Wednesday, October 8, 2008

5 Ways To Fix The Saw Franchise


It’s no secret that I didn’t really care much for Saw IV. A series that I always enjoyed went off the deep end creatively with a confusing, overplotted mess of a film. The only good news is that considering it was the fourth installment in a horror franchise it could have been a lot worse and all the problems could easily be fixed in Saw V, which opens October 24th.

Still, it was a huge drop-off in writing quality from the previous three and appeared to be a shark jump if there ever was one. It’s a promising sign that the upcoming film features a couple of solid actresses in Julie Benz and Meagan Goode, but without a stronger script this time around it would be a relatively easy to make a film worse than Saw IV. In fact, from what I read about the direction they’ve taken this, that seems likely.

According to, here’s the synopsis:

“Forensics expert Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) goes on the hunt in order to protect the secret that he is the newest person to carry on Jigsaw's legacy.”

In case you've forgotten (which would be easy to given the 75,000 characters who were in the previous film), Hoffman was the man revealed as Jigsaw’s apprentice in Saw IV’s head-scratchingly stupid final twist. That the film will focus on him is bad enough (more on that below) but the synopsis continues to tell us that we’ll also finally find out what happened to Lynn and Jeff’s daughter, who was left in danger at the end of Saw III. Um…a little late for that don’t you think? I’m betting most viewers won’t remember or care. It may have been only hours in the film’s timeline but it was two years ago for the rest of us.

Saw V will also be the first film since the original not directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who b bowed out to make his Paris Hilton horror musical. It probably doesn’t bode well for this series that Bousman’s project sounds more intriguing than this. Taking over the reins is series production designer David Hackl, but considering the problems with the previous film were completely script-related it remains to be seen what if any impact this change will have. But this is the first time in years I'm not excited for an upcoming Saw film and unsure whether to even see it. But, really, who am I kidding? Of course, I will. I have to see whether the filmmakers can dig themselves out of this hole.

Maybe the problem is that it really has turned into a horror franchise and has strayed from its original roots as a mystery/thriller. I don’t envy writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, who are saddled with the near-impossible task of continuing the story after their main villain has been killed off, especially one as complex and interesting as Jigsaw. While that aspect may set it apart from other horror films it hurts the central premise of the series, which was that this sick, dying man believed he was teaching people the meaning of life with his twisted, sadistic games and traps. It seems with his death and the addition of pointless characters we’ve moved further away from that premise and even further away from the first film, which was truly great. Below are my suggestions for getting it back on track. While it isn’t often a horror series enjoys a creative resurgence in its fifth installment, it isn't impossible. If they take even just a couple of these suggestions:

What was great about Saws II and III as sequels were that they worked as stand-alone efforts that didn’t depend on specific plot points from the previous film to enjoy them. I actually thought Saw III was the strongest of the three sequels because of its simplicity and laser-like focus on the main victim’s plight. I’m willing to bet Saw IV’s plot confused the hell out even the film’s most hardcore fans with too many characters (c’mon, Jigsaw’s attorney?) non-linear storytelling and overly complicated traps.

I don’t think it’s helping that all of these films now take place in a timeline that’s days or hours apart, relying on intricate knowledge of every detail to be able to follow it. In a perfect world, Saw V would be set further down the line while still incorporating the aspects necessary from the other films, but Unfortunately, the plot description implies that won’t be happening so I guess I’ll just have to live with it. But that doesn’t mean it still can’t be more focused and simple. Even he writers themselves have admitted in interviews that Saw IV was too confusing, which at least gives me some hope this will be an improvement.

It was the setting for shocking final twist in the original film. It was also the setting for another clever one in Saw II and in Saw III we were treated to details of how Jigsaw set up his most famous trap. It needs to come back…somehow. It's simple: bathroom= awesomeness. Just its very presence in the film alerts us that something big is going down.


Sometimes it can hurt to know too much about your horror villain. This isn’t one of those cases. It seems the more we learn about John Kramer the more it enhances his mystique and the more appreciation we have for the choices Tobin Bell makes with the role. We wouldn’t even be be talking about a fifth movie if not for him and learning about that character’s origins and history was one of the few things I enjoyed in the last film. We learned about Billy The Puppet, the instigating incident that pushed Kramer over the edge and saw his very first trap. To the writers’ credit, this was very well done and I hope they expand on it in Saw V. They need to squeeze all the screen time out of Bell that they have left, but at the same time figure out a way to make his deceased presence mean just as much in the current storyline.

Boy, they really have to come up with a hell of a backstory to fix this aren’t they? If not, I have no problem with Hoffman’s tape recorder exploding and blowing him to bits within the film’s first few minutes. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to who couldn’t even tell what was going on or couldn’t remember who this character even was in Saw IV’s clumsy final minutes. It seemed to be just an example of the writers throwing something out there that was completely random just for the sake of a twist. Whoever carries on Jigsaw’s legacy should be be inexorably tied to his work (see below) rather than just some nobody forensics guy.

I’ve never heard of Costas Mandylor as an actor before Saw IV but I hope he’s ready to give the performance of his life and has some really strong writing to back him up. He’s gonna need it. The easier solution would be for the producers to just cut their loss and move on. He could easily be written him off as just the latest pawn in Jigsaw’s game. Unfortunately, since Mandylor is already signed to Saw VI I better brace myself. This guy's role looks like it's is going to be HUGE. Possibly as large as Tobin Bell's in the second and third films. He better be ready to go the distance because it's gonna take a lot to win me over. It just seems like a bad idea.


And when I say bring one of them back I mean bring them back with meaning and purpose, not to just do nothing like Donnie Wahlberg’s Detective Matthews in the last film. The role doesn’t even have to be large, it just has to be important and make sense.

Dr. Lawrence Gordon-This is what everyone wants, so do it. The franchise needs him back now more than ever and rumors have been swirling about his re-appearance for nearly every installment. Of all the series’ major characters, his return would be the most welcome and fit the best. The writers have tried to top it but no Jigsaw victim suffered more physically or emotionally. Imagine what a moment it would be to see Gordon hobbling onto the screen in the film's final minutes. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the lack of discussion on the topic lately is because producers have been able to keep a potential Cary Elwes appearance under wraps rather than that they’ve abandoned the idea altogether.

Detective David Tapp-Who knows Jigsaw better than the first detective assigned to the case? It would be easy to work him back into the story somehow since for all we know he could have survived that gunshot wound. If not, flashbacks are feasible and could probably add a lot to the current storyline, given the character’s unhealthily detailed obsession with the case. And it’s not like Danny Glover would have had to clear his busy schedule.

Zepp Hindle-“Those are the rules Dr. Gordon!” Alright, I know. Michael Emerson’s creepy hospital orderly ingested a lethal poison and was beaten to death with a toilet seat at the conclusion of the original film. But you can’t tell me the producers aren’t kicking themselves for that after seeing the great work Emerson has gone on to do on Lost. I’m much more willing to believe Zepp somehow survived the traumatic events of the first film than any of the crap the writers tried to sell in the last installment. I’ll even settle for a flashback, I don’t care. By the way, he and Elwes are the only two actors from the series capable of portraying Jigsaw's successor.

The Saw franchise is hurting but things could be much worse, especially considering we’re on the fifth film. At its weakest, its still in much better shape than other horror franchises have been at this point. Better still, none of the sequels have been bad enough to negate the impact of the original film...yet. That’s largely because the central, underlying concept that powers the series is so strong. Here’s hoping on October 24th the filmmakers remembered that.


JD said...

While I admire your thoughtful essay on how to fix it. I gave up on these early on. The first one had its moments, but it got old rather quickly. I am not looking forward to Saw V, but it has to be better than Saw IV.

I have seen Costas in a couple of films before Saw IV-- I guess it was nice to see him still get work.

Yeah, bring back any of those characters and it would help and the flashbacks would be a nice shot in the arm too.

thebonebreaker said...

Well thought out and well said Jeremy! :-)