I saw ‘Saw’ I-VI so you don’t have to

Image courtesy of Payton Courtney.

The year was 2022. The date was lost somewhere in the haze between Christmas and New Year’s. The place, a U-shaped sectional. Cuddled like puppies on the café au lait colored couch, my friend Payton Courtney and I stewed in winter-break boredom, plotting. Our proposed next move: naively embarking on a weeks-long binge, a saga of self-discovery. On the agenda, and the screen in front of us, was the first of nine movies in the Saw franchise, a 2000s horror sensation from the minds of James Wan and Leigh Whannel. Little did we know how many hours would be spent on that very same couch—mouths slightly ajar—avoiding direct eye contact with the screen, sitting as we watched blood-soaked scenes through the rain-soaked reflection of the living room window.

How did two friends arrive at this inciting incident? After waddling like lost ducks along the landscape of our small town, reading books that had laid unopened since August, what remained to be done with the time over break? Only the magic of cinema, of course. We were Nicole Kidman in her fabled AMC ad, splashing through puddles in silver stilettos, donning bedazzled jumpsuits, showcasing our Australian accents as we strutted around empty theaters. Our trips to our local Regal Hudson Cinema lead us to “Avatar” (in 3D), “M3GAN” and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.” It wasn’t enough. We wanted a whole different beast. While all those films were certainly entertaining, we decided to fill our plates with bigger portions—a series that, while having disappeared from theaters long ago, would absolutely challenge the strength of our stomachs.

As we watched that first installment, I remember liking it. The editing is certainly a thing of the past. It’s excessive, downright goofy, but Courtney and I were living. The gore isn’t overwhelming as we follow a select few, well fleshed-out characters. We’re introduced to the basic premise of the series, which follows a serial killer named Jigsaw, notable for the way they put their victims through games designed to morbidly teach them a lesson about the value of life and the effects of their actions. The plot had a few well-thought-out twists, and as the credits rolled, we solidified our pact to continue.

The decay of quality is non-linear as the sequels progress. Some scenes were atrocious, some showed glints of the first movie’s charm. The sequels have different structures and different setups all ending with a supposedly gag-worthy plot twist. Some of these climaxes are effective, some are anything but. “Saw II” (2005) features a sprawling group dynamic, while “Saw III” (2006) is more of a medical-style drama with a concurrent narrative focused on revenge. “Saw IV” (2007), a surprise second best in my opinion, features Scott Patterson (of Gilmore Girls’ fame) as an FBI detective investigating the murders in tandem with local police. I would be lying if I pretended to care at all about the plots of the fifth and sixth movies. They were rotting at a record pace. With the new writing a far cry from the work of Wan and Whannel, the movies became senselessly gorier and gorier, sadistic and cruel. For us on the couch, the same set of friends who gushed over “Puss in Boots,” we decided to stop after the conclusion of the sixth movie. We were washed-up zombies, shells of our former selves, ready to return to the clutches of academia as a way to escape the promise we had made to each other.

Three movies remain in the franchise, with a new “Saw X” promising to grace theaters this October. Will we decide to continue watching, for no other reason besides a hatred towards ourselves? That remains to be seen. But if there’s anything Courtney and I learned over break, it’s that not every movie has to be seen—even Nicole Kidman takes a break from the magic of cinema.


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