Ranked: ‘Saw’ Films, Including ‘Spiral’

Daniel Rester ranks every entry in the 'Saw' horror series from worst to best, including newer entries 'Jigsaw' and 'Spiral.'

Ranked: ‘Saw’ Films, Including ‘Spiral’

by Daniel Rester

No other horror series owned the 2000s like the Saw series. James Wan and Leigh Whannell cooked up a small indie horror classic in 2004 with Saw and it ended up spawning a horror icon for the ages and eight sequels. But how does it hold up compared to the other films in the series? Let’s count them down from worst to best. Let’s play a game. Spoilers ahead (except for Spiral)!

9. Saw: The Final Chapter  (2010)

Never believe a horror series installment called “The Final Chapter.” The fourth entry in Friday the 13th had that name, yet there are twelve films in that series. Saw: The Final Chapter — the seventh entry — made a good case for having the series end though, as it’s easily the weakest installment. The plot is a complete mess, which isn’t surprising since the filmmakers jammed elements of a planned eighth film into this film in order to finish things (due to declining box office returns). The opening trap set in public has nothing to do with the story, new characters Gibson (Chad Donella) and Bobby (Sean Patrick Flanery) are boring, and the final twist — though somewhat cool — feels tacked on. The usually-reliable makeup isn’t even very good this time around in this lame sequel. Grade: D+

8. Saw IV  (2007)

The fourth chapter in the Saw series started to make a case for “maybe they should have left this as a trilogy.” This is the first entry without Leigh Whannell as a screenwriter, and one can tell the new writers struggled to come up with any fresh territory. Instead they fall back on Jigsaw, who gets a ton of screentime in flashbacks even though he’s a dead character at this point. The flashback scenes are decent and Betsy Russell is good as Jigsaw’s ex-wife Jill Tuck, but the core story has no protagonists to get behind as all of the cops make completely unbelievable decisions from beginning to end. The scenes of torture and bloodshed also feel more forced into the story as compared to the first three entries; only one scene involving a blind man and a mute man and another involving two ice blocks are truly effective. Plus it’s just ridiculous to believe that the characters go to all the places they do and do all the things they do in just 90 minutes of Jigsaw’s “game time.” Grade: C-

7. Saw VI  (2009)

Saw VI tries its best by being leaner, quicker, and having fun “sticking it to the man” by having the victims be greedy health insurance employees. However, Hoffman and his journey to evade the cops just isn’t all that interesting as the character is no Jigsaw. And it’s hard to suspend any more disbelief in how this guy even has time to engineer all these traps. Saw VI mostly just feels like it’s stretching more-of-the-same material. The carousel trap, however, is one of the best traps of the entire series. Grade: C

6. Saw V  (2008)

Saw V benefits where Saw III also does: in exploring Jigsaw’s relationship with an apprentice. With that film it’s Amanda, this film Hoffman. And while Costas Mandylor lacks range as Hoffman, the character’s scenes with Jigsaw and his cat-and-mouse game with cop Strahm (Scott Patterson) — who has an awesome scene involving his neck — do provide some tension. Bringing back the teamwork element to stay alive for the victims of the traps was also a good move. Despite its occasionally smart directions though, Saw V is still fairly forgettable and its two main storylines don’t gel together very smoothly in the homestretch. Grade: C

5. Spiral  (2021)

Comedian Chris Rock, a big Saw fan, came up with the concept behind Spiral, a spin-off sequel that moves the series away from Jigsaw and his followers and towards a new killer and new motives instead. Rock takes the lead as a detective named Zeke and does an uneven job turning in a serious performance. Better are Samuel L. Jackson and Max Minghella in supporting turns as Zeke’s father and new partner, respectively. The film tries to dive into failures within police departments and return the series to its original detective-based roots. It does pretty well with both of those things, and its new traps, but many of the story beats just feel too familiar and the twist ending of who the killer is is far too predictable. Grade: C+

4. Jigsaw  (2017)

Released seven years after Saw: The Final Chapter, Jigsaw represented a revival of the series. Bringing in the Spierig Brothers to direct was a fine choice, with the blocking, camerawork, and editing being some of the most comprehensible in the series. My biggest issue with this entry is that it is easy to figure out the secrets between the overlapping stories early on, which negates some of the twists and turns the film thinks it has going for it. The opening scene and the twist ending are also meh. What the movie does have is a new sense of mystery (is Jigsaw really dead?), fairly good character development, and standout performances by Paul Braunstein (Ryan), Laura Vandervoort (Anna), and — of course — Tobin Bell. The final trap kill of the film is also a doozy. Grade: B-

3. Saw III  (2006)

The anchor of Saw III is the creepy, emotional relationship between Jigsaw and Amanda; Shawnee Smith really shines in this entry as the latter character. The film is also a step up from its immediate predecessor in terms of the use of traps, with the character of Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) put in Jigsaw’s shoes as he must decide whether he can let people who had to do with his son’s death live or not. Such things actually make Saw III quite involving, which is a nice surprise given that it’s a third entry in a horror franchise. Other highlights: the drill surgery scene and the “rack trap” are freaking intense! Major faults: the twists of the last 15 minutes or so are completely laughable, especially when one character is literally bleeding out and still pulls out a tape recording. Grade: B-

2. Saw II  (2005)

With Saw becoming a huge hit in 2004, producers quickly pumped out a sequel to release just a year later, which is a trend that would occur every Halloween through 2010. The result is Saw II, a film that feels rushed and choppy at times as the creators were still getting their footing with trying to establish a franchise. The film greatly benefits from exploring Jigsaw’s character further, with Tobin Bell excellent every second he’s on the screen. It’s house of booby traps also shows an expansion on Jigsaw’s methods without showing creative deficiency yet, with the pit of needles a standout shocker. Bringing in Donnie Wahlberg and bringing back Shawnee Smith was also a good move. The film does lack some of the freshness and suspense of the original, and its quick-cut editing and over-saturated green color palette are ugly and distracting some of the time. Grade: B-

1. Saw  (2004)

The one that started it all remains the leader of the pack by a mile. While the cinematography occasionally looks cheap, the acting is hit and miss, and the editing is jumpy at times, the first Saw still holds up as a horror classic. Before the series became too focused on gruesome traps, the first film set its eyes more on mystery and character while also making us squirm. The film brought chilling plotting to the table similar to Se7en (1995) and left audiences with a twist ending for the ages. Other filmmakers tried to hit the same bloody sweet spot in the series as director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell did here, but no one came quite as close. Grade: A-

Written by
Daniel Rester is a writer for the We Live Film portion of We Live Entertainment. He is a Southern Oregon University alumnus and has a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Communication (Film, Television, and Convergent Media) and Emerging Media and Digital Arts. He has been involved with writing and directing short films for years. Rester also won 2nd place in the Feature Screenplay Competition in the 2015 Oregon Film Awards for his screenplay "Emma Was Here," which is currently in post-production and will be Rester's feature directorial debut.

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