6. Jigsaw (2017)
Jigsaw is a solid series revival from talented directors (the Spierig Brothers of Predestination and Daybreakers), but aside from using the finale to set up a potentially interesting direction for the franchise going forward, this 2017 release does little that is particularly revolutionary.
There are pleasing references to the earlier movies for die-hard fans and plenty of new traps – a highlight for its sheer simplicity is a rapidly filling grain silo that immobilises you in order to have an assortment of sharp and heavy things drop on your head Tom and Jerry-style. If you’ve seen even a handful of these movies you should know the formula for guessing who Jigsaw’s latest accomplice is: it’s not the really obvious suspect, it’s the slightly less obvious one.
The new characters aren’t any great shakes and there’s a dearth of much-needed tension regarding their morally questionable backstories. Still, there’s a very cool laser-collar trap used for the finale and the expected twist that goes with every new instalment is a little different to what you’ve come to expect, so that’s something novel.
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5. Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)
Spiral is just another Saw film and not much more.
It opens with an amoral victim in a trap, it uses the franchise theme music in the scene of big revelations and refers back to previous films in the series. It also claims erroneously that “Jigsaw didn’t target cops” (except all the times that he demonstrably did).
Chris Rock is solid in the lead as Decective Zeke Banks, the son of a legendary cop (Samuel L. Jackson) who is largely despised by his department for putting away his partner for murder years before. Soon a Jigsaw copycat begins kidnapping the remaining dirty cops on the force and Zeke follows a trail of clues that may yield a very personal connection to the case.
Rock dials his usual wisecracking persona back a little to better match a fairly gritty cop thriller, and the larger story should satisfy longstanding Saw fans as a decent entry in the franchise even if it does little if anything to convert the uninitiated and occasionally gets weighed down by clunky character exposition.
4. Saw II (2005)
Saw II is bigger and bloodier, but not better than the original.
Regular series director Darren Lynn Bousman started his run here, and while Jigsaw’s traps are more elaborate and cruel (the pit full of needles designed to punish an addict is particularly nasty), the film mostly lacks the clever plotting and tension of the original Saw. It’s not dissimilar to Cube with its large group of supposed strangers waking up in a room-of-death premise.
John Kramer’s utter derangement (“I never killed anyone in my life!”) still entertains and it’s this first sequel that began to peel back his layers. Donnie Wahlberg makes for a pretty standard protagonist, but the emotion-fueled extended dialogue scene between him and Kramer is the most compelling sequence in the film, so much so that they ration it throughout the runtime. The rest of the cast are a bit underwhelming and simply serve as lambs to the slaughter for the purpose of entertainment.
You can’t really deny that the film has moments that serve a certain deranged craving for schadenfreude found in all human beings, but as a whole this 2005 release loses a great deal of its energy and motivation after the first couple of nasty set-pieces. Still, Saw II is diverting, and makes for a decent enough Friday night gore-fest.