“What the f*** is going on? Where am I?” Those words, uttered two minutes into 2004’s SAW, express the primal emotions – the hopeless confusion, the sense of powerlessness and sheer, panic-stricken terror – that lie at the heart of this hugely successful franchise that shows little sign of stopping.
The five films follow the machinations of Jigsaw, a terminally ill cancer patient with an exacting moral agenda and a genius for gruesome games of survival, played with those he believes have ceased to value and appreciate the gift of life. Ratcheting up tension and invention with each successive film, the franchise touched a chord while picking up the baton from classic horror series such as Halloween and Nightmare On Elm Street to become the most profitable horror franchise in movie history.
To date, the four SAW titles have taken in over $550 million in worldwide theatrical box office. The original made its world premiere at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and was immediately acclaimed as an experience “which grabbed the viewer from the first frame; it was bold, cleverly constructed and flat-out terrifying. This movie didn’t just want to scare you, it wanted to make you think about what you would do to stay alive. In today’s world, that is not a trivial thing to contemplate – either as an individual or as a member of society.”
Jigsaw’s cancer has led him to think hard about what it means to be alive and how close we are to death at any given time. The concept of life’s value becomes a springboard to look at other personal moral choices, like forgiveness versus retribution. The stylistic consistency of the SAW series owes much to the participation of a core team, including originators James Wan and Leigh Whannell and writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman.Another critical member of the team is actor Tobin Bell, who has portrayed Jigsaw throughout the franchise and was described by one film reviewer as “the best horror antihero since Anthony Hopkins first played Hannibal Lecter.” In the fifth installment, Hoffman is seemingly the last person alive to carry on the Jigsaw legacy. But when his secret is threatened, he is forced to go on the hunt to eliminate all loose ends. Like its predecessors, it springs some fine twists and turns – but this time with more large-scale traps because they involve more people. Fans of the series won’t be disappointed – newcomers will find the tension hard to bear at times.