Shaun Munro ranks and reviews all nine Saw movies from worst to best…
If the general experience of living through the last year-plus has muddied the passage of time for so many of us, the fact that the first Saw movie released 17 years ago will only further warp that already tenuous perception of time’s cruel march.
Arriving in an era where long-running horror IP were in desperately short supply, director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell’s low-budget Saw gave horror fans another multiplex mainstay franchise to frequent like Sunday service every Halloween.
Yet like basically every titanic horror franchise of note, Saw has proven a wildly inconsistent concoction over the years. But even in its worst installments, the sheer fact that one horror series is still out here, swinging away at the breeze, is a strange comfort (albeit not without its frustrations).
And with the release of the new ninth film, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, what better time to revisit the entire franchise and pore over every last frame once again? From 2004’s Saw to the now-in-cinemas Spiral, this is how the series shakes out to a modern pair of eyes.
Note: this article contains no spoilers for Spiral: From the Book of Saw…
9. Saw V
Saw V marks the point at which it became abundantly clear the franchise was running on fumes, desperately attempting to persuade audiences that Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) was a worthy successor to the Jigsaw legacy while refusing to let go of John Kramer (Tobin Bell).
Darren Lynn Bousman opted not to direct a fourth consecutive movie, replaced instead by the series’ longtime production designer and second unit director David Hackl. While aping the Bousman aesthetic well enough – despite some truly wretched, cheap-looking title graphics – the movie’s problems largely come down to the programmatic script.
Stuffed with more excessive flashbacks than any other Saw movie, the fifth film too often feels like a “Previously on Saw” filler episode than a substantial moving-forward of the narrative, detailing the bland-yet-insanely-convoluted means through which Hoffman became entangled with Kramer.
Elsewhere the police procedural aspect hasn’t ever felt more, well, procedural, with Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) following Hoffman’s snoozy breadcrumb trail with all the verve of a crusty late-night cop show. Having Strahm verbalise everything he’s doing for the audience’s benefit while he investigates is beyond laughable.
There’s an avalanche of new mysteries introduced in this volume – a box given to Kramer’s ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell), a note written to Hoffman by an anonymous party – but most of it just shunts the series further down the melodramatic, soap opera-y rabbit hole. Even its one vaguely compelling idea, that Hoffman is more of a psychopath than Kramer ever was, feels like a retread of Amanda’s (Shawnee Smith) own inability to follow his rules.
There are at least a few passable traps – the grisly opening pendulum kill, and Strahm ingeniously escaping the water trap with an improv-tracheotomy – but things get a little too silly with the climactic “10 pints of blood” trap, which logically breaks down if you’re paying any attention to it. The participants throughout the film are also some of the most forgettable of the entire series, despite the presence of talented – and wasted – actors like Julie Benz (sporting an awful wig) and Meagan Good.
Tobin Bell makes fitful appearances throughout in voiceover and flashback form, a mere fleeting mercy in a movie that so continually strains to justify its own existence. The marketing boldly promised audiences, “you won’t believe how it ends,” which proved especially audacious considering this is the first Saw movie to end with no outright plot twist. In that sense the tagline was technically correct, at least.
The non-twist of an ending leaves the film landing with a perfunctory thud, Strahm framed as the new Jigsaw while Hoffman descends into the floor like a cut-price Bond villain. It’d be comical were it not such a lazy, foregone outcome.
Saw V isn’t just a bad movie – it commits the arguably worse sin of being bafflingly boring. As a result, it’s by far the most skippable of all the Saw films, doing little to move the franchise needle in any meaningful way.
With few of the series’ blackly comedic traps and the lack of any real plot twist, Saw V is the first entry that feels truly dull. It’s such a tedious mess, in fact, that even hardcore fans’ interest may have begun to wane by this point.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
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