The first Saw film was honestly something I've got to praise, which may come as a surprise to some readers out there. It receives a bunch of hatred these days from non-horror fans and horror fans alike for starting the trend of torture porn film genre, inspiring such divisive films as the remakes of Hills Have Eyes, the Hostel films (which I love, because they're funny as hell. I swear to god it feels like people miss out on the satire in Hostel), and all of those Michael Bay backed remakes of popular horror films warped into mindless gore fests.
You see, despite all the claims, the original Saw really cannot be considered a torture porn film. It's relatively light on the gore, and the few intense torture sequences in the film are shot in a way where we don't see the details (Dr. Gordon cutting off his own leg is mostly offscreen/implied, and the barbwire trap victim is shown in super high speed.)
I stand by that it was one of the few major original horror releases of the decade. The twist was a complete surprise, the setup was fairly unique, the atmosphere was fantastic... everything had that sort of level of filth that brought me back to Se7en.
Honestly one of the only real complaints I can make is that I hated was Adam's horrible faking dead scene. I know it's supposed to be him being a bad actor, but that's awful even by bad acting standards. Beyond that, I thought the acting was top notch. Cary Elwes delivers a fantastic performance, and it makes me sad that I've barely seen him in anything since then. The man was great in Robin Hood Men in Tights, Shadow of the Vampire, etc. Dr. Gordon's wife and child also deliver a really believable performance while being held hostage that honestly makes this scene most disturbing than anything else in the film for me. There's no blood, no violence, even implied, and it manages to come across as more disturbing than any other scene in the film to me.
I would, in all honesty, rate it as one of the better horror films of the past eleven years, as a standalone film. Most of the hate, at least from horror fans, seems to stem more from the sequels and for what this inspired. It really can't be blamed for either, though. Part of me blames the latter on false claims from major critics that exaggerated the amount of gore found in the film (Something we still see today. I'm still fucking disappointed after seeing Human Cenipede, realizing it's far more disturbing in reviews and in your head than the lame-ass, relatively tame piece of shit it actually is.)
Saw 2 came out merely a year later, and this one I actually got to see theatrically (Which already got me worried. It's usually not the good horror films I see in theaters.) Sadly, this film ended up being way more traditional than the previous film. Instead of the two men, one room setup we've got what I could only describe as a poor man's Cube wherin a rag tag group of some of the most unlikable people (including what is easily the least likable character I've ever run across as a main character in a horror film) run into various potentially deadly traps. There's more gore, more violence, and altogether a lot less of what made the first film great.
The only parts of the film that really save it as a genuinely good film are the scenes of Jigsaw himself. It's interesting hearing him talk, explain everything. I love how they managed to make an old, frail, sickly old man somehow both evil and pittyable at the same time. Seriously, Tobin Bell is half of what keeps the Saw series going today, and without him I doubt they would have gotten all these sequels.
I've got to tip my hat off to Xavier, the puerto rican american gangster in this film, for simply being such a horrible, disgusting character. Seriously, I've seen many, many horrible characters in horror films, but this guy just takes the cake. Even by real life evil standards, he's the kind of guy that ends up getting shived within his first week of prison time for being a disgusting sack of shit. He's the kind of guy they throw on Showtime's Dexter to give a completely unsympathetic one-episode character for him to kill and have the audience cheer, because there's no moral ambiguity when you're this evil. I find if frustrating how cartoonishly evil they made this one guy. He makes the cast of Rob Zombie's Halloween seem like The Wiggles. The cast of this film really highlights my complaint about Hollywood horror films having to pack their films with the most horrible of horrible people in order to create that moral level where maisntream audiences are fine with seeing them die horrible deaths, because it's okay for them to be entertained by the bloody death of a monster and only a monster.
Overall, it's not a bad film on its own. It's entertaining, and Tobin Bell's performance as Jigsaw is fantastic, but it's still really weak compared to how awesome the first film was. I'd call it the Dream Warriors to Saw 1's Nightmare on Elm Street. At least it managed to have an unpredictable twist like the first film did.
The third film, which was the final film I saw theatrically, for the most part seems like an attempt to return to the basics that Saw 1 gave us rather than the traditional, dumb jerkasses getting killed in creative ways (like Final Destination's sequels only completely straight faced.) While nowhere near as good as the first film, it's at least a far better sequel and much closer in tone to the first film.
The plot, similar to the second film, is split into parts that we constantly shift back and forth between (rather horribly I might add, I detest whoever edited this film.) One half is devoted to a sort of anti-Punisher style story of Jigsaw's latest plaything: A man whose child was accidentally killed, and who feels he was denied justice. Jigsaw puts him in positions where he decides if people tied to the case (a witness who fled the scene, the judge, etc.) deserve to live, giving him the option to save them from the various deadly traps or let them die in order to feel like justice has been done. I'm fine with those kinds of stories for the most part, when they're done right. I mean don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of Death Wish, I'm a big fan of The Punisher (especially Punisher MAX), but it's nice to see the darker side of this mentality, and it's really hard to sympathize with the man even with his sob story background. The other half of the film follows a female doctor being forced to perform surgery on a dying Jigsaw by Amanda, his apprentice, as well as some flashbacks explaining how they came to work together.
First off the film begins on a sour note by showing us two gruesome death traps that Amanda made to be purposefully unwinnable, as well as Detective Matthews from the previous film breaking his own ankle to get out of his chain, before we get into the film proper. Originally this had me expecting the film would be more like the previous film, just an excuse plot to see various people in traps with little attention being payed toward character development. You see, the first film, to me, really depended on the paranoia of the characters involved. That combined with the feeling of confusion over who is doing what, why, how things happened made for a very awesome film. I can't get any of that from a group of jerkasses that exist purely to be killed off.
Thankfully, despite the first ten minutes or so, the film ends up being much different than I'd expected. There's only a few victims and only one of them just feels like the kind of gratuitous, over the top shit we got in Saw 2, or the shit we got in later films. I was actually pleasently surprised by how relatively restrained this film was compared to the other Saw sequels, as the only truly gratuitously done bits in the film are the previously mentioned opening and part of the surgery done on Jigsaw. So, that's at least one thing I can't gripe too much about.
The one issue that remains from the previous film, however, is that many of the characters are complete idiots or do idiotic things. Amanda grips onto an idiot ball for dear life in that entire half of the story just so she can antagonize the doctor, refusing to have Jigsaw taken to a hospital where he can, y'know, not die. The main victim is also something of an idiot and just stands around squirming, squinting, and grimacing during two of the victim sequences long after he's decided to help them. The level of incompetency on his part gets outright laughable when he waits until an obviously frozen woman is dead to injure himself to get the key to save her. The captured doctor's being held i pace by a metal brace around her neck with shotgun shells attached to it that are rigged to go off if Jigsaw dies, and all I can think in the back of my head is: "Why can't she just use the water from the sink to render the shells useless? There's a huge sink right there!"
Even Jigsaw has an idiot moment when we flashback to the setup to the main trap from the first film. I'd always thought it cheap that the key to the leg braces was inside the tub, where it'd obviously go down the drain and be impossible to get. This makes the trap unwinnable as, despite what a later sequel would have you believe, slicing off that much of your leg is pretty much not survivable, unless there was a team of trained medical professionals waiting right outside the door with the necessary equipment. Do you have any idea how bloodflow in the leg works? Anyway, this film sets up that Amanda was responsible for the unwinnable traps, leaving that as a good excuse for that and one of the traps in Saw 2 (The two glass boxes), but no. We actually see Jigsaw and Amanda doing this, and the key being there was totally part of his plan. This completely shits over Jigsaw's attempting to teach Amanda to keep things fair.
The film ends with Jigsaw fucking dying, and yet we got another four films, because fuck you. I mean seriously, it reminds me of that feeling I got watching Tim Burton's remake of the classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which pretty much 'ends' and then continues on for another twenty minutes or so. The logical ending spot comes and goes because Tim Burton wanted to shove in some crappy subplot about Wonka having an evil dentist dad played by Christopher Lee. The series had a logical ending point, all loose ends wrapped up, Jigsaw's storyline ended, Amanda's storyline ended, Detective Matthews is dead, the two main victims from Saw 1 are dead, etc. Yet we got four more films because of how successful these three are. It reminds me of the situation with Halloween 2, how the fucking hospital basically explodes, taking both Dr. Loomis and Michael Myers, and how Halloween 4 basically had to pretend none of that happened so it could exist as a sequel, or how Halloween Resurrection had to basically break reality and turn everyone into complete idiots in order for it to exist as a sequel. I fucking -hate- that in a horror series.
I'll be tackling the other four films a bit later, I just felt that the series proper should be seen and reviewed seperately, like how I divided Halloween up into the first 6 films, and then the two alternate realities (Zombie's reboots and the H20 universe.)