5. 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.
4. Saw VI (2009)
For all the franchise’s signs of tiring and running out of ideas, the sixth instalment could go down as the best-looking Saw film of all. For whatever reason, director Kevin Greutert was really in to careful framing and dramatic, hellish lighting of the movie’s more macabre scenes when it came to his turn at the helm.
Some of the cruelest traps in the series are involved here too, and you definitely get the impression Jigsaw has kept his nastiest toys in reserve to settle a particularly personal vendetta (as soon as super-heated steam and acid pumps become involved, you know you’re really in trouble).
Saw VI does have the feel of a grand finale, which it was originally supposed to be (though it’s still very much left open at the end). It’s also one of the only films in the series that feels like it’s taking place in the real world, with Jigsaw out to punish medical insurance brokers, here primarily represented by Peter Outerbridge’s avaricious William, for their hypocrisies. By this point the amount of new twists added to a mythology already groaning under its own weight is almost parodic, but it’s still enjoyable in a junk-food kind of way.
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3. Saw X (2023)
After two soft reboots failed to land (as in, they were profitable enough but not smash hits), the Saw franchise flashed back to a story set just after the first film (released two decades prior) and finally made John Kramer our protagonist from start to finish.
Saw X goes both bigger in scope and location, and more intimate in its characterisation, than ever before. It sees Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith reunited to hugely entertaining effect as Kramer and Amanda take grisly revenge on fraudulent cancer curers in Mexico.
You still have to suspend disbelief quite a bit to buy some of the plot mechanics, but the nastier than ever traps, series-best practical gore effects, and plenty of opportunity for Bell to grandstand for perhaps the final time as his creepily compelling terminally ill horror icon, makes Saw X a treat for diehard fans.