes to sweeten the guts encrusted pill.

We are left with a cast of players for whom the game is a contractual requirement.

Saw VI – 2009 – Sky Cinema

Context, context, context! The series springboards back up into the air with a movie that has more to say than just slice-and-dice-is-not-nice.

Sure, it’s still a kidnapped player forced to go down a maze of traps to face their moral failings, but the moral failings in question is the American healthcare system.

More specifically, our lead player is a health insurance mogul who – oops – denied John Kramer coverage.

What follows is a series of traps that successfully drive a spike under the nails of its theme. Much like in Saw IV, the injustice suffered by Kramer means that the subsequent game as a personal – but this time relatable – touch.

Each trap works to highlight the absurdly cruel nature of health insurance and those who arbiter over it.

Series editor Kevin Greutert is promoted to director and, although there are little visual stand outs, he lifts the film by ensuring that each character is given all due consideration.

When the iconic ‘uh oh, a twist is coming!’ Zepp theme kicks in Saw VI manages a rare surprise, which is commendable.

Saw 3D – The Final Chapter – 2010 – Sky Cinema

The Saw roller-coaster takes another plummet into disappointing darkness.

An increasingly labyrinthine yet shallow plot scoots along underneath a movie that resorts to the same old organs and orifices abuse. Even John Kramer’s crowbarred in flashback bit is like a barely audible sigh.

I watched this at home and so didn’t get the ‘benefit’ of the 3D experience but frankly it’s hard to see whatever in-your-face splatter this might have promised.

Left with just the traps to care about there is a satisfyingly gross car and glue sequence that takes out a handful in one go. It’s ok though, they’re racists!

The movie gets a few points for finally deploying the famous (and often defeated) ‘reverse bear trap’ to lethal effect, and the return of an old character that gives the ending some zap.

Such a reveal is then immediately dropped. It’s understandable (the actor in question is not one who would conceivably become a main part of the franchise) but still disappointing.

Jigsaw – 2017 – Sky Cinema

If total Saw fatigue hasn’t set in yet then Jigsaw is likely the movie to do it. Released in 2017 and with new directors The Spierig Brothers in place, the one good thing you could say is that Jigsaw looks slick.

Most of the franchise had thus far combined low budget grain and needlessly manic editing that quickly dated the movies.

Jigsaw uses a comparatively lush colour palette, cleaner set design (a disused barn complete with grain trap, no less) and higher resolution to inject some needed modernity.

It’s a shame then that so much of the movie is so perfunctory. Another clutch of morally stained people are dispatched with in not particularly interesting ways, ‘spiral blade’ trap notwithstanding.

The less said about the ending the better, as Jigsaw grasps at the straw that litters its floor to try and keep its central draw alive.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw – 2021 – Amazon

So far we have around 3 films actually worth watching out of a list of 8 entries. Spiral is the ninth movie and the only one to not feature John Kramer in any way whatsoever, at last.

‘Worth watching’ is a term probably stretched like some bolted-in fingers, but finally we get a movie that swings for something different.

Director Bousman returns and Chris Rock stars in this entry which cuts open the franchise and reframes it as a 90s style David Fincher thriller.

Low lighting and slow camera work give the movie a brooding calm; ‘brooding calm’ is not often associated with Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson, never mind a Saw film.

It’s therefore a shame that the plot is so lifeless. Rock is not compelling enough to shoulder the whole movie despite it commendably being his idea and pitch that brought it to life.

An overarching theme of police corruption gives well needed context to the traps, even if they are few and delivered in isolation from the rest of the movie.

Although it totally gets marks for a much needed revamp, Spiral proves that, by hook or by crook, the franchise needs John Kramer even if it keeps mishandling him.

Which leads us to…

Saw X – 2023 – Not Yet Streaming

Reader, strap yourself in for a sharp shock to the unmentionables: Saw X is good.

Not just ‘best in the Saw franchise’ good (which is a low bar to meet) but actually good good!

Writers Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg deliver on a solid idea from series producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules to slow down and explore a time when John Kramer clung on to some hope.

The secret to selling the yuk factor successfully has been so obvious all along that it can’t even be called a secret: character and context.

More specifically, Saw X properly diagnoses Tobin Bell as the symptom to focus on as Saw X slots in between the first and second movies.

John, having learned of an experimental treatment for his cancer, travels to Mexico to undergo a procedure that promises to save his life.

Spoiler: things do not play out that way and disciple Amanda (Shawnee Smith) is drafted in to exact Jigsaw’s specific brand of justice.

All the other movies came in just under or over 90 minutes. Saw X is a full 2 hours and uses this extra time to spend quality time with John.

As a frail and frightened man Bell brings out the humanity in his character. He clings to hope, all too ready to be kind in the face of kindness. Even the return of Shawnee Smith comes with a welcome dose of relatable self-doubt.

There is an argument that, given the monstrous things Kramer has already done at this point, such humanising undermines his bloodthirsty nature.

Yet the one-tone monster is what also dragged the series into formulaic tripe; giving the man an angle can only elevate the whole plot.

When things do get all hack, slash, and slice the resultant mutilation is much more effective given the context of why these ‘players’ are all present.

Saw X still makes it clear that these people (mostly) don’t deserve their fates, but the surrounding situation strikes an air of believability so lacking in most of the franchise.

Lastly, as this is the first movie of the series I have seen in the actual proper cinema, something struck me that didn’t with any of those I watched at home: the sound design.

Sat with surround sound squelching in my ears I writhed and winced in my chair at each visceral splat of rendered flesh. Pass the sick bag, please.

I Saw It All

What have I learned from watching each and every Saw film for the first time?

I learned that if any series justifies the derisory term ‘torture porn’ then it is this one.

The series continually mishandles its own premise by zeroing in on the most paper thin of justifications for literal spilling of guts. This, alone, is not enough.

The movies that stood out are the ones that either added a point to the slaughter, characters to care even a little about, or showmanship in presentation.

In that respect only Saw, Saw IV, Saw VI, and Saw X meet such criteria.

The rest is just wallpaper gore to stick to your walls and ignore the dripping forever more.

Will we get more Saw films? Considering how the franchise continues to be super profitable then yes, most likely.

However, it would be wise to stop at the undeniable high point of Saw X in the face of an ageing lead and shrinking ways in which to keep returning to him. Tobin Bell can be proud to have fully enriched his glacial eyed iconic character of the last 20 odd years with a fitting swansong.

Saw wants to play a game. Check what’s in its hand before you accept, and then roll the dice.

Words by Mike Record – who is now going to watch silly comedies thank you very much.

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