Saw: A Taste-based Analysis

Jules Caldeira
October 5, 2023
(Source: Lionsgate)

On September 29, Lionsgate released Saw X, the tenth film in a franchise spanning twenty years. So far, this installment is on track to do as well as its predecessors, boasting opening weekend numbers comparable to the first, with the series collectively grossing nearly $500 million in the United States alone. What keeps audiences coming back for more, all these years later? We here at Katch waded elbow-deep into the sea of gore these films have made famous to sift out the traits that really define them. After all, data is much more than skin-deep.

Part of what makes these films scary is the idea they could happen anywhere. Setting the films in urban environments of unspecified cities, save for Mexico City in Saw X, presents them as globally plausible; You’d never know if Jigsaw was operating in your downtown. Something that sets Saw apart from other horror titans is that they often eschew traditional linear structure. 30% of the franchise starts from the middle before jumping to the beginning, with 70% employing a flurry of flashbacks.

Prevalent throughout is the unfolding of intellectual themes, especially ethics, morality, and the concept of being a “good” person. Within said themes comes psychological issues, the distress and manipulation of those forced to play Jigsaw’s “games.” Half of the franchise involves betrayal, either toward or by victims, and 80% explore tales of vengeance.

The stories told are often those of mishap and misfortune, with moral dilemmas and characters confronting their own deaths, almost invariably becoming fights for survival. 70% of plots follow officers, detectives, or federal agents, though things are never quite what they seem. These are high suspense films, with plot twists and surprise endings that are never happy and more often than not leaving a dead protagonist. Half also end as cliffhangers, leaving you dying to know what lies ahead. Given the nature of these films, it’s no surprise there’s a shocking use of makeup and prosthetics, as well as strikingly filthy sets and a dramatic use of color in most, if not all, titles.

All of these traits, enhanced by creepy music and disturbing, often surprising moods, have brought this psychological horror franchise to large global audiences, and based on their success, there are quite likely more games to be played. Just make sure you know the rules.

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