Film Review: The Original ‘Saw’ Sequels (2005-2010)

Release Date: October 28th, 2005 (Saw II), October 27th 2006 (Saw III), October 26th, 2007 (Saw IV), October 24th, 2008 (Saw V), October 23rd, 2009 (Saw VI), October 29th, 2010 (Saw VII), 
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV), David Hackl (Saw V), Kevin Greutert (Saw VI-VII)
Written by: Leigh Whannell, Darren Lynn Bousman, James Wan, Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan, Thomas Fenton
Based on: Saw by James Wan, Leigh Whannell
Music by: Charlie Clouser
Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Dina Meyer, Donnie Wahlberg, Lyriq Bent, Erik Knudsen, Franky G, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Mark Rolston, Julie Benz, Sean Patrick Flanery, Glenn Plummer, Beverly Mitchell, Meagan Good, 

Twisted Pictures, Lions Gate Films, 93 Minutes (Saw II), 108 Minutes (Saw III), 92 Minutes (Saw IV), 92 Minutes (Saw V), 90 Minutes (Saw VI), 90 Minutes (Saw VII) 

Review:

I wasn’t a fan of the Saw franchise after the original movie. In fact, I quit with the third film and haven’t watched any of them since that one debuted in theaters. Jigsaw died in that one and so I was fine moving on, as well.

After revisiting the first one to review, I figured I would just power through the original string of sequels since they were all on HBO Max.

Since these are all pretty dreadful, blend together in a convoluted clusterfuck and are almost indistinguishable from one another, by the time I got to the end of the fourth movie, I decided just to review them all together. So I pushed through all six of these movies over a weekend and what a miserable experience it was.

The second film is at least a new situation from the first but it also set the stage for what would generally be the formula going forward, which sees a group of people locked in a secret location, having to pass tests in an effort to survive and not be murdered by Jigsaw’s traps.

The third film sees an abducted doctor forced to keep Jigsaw alive, as long as she can. Meanwhile, her husband has to work his way through a test and others are brutalized.

Film four through seven are just rehashes of everything we’ve already seen. Sure, there are different characters with different sins that they have to atone for in Jigsaw’s game. However, we have one Jigsaw successor, then another, then his ex-wife who is also working for him and eventually we discover that the Cary Elwes doctor character from way back in the first movie, has been assisting all along too.

The first film was great because it had a stellar twist at the end. Each picture after it, though, tries to outdo it and ultimately, fails at trying to replicate the shock of the original film’s closing moments.

In fact, with each new plot twist, big reveal and eye-opening flashback, the overall story gets more and more complicated to the point that you really can’t follow any of it and I don’t think the filmmakers even cared about consistency and logic because they were pumping these things out, annually, in an effort to make hundreds of millions off of each movie, all of which cost a slight fraction of that.

Saw after the success of the first one became a soulless, heartless, pointless cash cow. It was pushed as far as it could go and it ultimately diminished what the first movie had built and the reputation it deservedly earned.

I also hate the visual style of these films. They look like a ’90s industrial music video, everything is choppily and rapidly edited and they’re overwhelmed by more violent, shrill, jarring flashbacks than my ‘Nam vet uncle on LSD.

The musical score is also overbearing a lot of the time. It’s like this series has one theme playing throughout the movie and when crazy, violent shit pops up, they simply raise the volume.

Additionally, outside of Tobin Bell, these things are terribly acted. As much as I like Bell as Jigsaw in spite of this shitty series, even his presence runs its course midway through this series. He basically just becomes this prop in each film for the writers and directors to hang their stinky ass ideas on.

People may want to point to other long-running horror franchise and call them pointless cash cows too but most of the movies in the Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc. franchises were at least fun and entertaining.

There is nothing fun about these movies. They’re just full of miserable people who do miserable things, trapped in a miserable situation that only extends their misery and the misery of the audience. I don’t know why people kept going to see these for seven fucking annual installments. But then again, some people really, really liked Limp Bizkit, JNCO jeans and Jerry Springer.

Saw II – Rating: 5/10
Saw III – Rating: 5.5/10
Saw IV – Rating: 4.25/10
Saw V – Rating: 4/10
Saw VI – Rating: 4/10
Saw VII – Rating: 4.25/10

 

Film Review: Saw (2004)

Also known as: Jigsaw (working title)
Release Date: January 19th, 2004 (Sundance)
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Leigh Whannell, James Wan
Based on: Saw by James Wan, Leigh Whannell
Music by: Charlie Clouser
Cast: Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Michael Emerson, Ken Leung, Tobin Bell, Leigh Whannell, Shawnee Smith, Dina Meyer, Makenzie Vega

Evolution Entertainment, Saw Productions Inc., Twisted Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Congratulations. You are still alive. Most people are so ungrateful to be alive. But not you. Not anymore.” – Jigsaw

I’ve said for nearly two decades that if they had left Saw alone and not pumped out sequels annually to capitalize off of this movie’s success, that it could’ve very easily been perceived as one of the greatest horror films ever made. I still stand by that statement.

Now I haven’t seen this in at least fifteen years. I gave up on the franchise after seeing the third film in theaters. At that point, I definitely felt like the film series had exhausted itself and run out of gas. But silly me, they made like half a dozen more! And shockingly, none of the sequels were straight-to-video. They all had theatrical releases.

Looking at this movie, as a single body of work, it’s really damn good. The concept was great and the story was well-crafted and made for one hell of a cinematic experience. I’d consider this James Wan’s magnum opus, even though the dude probably still has a lot of time to top it.

The best part about seeing this for the first time is that you didn’t know much about the plot or why these guys were locked in a room together. Everything slowly reveals itself and the movie knows how to build suspense and keep the viewer on the edge of their seat until the shocking end, which no one saw coming. Frankly, it’s an incredible reveal.

This is also the best acted film out of the three I’ve seen. In fact, the other movies don’t hold a candle to this one in the acting department, except for the scenes where Tobin Bell is front and center. Without Bell, this series probably couldn’t have lasted as long as it did. Even after his character was dead, his presence was still very much felt and a driving force behind the stories. Crazily enough, he’s barely in this movie, even though he’s the big bad.

Anyway, this movie is superb and it’s still effective, even though I know the ending and all the surprises. But since this is so well-crafted, it makes repeat viewings kind of cool, as you pick up on more of the clues that were planted throughout the movie.

The later films would get more gory. This one has some pretty good gross out moments but a lot of the gore is more implied and relies on your imagination to see things that aren’t actually onscreen. In a lot of ways it reminds me of how effective that approach was in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Saw has held up tremendously well in spite of it being the first chapter in a very long franchise. It’s definitely worth watching but once you’re finished you might want to stop and not let the sequels ruin it for you.

That being said, I’m going to work my way through all of the sequels and review them.

Rating: 8.75/10

Film Review: Mortal Kombat (2021)

Also known as: Mortal Kombat 3, Mortal Kombat: Devastation (working titles)
Release Date: April, 2021
Directed by: Simon McQuoid
Written by: Greg Russo, Dave Callaham, Oren Uziel
Based on: Mortal Kombat by Ed Boon, John Tobias
Music by: Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada, Nathan Jones

NetherRealm Studios, Atomic Monster, New Line Cinema, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Throughout history, different cultures all over the world reference a great tournament of champions. That dragon marking, I think it’s an invitation to fight for something known as Mortal Kombat.” – Sonya Blade

Let’s be honest up front, I didn’t expect much from this movie. I think it’s hard to make a great film based off of a fighting game due to the nature of what it is and how many characters need to be balanced. However, this was better than I anticipated and for the most part, I really enjoyed it for what it was.

My only real gripe about the film was the lead actor, who was playing a character that was just made up for the movie. His character doesn’t exist in the games, unless he was wedged into the newest one to justify his presence in this picture.

Beyond the lead, everyone else was pretty decent and enjoyable. I’d have to say that Kano was the best character in the film, though, as that dude was just a complete dick, funny as hell and true to his nature of being a total bastard.

Unfortunately, the best thing about the movie is the opening scene. The studio also leaked this scene early in an effort to entice people to watch the movie. I guess that was a good marketing ploy but everything after that epic, incredible intro is a letdown.

There are still really solid bits sprinkled in throughout the film and I also thought that most of the fight choreography was pretty good. I enjoyed the fights and pretty much liked all of them.

Additionally, I love that this embraced the R rating and stayed true to the spirit of the Mortal Kombat games and gave us some pretty awesome, gory kills and over the top defeats.

All in all, this is a decent video game movie full of solid action, mindless fun and a whole lot of cool, badass shit.

Plus, it’s a better movie than the two from the ’90s.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the other movies based on fighting games, as well as anything else in the Mortal Kombat franchise.

Film Review: Aquaman (2018)

Release Date: November 26th, 2018 (London premiere)
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, Geoff Johns, James Wan
Based on: Aquaman by Paul Norris, Mort Weisinger
Music by: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Djimon Hounsou, Julie Andrews (voice), John Rhys-Davies (voice)

Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, The Safran Company, Cruel and Unusual Films, Mad Ghost Productions, 143 Minutes

Review:

“You think you’re unworthy to lead because you’re of two different worlds? But that is exactly why you are worthy!” – Mera

People talked this movie up quite a bit when it came out but I didn’t see it in the theater because the holidays are busy for me and this is not a Tolkien movie.

But I had high hopes as several people I tend to trust told me that I’d like it. Well, they were wrong. I mean, I didn’t hate it and if you are comparing this to the other DCEU films, it’s actually the second best. However, that’s not a high threshold to try and beat.

First off, I like Jason Mamoa and I like Jason Mamoa in this movie. However, he’s basically playing Jason Mamoa and not Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman. Well, at least not how Aquaman has been written for decades. And couldn’t he have gone blonde? He could’ve kept the long hair and beard, as Aquaman has had that look before but I guess Arnold Schwarzenegger did a good job of once playing Conan without brunette locks.

But the thing is, he doesn’t feel like Aquaman and he really just feels like a badass buff dude with similar powers to Aquaman.

I thought that Amber Heard was pretty on point as Mera, though. She needs a bit more confidence if she’s to be the tough as nails future queen but this was a good start, assuming they make more of these, which they probably will.

Most importantly, though, Mamoa and Heard had damn good chemistry and that’s what had to carry this movie and it was certainly a strength when everything else around it felt like aquatic Candyland.

Other than a handful of good actors, mainly Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Patrick Wilson and Temuera Morrison, the rest of the film was pretty lackluster and underwhelming.

It had action, it was fun for the most part, but a lot of the film felt too dragged out once you got to the middle. It had really good pacing for about 45 minutes but then the plot just seemed to be a mixture of different genres and this didn’t have a clear identity as to what it was. Some of these genre twists seemed like they were more in conflict with the film as a whole than being a collection of interesting ingredients there to make the dish taste better.

I didn’t like how Black Manta was handled and he’s just sort of a henchman and an afterthought in this film. He’s much more badass than that. Read Dan Abnett’s first few story arcs on his run of the Aquman comic. There, Black Manta was a dangerous terrorist that had Aquaman and Atlantis in the palm of his hand. I know that they introduced him in this film to build him up for later but I just don’t feel like they did it effectively and it’ll be hard to take him seriously as the big baddie when he was just portrayed as Mr. Laserface and then get knocked down a cliff. Plus, with his helmet on, the effect they used on his voice mixed with the actor’s line delivery, reminded me of Dark Helmet from Spaceballs.

Patrick Wilson was pretty good as the Ocean Master but the way he was written was confusing. He’s willing to do pure evil to maintain his throne but he doesn’t seem to commit to the bit and he just sort of accepts his fate when his mom shows up and tells him to love his brother.

This film is an example of something being fun and entertaining but not being good and not being something that I particularly like. I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again and that goes for all the films in the DCEU. But that also doesn’t mean that I won’t watch the sequel, I probably will but I doubt I’ll see that one in the theater either.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other recent DC Comics movies within the same shared universe.

Film Review: The Conjuring (2013)

Also known as: The Warren Files (working title)
Release Date: June 8th, 2013 (Nocturna, Madrid International Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes
Music by: Joseph Bishara
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor

New Line Cinema, The Safran Company, Evergreen Media Group, Warner Bros., 112 Minutes

Review:

“When the music stops, you’ll see him in the mirror standing behind you.” – April

Seeing this has been long overdue but at the same time, I was never in a rush. Reason being, modern horror is predominantly CGI jump scares and lame haunted house or generic boogeyman stories. I’m not against haunted house movies but I’ve seen so many that a film needs to find a way to tackle the genre with something fresh or interesting or it’s going to hit my brain like a fistful of Ambien.

Anyway, this was a decent film for what it is but going back to what I just said, it gave me nothing new to sink my teeth into.

There’s a creepy house, ghosts, demons, a killer doll, some general witchcraft stuff, exorcism and nothing new. This is like a bunch of mundane horror tropes thrown into a blender and then splashed out onto the screen: a gooey, sloppy mess.

The biggest positive for me was the acting. I thought all the main players were good and convincing in their roles. Lili Taylor had the biggest challenge out of all the top stars but she did a wonderful job, worked in a pretty wide range of emotions and temperament and sold the possession thing quite well. I also like seeing Ron Livingston in anything because I’ll always remember how much I loved him in Office Space, almost twenty years ago. But his dramatic stuff has always been quite good too.

This isn’t a bad movie and I don’t want to treat it as such. It’s well made and it looks pretty damn good, even the unnecessary CGI bits didn’t become too much of a distraction. But I thought the cinematography was well done and the film’s tone works.

For someone who hasn’t seen dozens of haunted house movies, this is probably really effective. I guess that’s why it resonates with younger fans so well.

My biggest issue is just that the story crams so many different horrors into this tight box. It’s as if they planned spinoffs from the get go.

At some point, I will probably check out some of the other Conjuring related movies. But like I was with this, I don’t feel a real rush in needing to see them.

Also, weren’t the Warrens exposed as frauds decades ago? But I guess this is based on “true events”. But I think that enough time has past that new moviegoers are too young to even know who the Warrens were. But at the same time, I feel like this does capitalize on selling some bullshit. Sorry, I just hate charlatans.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Conjuring films and spinoffs, as well as James Wan’s Insidious series and Dead Silence.