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Where Does the ‘SAW’ Franchise Go From Here?

Where Does the ‘SAW’ Franchise Go From Here?

For a movie that is theoretically meant to relaunch the franchise, Jigsaw leaves the Saw series in a strange place. So much of the film is built around finding a one-time excuse for Tobin Bell to return over a decade after his character’s death, and by the end, we aren’t really excited to see the series continued in the present timeline with Jigsaw’s latest apprentice. But now, it appears that the games have just begun, and there will be a ninth Saw film. So where does the series go from here? After the disappointing but not altogether worthless Jigsaw, is it possible that the franchise can course correct and deliver an utterly fantastic ninth outing? Or are Saw’s glory days behind it?

To figure that out, let’s examine why it is that Jigsaw didn’t exactly revitalize the series in the way that it should have. On a basic level, a franchise revival like this should accomplish three things if it hopes to relaunch the series and not just serve as a standalone story. First, it should provide a satisfying answer to the question of why the series needs to be brought back at all, and why now. This is especially relevant if the movie is following up a sequel that was literally titled The Final Chapter. Secondly, it should dish up more of what fans loved about the franchise in the first place; we want proof that whoever now has control over the series understands and respects what came before. Finally, and most importantly, it should introduce new characters, storylines, and ideas that are as compelling as what we have seen in the past and that make us feel that the series is in good hands going forward.

When it comes to showing us why Saw should be brought back now, Jigsaw fails. We had heard that Lionsgate was waiting to make another Saw until there was a pitch that convinced them that the series should return after Saw 3D: The Final Chapter wrapped everything up. So what, exactly, was that pitch? Because for what’s supposedly a franchise reinvigoration, there’s nothing particularly reinvigorating about Jigsaw. At the core of the movie is just another twist that the story wasn’t taking place when we thought it was and another twist that an unexpected apprentice has been working with Jigsaw all along. What was the fresh angle that The Spierig Brothers came up with? If they had one, it didn’t end up on screen.

But does the movie at least pull off a well-executed version of what we love about the series? Well, not exactly. The core Saw formula is there, but it doesn’t quite come together. The absolute biggest failure is the twist, which is one of the worst of the entire series and is laughably easy to guess. From the minute one of the victims of the first game is left behind and his face is conveniently not shown, we suspect that there’s some reason we never learned anything about him or saw his death in full. His body also looks suspiciously similar to Logan’s. Over the course of the first act, the movie goes on to establish that Logan is upset about criminals not being locked up, and it heavily foreshadows Eleanor as the killer to the point that it definitely can’t be her. Eventually, we see scars on Logan’s back, which is a dead giveaway that he’s the guy from the first trap and therefore is likely John Kramer’s successor. There are an unnecessary number of hints throughout the film, and the minimum length of time it would take anyone to figure out the twist is 47 minutes, the point at which we see Logan’s scars. Yet when he’s revealed as the apprentice at the very end, it’s supposed to be a jaw-dropping surprise.

The second twist is that the main game is actually taking place 10 years in the past, but again, that doesn’t come as much of a shock. For one thing, how would the movie make any sense at all if the game and the detective storyline were happening at the same time? The game is clearly unfolding over the course of a few hours, while the detective storyline is over the course of at least two days. This clues us into the fact that the two plots must not match up exactly. Then you have the super unsubtle line from Eleanor that Jigsaw designed the spiral trap for a game that took place before the others; we see the spiral trap in the barn mere minutes later. This obviously implies that the game is taking place in the past, and the detective storyline is taking place in the present.

The movie is screaming these things so loudly at the top of its lungs that we begin to assume that they must be red herrings. So when we get to the final sequence, “Hello Zepp” kicks in, and we realize how dumb the film thought we were, we’re left with a sense of profound disappointment. We should never be this many steps ahead of a Saw film. The twists being predictable has even more significant consequences than just not leaving us surprised, though. It means that we never become fully invested in the present day storyline. After all, we aren’t worried about Logan being framed since we’re pretty certain he’s the killer, and we aren’t on the edge of our seat hoping that Logan and Eleanor will arrive in time to stop the game since we’ve figured out that the game ended long ago. We, therefore, watch the whole last third of the movie not in a state of suspense but in a state of mild interest.

What about the traps themselves? Do they deliver what we would want from a Saw movie? For the most part, not really. These games are much simpler than usual, which isn’t inherently an issue. In fact, it’s sort of admirable that The Spierig Brothers wanted to get back to basics. But the problem is that most of the games just aren’t inventive or interesting in any way. The first two, in particular, start the film off on a sour note. The movie opens on a chase sequence that feels like it belongs in a different franchise entirely, culminating in a trap where a criminal has to pull a trigger to start another game. We never even hear his full tape or learn the details of his game, so that one’s essentially a waste. The second game is too similar to one of the main traps in Saw V, and it just requires the victims to shed the tiniest bit of blood on a buzzsaw. There’s not much to it.

The syringe trap is one where the idea is decent, but the execution is lacking. All Carly has to do is inject herself with the syringe that holds the antidote, and she figures out which syringe that is really easily. Despite that, she just…doesn’t inject herself with it. Why not? If the idea was for her to be indecisive about it, it should have seemed less clear which syringe was the correct one, whereas, in the movie, it’s fairly clear since only one has a number on it that’s relevant to her dark past. Ryan’s trap is another one that’s just a bit too basic and unmemorable. It also forces us to question how the heck the grain silo game was supposed to work had Ryan not tried to enter the No Exit door, which he wasn’t supposed to do. The spiral trap had potential, but it’s shot in a way so that we never understand how far the blades are from Mitch at any given time. There isn’t much suspense as a result. And the laser trap at the end isn’t even really a trap; it’s more of a complicated way of killing Halloran, whose actions don’t impact whether he lives or dies.

The only trap that stands out is the shotgun one, which is undeniably classic Saw. But unfortunately, the others are either so simple as to make no impression, or they’re ones with an okay idea but a mediocre execution.

So the movie doesn’t really bring the franchise back with a unique point of view, nor does it flawlessly excel at executing the Saw formula. But what about the new characters, storylines, and ideas? Are we left with a sense of excitement about the direction this series is going in? Unfortunately, the answer is once again no, and that’s because of one simple decision that doomed the movie: the decision to make Logan the new Jigsaw.

Here we have a guy who works with law enforcement but is revealed to have been an apprentice of Jigsaw all along. We find out that he’s driven by the death of a loved one at the hands of a criminal who should have been locked up but was allowed to walk free. In other words, he is a carbon copy of Mark Hoffman. After a seven-year wait, we spend an entire movie getting back to where we were in Saw IV. Logan’s plan even revolves around framing a member of law enforcement just like Hoffman’s plan in Saw V.

But Logan is so boring that he makes us long for the days of Hoffman. The guy’s got no charisma, as becomes clear during the awful closing sequence in which he flatly delivers a horribly written, overlong monologue explaining his evil plan, which concludes with the cringe-worthy new mantra “I speak for the dead.” The fact that a master like Tobin Bell is also in this movie only makes Logan look so much worse by comparison. This is our new Jigsaw? Really? Him? Also, for a man who seems to respect John Kramer so much — he recreates the exact game that was played 10 years ago to see whether he’s worthy — the only game we see Logan come up with is just a straight up murder done to get back at someone who has personally wronged him.

Jigsaw would have been dramatically improved had Eleanor been the villain. She’s someone who has never actually been through any of Jigsaw’s traps, but she’s fascinated by him, maybe to the extent that she’d want to see his legacy continued. Having her be the killer would make for an entirely different dynamic than we had with Amanda, Hoffman, or Dr. Gordon. And it would allow the movie to explore the effect that Jigsaw might have had on people outside of those he has directly trained. Are there men and women out there who have never met Jigsaw but who would be inspired by his actions and who, due to the unique circumstances of their own life, would want to follow in his footsteps? Unlike Amanda, Hoffman, and Dr. Gordon, Eleanor would be a true copycat killer, something brand new to the series that would make reviving it worthwhile. But it turns out she’s not involved in the game at all. She’s just a random person who happens to be interested in Jigsaw and who happens to work for the actual new Jigsaw Killer.

So where does the series go from here? The place we’re left in is that Jigsaw’s legacy is in the hands of a lame new apprentice whose backstory is remarkably similar to a character we have already explored in four movies. Saw IX could theoretically improve upon Logan in the same way Saw II fleshed out John Kramer. But seeing as we already know all of the bullet points of Logan’s backstory, that might be a lost cause. A better idea would be to completely ditch Logan and shift focus to Eleanor. We never find out who picked her up at the end of the movie, but whoever it is, maybe this can be the start of a storyline in which Eleanor gets involved in the games.

The most compelling concept presented in Jigsaw is that there is a whole website full of people who worship John Kramer and his ideology. According to the producer’s commentary, this is something that will be followed up on in the sequel. From all of the advertising for Jigsaw — and from the original title of Saw: Legacy — it sounded like the eighth installment might be going in a direction where there’s no one new apprentice. Instead, many people would be carrying on John’s legacy. After all, some official posters for the movie showed a bunch of different people in pig masks with the taglines, “He is everything. He is everyone. He is everywhere.”

Now that would have been an idea worth reviving the series for. And it might not be too late. Perhaps Saw IX could drop Logan in favor of these Jigsaw fanatics, one of whom kills Logan in the opening trap because he is betraying John Kramer by killing for personal reasons and not giving the victims a way of winning the games. Going forward, the villain of each Saw movie could be somebody completely new, the same way many different people take on the identity of Ghostface in the Scream series. They can each be emulating Jigsaw for a unique reason, and they don’t all have to have had an encounter with John at some point in the increasingly convoluted timeline.

This would accomplish something that is so very necessary at this point. Saw needs to learn from Kylo Ren and let the past die. As hard as this is to admit since we all love Tobin Bell, going forward, the franchise must abandon John Kramer as anything more than a symbol. At this point, the need to always incorporate him via flashback is only dragging the series down. With Jigsaw, the entire movie was forced to anchor itself to the past for the sole purpose of getting John back, with this preventing the film from fully exploring more original present-day storylines. The series now runs the risk of continuing to focus too heavily on the past, with large chunks of the sequel being spent on flashbacks to Logan and John working together. Let’s not forget that this was one of the big issues with the original series, yet that apparently taught The Spierig Brothers nothing. Tobin Bell has even suggested the next movie could explore the origins of Billy the puppet. With all due respect to a genius actor, that is exactly what Saw IX doesn’t need. The series can still retain all of the fundamental Saw elements — Billy, the music, the traps, the crazy twists — without having to keep folding in on itself and returning back to events from over a decade ago.

Saw IX can also build upon Jigsaw’s other positive qualities, one of which is the fact that every single one of the victims has a good reason for being in the game. This is a definite improvement over the days of Jigsaw kidnapping local janitors because they smoke. Plus, the original series always suffered when the traps were essentially just torture devices where the victims had little agency, and that’s thankfully not the case with most of traps in Jigsaw. The movie also looks gorgeous, and many of the side characters — especially Detective Hunt — feel right at home in the series and would be worth keeping around. For these reasons, a sequel would certainly be preferable to another reboot. But a course correction is required.

Going forward, Saw IX can succeed by meeting the criteria that Jigsaw failed to meet. First, it can finally answer the question of why it is that this series should keep going. What is the new idea that justifies not allowing Saw to die with the eighth installment? Surely, Logan — a.k.a discount Mark Hoffman — can’t be the answer, but a focus on the actual legacy of Jigsaw would be one good option. Secondly, it should offer a more satisfying rendition of the hits, complete with inventive traps that really stick with us, in addition to twist that we don’t see coming a mile away and that isn’t just a retread of one of the twists of the earlier movies. And finally, this time, it should leave the audience feeling like they’re in good hands with characters, storylines, and ideas that we are excited to see continued, whether this is by fleshing out Logan and differentiating him from Hoffman or by taking things in another direction.

If Saw IX can do all of this, perhaps the series could build upon a mediocre reboot and fully return to its golden era. But if not, and if the sequel doubles down on a stale antagonist, uninspired traps, and an unnecessary reliance on the past, maybe it’s best that the door is shut on this series for good.



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