October 10th -- Saw I, II, III

Saw I-III -- Unrated / Director's Cuts (2004-'06)
Directed by James Wan
& Darren Bousman

It all started with one claustrophobic horror flick funded on a little over a million bucks. The original Saw created quite a stir with its gruesome nature and one hell of an ending. Since Shyamalan came out with his little PG-13 horror treats -- all adorning a spin on the narrative at the end – many filmmakers had been rustling up twist endings left and right, some effective, some not. With Leigh Whannel’s interwoven script and James Wan’s sturdy direction that primed each shot for hack-n-slash editing, they formulated a film more sliced up than a ransom note – and equally as shocking. Saw, though a singularly focused horror film with a very weak grasp on dialogue, comes spring-loaded to shock its audience with brutality amid its atmosphere.

But that’s only part of the puzzle in Saw. The other portion revolves around the Jigsaw Puzzle killer’s motive: to frighten off-kilter people into living a straight-edged life. In that, the Saw films have tried to repeatedly tap into a wide range of humanity’s flaws and weaknesses in attempts at tapping into some form of justification for his actions. Its sequels have become lesser-rehashings of that theme, though they’ve gotten more and more elaborate and creative in their torture traps to satisfy gorehounds in need of their fix. No matter their range in quality, they’ve become a staple among Halloween moviegoers.

The original Saw, however, fits the bill of a modern horror classic; it transforms into a claustrophobic little brainteaser that has a bloody blast in playing a “will they, won’t they” guessing dynamic inside Jigsaw’s little chess game. His game? Let’s just say it involved a pair of saws and a pair of shackled ankles and leave it for you to discover Saw’s evil little mind tricks. In concept, it's about as intricate and momentum building as a machine; when spoken, sure, it comes across as a little less sharp than it should. Even when slighted by scriptural shenanigans and waning performances, they're still a hell of a lot better than many, many horror flicks. Plus, it's got Cary Elwes and Danny Glover in enjoyably-performed roles -- not to mention Michael Emerson in an early screen role before he became popular as Ben Linus in Lost. Adding these dashes of personality to 2004's surprise indie torture-horror thriller, and you've got a winner.

Then comes the barrage of sequels, starting with the aptly-concocted Saw II. Tagline? Oh Yes, There Will Be Blood. It clearly swings due to the momentum built by the Jigsaw Killer's first appearence, even down to echoing the sentiment of the "he's helping me" mentality established by previous surviving victim Amanda (Shawnee Smith). Once again, it traps "sinful" people in a confined space and forces them to interact in a tense environment, all the while building up pressure between the nervous parties at hand. But now we've got a host of cameos from the likes of Seventh Heaven's Beverly Mitchell and ER's Glenn Plummer. It's almost like there's a certain joy to be had in being one of the lambs being led to Jigsaw's slaughter. As the host of characters swim around in an unmarked house, deadly toxins floating in the air like a ticking timebomb on their lives. It rustles up this concept of purging evil, then somewhat abandons it; instead of two grief-stricken men with saws in their hands, there's a whole roster of people able to be knocked off in Jigsaw's little elaborate funhouse.

The same tricks are used, from the tape-recorded instructions to the cameras monitoring every move, but the traps have been drastically enhanced. Especially one trap, a setup that has made me feel a little uncomfortable seeing a medical needle and syringe ever since. Weak staged performances and underwhelming execution mar its raw tension, aside from Donnie Wahlberg's out-of-place solid portrayal, but it's still gruesome fun that'll satisfy fans of death-trap cinema. It reminds me of that TV show MTV's Fear, the one where a group of kids went to haunted houses and conducted a series of scare-inducing activities to test their constitutions for money. The first range of shows fed off of real terror surrounding the buildings, where the later shows started to rely more on gross-out traps to induce a kind of false fear. Saw II starts that same form of descent of the series, providing an enjoyable line of traps draped atop a over-exposed shell of the originator's well-thought ideas. Thankfully, it's still got the goods in the twist department -- and how.

Tonight was my first time venturing into the third installment of the Saw "jigsaw puzzle". Tagline? Suffering? You Haven't Seen Anything Yet. Which, put frankly, is very accurate as the gore and traps escalate to unbearable saturation levels here. More importantly, it ventures further and further from the core pseudo-philosophical concepts that make the series bloom with potential. Instead, it takes a departure into the lair of the "magician" on his death bed, a weakened sack of the man whose willingly (and forcefully) being sistained to witness his final piece of work: watching a pain-stricken father Jeff (Angus McFayden) suffer through Jigsaw "tests" to confront the drunk-driver who killed his son. He's being kept alive by a young soon-to-be-divorced doctor addicted to painkillers, who so happens to have an explosive collar latched onto her neck that activates when her patient's heart monitor flatlines.

There's so much energy present in all the Saw films, a property that's carried over into this third installment with a few different sparks of ingenuity. Using Jigsaw's fading life as a mechanism in one of his final mind tricks is both fitting and genius, especially considering the way that both he and Amanda tag-team on the doctor to get their way. But the actual tests that Jeff must endure, though exceedingly well-crafted and semi-intelligent, don't come close to carrying the same level of justification that Jigsaw's previous endeavors carried. It's a fact that you've got to swallow down to enjoy the gratuity and indulgence of these new traps, which have becomes more morbid and ingenius as the films have progressed. The more "profound" mechanism within Saw III comes in analyzing both John / Jigsaw and Amanda, key characters across both of the previous Saw films. As a close of the first portion of the Saw mythos, it's a solid slam of a door on a series of intricately-assembled and gruesome films -- a fitting end to a trilogy.


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