A model of this essay on the convoluted lore of Noticed was initially printed in 2021, to coincide with Spiral’s launch. It has been up to date all through for the discharge of 2023’s Noticed X.
The Noticed franchise is the Quick and Livid of torture-porn motion pictures. These movies are devoted each to doubling down on the vanity of James Wan’s authentic 2004 film Noticed, and to always increasing the sequence’ lore by overindulgent however sincerely utilized flashbacks. After two tried comfortable reboots — 2017’s Jigsaw and 2021’s Spiral: From the Guide of Noticed — the 10th entry, Noticed X, leans additional into the sequence’ fill-in-the-blanks construction. Its in-between-quel story takes place completely up to now, additional complicating the deep and winding lore that’s actually the most effective factor about this sequence.
Noticed’s central villain, Jigsaw, has truly been lifeless since Noticed III in 2006. However the producers might need purchaser’s regret over that call, given how he’s proved to be as a lot of a draw for followers because the ridiculous traps that outline the Noticed motion pictures. Noticed X takes benefit of his recognition by leaping again in time for a narrative set between the second and third Noticed movies. Whereas quite a few copycats and apprentices spring up later within the motion pictures’ difficult continuity, the specter of the unique Jigsaw killer, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), has loomed so massive that he’s proven up in virtually each entry, and was secretly answerable for virtually each new grisly puzzle-murder for 5 entire movies after his demise.
The Noticed movies will be neatly divided into 4 distinct eras, however all of them share related traits. By now, followers of the sequence count on three large issues: elaborate traps leading to self-mutilation, prolonged flashbacks to fill narrative gaps, and a serious plot twist or three, scored to Charlie Clouser’s thrilling composition “Hey Zepp.” (Which might be remembered as fondly as any John Williams theme, if the Noticed movies had been higher or extra accessible to a basic viewers.)
Being a fan of those movies means understanding they’ve a restricted viewers, however the followers who’re ride-or-die for Jigsaw and his apprentices can no less than bond over hypothesis about which minor character would be the subsequent to don a pig masks and a black hooded gown so as to kidnap individuals and switch their minor slights into elaborate torture video games that make them respect being alive.
With each new Jigsaw killer comes not solely the potential for unexpectedly monumental traps, however the potential for tenuous flashbacks to prior movies. The connecting of dots that nobody knew existed is what separates Noticed from most horror sagas: The franchise’s winding, looping lore has turn out to be its central aspect. Every new revelation is geared toward lengthening the sequence’ shelf life, however every one additionally comes with a number of meticulous in-world causes for extra sequels, every with their very own ripple results for a number of movies.
And so, in true Noticed vogue, we’re taking a visit down reminiscence lane to see how all of the items match collectively, how the sequence advanced in scale and magnificence, and the way Jigsaw’s eight (sure, eight) serial-killer successors got here to be. [Ed. note: General spoilers ahead for the Saw movies.]
The Jigsaw Period: Noticed, Noticed II, Noticed III
The primary Noticed, launched in 2004, was directed by Aquaman helmer James Wan, and it stars the movie’s co-writer, Leigh Whannell, who went on to direct Improve and The Invisible Man. Of all of the franchise’s movies, Noticed has essentially the most finesse: The sequence’ “torture porn” label doesn’t apply, since a lot of its grotesque imagery is implicit. It’s additionally essentially the most intimate Noticed movie, with a comparatively easy idea: two strangers with mysterious connections, Adam (Whannell) and Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes), get up with their legs shackled to reverse ends of an industrial washroom with a corpse within the center and quite a few clues hidden throughout, together with an audio tape that tells them, in a deep, distorted voice: “I wish to play a recreation.” Earlier than lengthy, they notice the one strategy to escape is by utilizing a pair of hacksaws, to not reduce by their chains, however to chop by their ankles. The movie’s tagline couldn’t be extra apt: “How a lot blood will you shed to remain alive?”
The primary Noticed is predicated, partially, on Wan and Whannell’s 2003 in need of the identical identify, which is finally folded into one of many feature-length model’s many flashbacks. The backstory lets Dr. Gordon clarify the Jigsaw conceit to Adam, and to the viewers. “Technically talking, he’s probably not a assassin,” Gordon says. “He by no means killed anybody. He finds methods for his victims to kill themselves.”
The manufacturing design is constant throughout many of the sequence; its visible continuity is as necessary as its lore. The areas usually really feel soiled and harmful, virtually contaminated, which makes the self-mutilation all of the extra discomforting. The movies function within the shadow of Vincenzo Natali’s 1997 indie Dice, an existential sci-fi horror movie about lethal industrial escape rooms, and Adrian Lyne’s 1990 function Jacob’s Ladder, whose demonic head-shakes had been borrowed for Noticed’s fast-forwarded secondary traps. The sequence additionally takes music and design cues from early 2000s nü-metal. The band Taproot specifically appears like an overt affect; Its music video for “Poem” mirrors the sequence’ decomposed look, whereas the video for “Time,” with its literal writing on the wall, appears to have influenced a entice within the first movie.
The primary Noticed is nice at constructing pressure, and its last twist is genuinely unsettling: the voyeuristic Jigsaw, revealed to be one in all Gordon’s most cancers sufferers, is posing because the corpse within the rest room the entire time. Whereas a few of Noticed’s tropes and thrives re-appear in later entries, although, Noticed II is the entry that basically units the franchise’s template, from its sickly inexperienced tinge to quite a few twists which can be mirrored in the remainder of the sequence, to various levels of success.
Based mostly on a standalone script by Noticed II-IV and Spiral director Darren Lynn Bousman, with some sharpening by Wan and Whannell to fold it into Noticed continuity, Noticed II ups the ante from an escape room to a whole escape home, with criminals wandering from room to room and enjoying elaborate survival video games. Elsewhere, soiled cop Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) is pressured to take heed to Jigsaw espouse his philosophy, as footage from the house-of-horrors performs out on safety screens. (Matthews’ teenage son is likely one of the individuals.) Nonetheless, it seems the video was pre-taped, and all Matthews wanted to do to get his son again was sit tight and take heed to Jigsaw ramble, as an alternative of torturing the decrepit outdated serial killer till he reveals the situation of the home, sending Matthews to his doom. It’s the primary of the sequence’ timeline twists, and the one one that basically works.
Areas within the Noticed motion pictures usually really feel soiled and harmful, which makes the self-mutilation all of the extra discomforting.
“Your son is in a secure place,” Jigsaw assures Matthews quite a few occasions — earlier than his son is revealed to be in a literal secure, proper subsequent to the place they’re sitting. It’s the primary of many dreaded doublespeak twists all through the franchise, the place Jigsaw outsmarts his victims with phrases. The movie additionally establishes an important twist of all: the apprentice twist, when it seems that one of many recreation’s repeat victims, Amanda (Shawnee Smith), a minor character from Noticed, was so spiritually remodeled by her first ordeal that she grew to become a Jigsaw devotee.
Noticed III, whereas a lesser movie than its predecessors, helps tighten and construction the second movie’s meandering walkthrough idea, whereas additionally increasing its scale: new protagonist Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) undergoes a sequence of exams in an enormous manufacturing facility, the place he’s invited to forgive and rescue varied individuals answerable for his son’s demise. Each subsequent movie till Noticed X follows this construction — a central character going from room to room, enjoying one “recreation” at a time — however Noticed III drags its ft because it cuts between Jeff and one other, much less attention-grabbing recreation occurring close by, as a physician, Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh) tries to maintain a bedridden Jigsaw alive lengthy sufficient for Jeff to succeed.
Though the movie definitively kills Jigsaw (and his apprentice Amanda, too), it vegetation loads of seeds for later entries. It additionally establishes a serious shift within the sequence’ visible priorities. The place gore was beforehand a byproduct of its storytelling (and used considerably sparingly), right here, the filmmakers place it on full show. They not solely design traps to extra explicitly mangle the human type — amongst them, a limb-twisting torture rack — however the movie additionally incorporates a gratuitous scene of Lynn performing mind surgical procedure on Jigsaw, shot in excessive close-up. However even this sequence pales compared to what got here subsequent.
The Apprentice Period: Noticed IV-VI, Noticed 3D
2007’s Noticed IV opens with Jigsaw’s post-mortem, shot in excruciating element. It firmly shifts the Noticed sequence’ focus towards satiating a thirst for gory imagery. This shift was additionally marked by a inventive change; whereas Bousman stayed on as director, Wan and Whannell, who penned the primary three movies, had been changed by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, whose 4 Noticed entries picked up proper the place every of their predecessors left off. Throughout this era, the sequence started to really feel like an prolonged police procedural about apprentices on the run.
Noticed IV expands the “walkthrough” idea even additional, sending Lt. Daniel Rigg (Lyriq Bent), a minor character from Noticed II, on a city-wide scavenger hunt by Seven-esque eventualities. The movie is visually incomprehensible, but it surely options just a few good flashbacks to Jigsaw’s early days as an engineer, his life together with his ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell), and the gloomy occasions that led him to design creepy puppets and create his earliest, most rudimentary traps. The sequence’ new inventive mandate appeared to contain extra bloodshed, and extra backstory.
However despite the fact that it’s overloaded with Jigsaw flashbacks, the movie has an apprentice reveal that also feels utterly out of the blue — Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), who appeared in a single scene in Noticed III, vows to hold on Jigsaw’s work. That units the stage for the remaining sequels. Just about anybody in these movies may transform a Jigsaw apprentice, for any cause, and the gaps might be crammed in later. Noticed IV additionally has a timeline twist that units the poor precedent of twists for the sake of twists, with a reveal meant completely for the viewers: It seems Noticed IV takes place concurrently to Noticed III, and their occasions converge on the finish. The movie’s ridiculous climax, due to this fact, is determined by Jigsaw predicting that about six completely different characters, three of them cops, would all shoot one another at exact moments. It’s the Noticed equal of Saturday Evening Stay’s “Pricey Sister” parody sketch.
Noticed V reins in a few of these sillier parts. It feels extra narratively restrained, to the purpose the place it’s one thing like a filler episode, although it’s no much less visually grotesque than different installments. (For example, it incorporates a man being sawed in half by an enormous pendulum.) Directed by sequence manufacturing designer David Hackl, the movie options three barely cohesive plots, two of that are considerably attention-grabbing. On one hand, there’s a brand new walkthrough entice, the place 5 characters should work out the occasions that bind them. On the opposite, the movie additionally has a sequence of prolonged flashbacks which reveal how Hoffman, as soon as a vengeful Jigsaw impersonator, was roped into working with the true Jigsaw as early as the primary movie. Sadly, the plot connecting these two threads — an FBI agent on Hoffman’s tail — is likely one of the many uninteresting cat-and-mouse chases Melton and Dunstan appear to take pleasure in.
The overarching story of cops chasing the brand new Jigsaw continues in Noticed VI, as Hoffman goes off the rails and turns towards Jigsaw’s twisted classes on the worth of human life. Nonetheless, it kicks issues up a notch as the one Noticed movie with one thing related to say, taking intention at America’s brutal healthcare business. It additionally grounds its story in one thing private for Jigsaw: Its central sufferer is the cruel health-insurance CEO who denied John Kramer protection when he was nonetheless alive. It’s the primary time within the “apprentice period” the place it appears like Jigsaw being lifeless isn’t only a nook the sequence wrote itself into. As an alternative, the plot appears like vengeance from past the grave, because the CEO is pressured into brutal video games the place he should select which of his workers will reside or die, as his chilly, calculating insurance policies turn out to be loss of life traps. On the lore entrance, Noticed VI lastly reveals the contents of a letter we noticed Hoffman depart Amanda in Noticed IV, which we first noticed her learn in Noticed III, and which it now seems issues occasions from earlier than the primary movie. It’s a continuity nesting doll.
Just about anybody in these movies may transform a Jigsaw apprentice, for any cause, and the gaps might be crammed in later.
Noticed VI was directed by Kevin Greutert, who edited all of the earlier Noticed entries, and it’s arguably the most effective movie within the sequence. Nonetheless, Greutert additionally directed the worst Noticed movie up to now, Noticed 3D, or Noticed: The Closing Chapter. The 3D conceit alone made the promise of gore important to the advertising — loads of guts fly instantly on the digital camera! — and the entire endeavor feels rushed and low-cost. At the very least it has an attention-grabbing central character, Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery), who poses as a Jigsaw sufferer, makes cash off TV and e book offers, and leads group remedy periods for victims from different movies. It’s the primary actual take a look at how the general public at massive responds to the Jigsaw killings. Nonetheless, the movie’s traps are all tensionless, because the sequence lastly makes them massive and showy sufficient to hit some extent of saturation. Elsewhere, extra cops hunt Hoffman, whereas Hoffman in flip hunts Jigsaw’s ex-wife, who turned out to be an apprentice herself in Noticed VI.
The movie nominally pays off a principle followers had been discussing for years: With out buildup, it reveals the sudden apprentice twist that Dr. Gordon has been working with Jigsaw ever since he sawed off his personal foot within the first movie. After all, Gordon had been absent on display screen for six entries, so this twist is revealed by flashbacks to almost each previous movie. And in an act that appears like Noticed’s sequence roots wiping out its later iterations, Gordon nixes the Hoffman downside with ease, abruptly ending the apprentice plot which ran by all 4 of Melton and Dunstan’s movies. This was the duo’s final entry within the franchise.
Gordon additionally has two different pig-masked apprentices in tow. Who? How? Why? You’d assume the following movie would reply these questions, as is the sequence’ M.O., however Noticed 3D was, in truth, the ultimate chapter for some time. After releasing a brand new Noticed movie on seven consecutive Halloweens, the franchise lay dormant for one more seven years — till its relaunch in 2017.
The Publish-Publish-Jigsaw Period: Jigsaw, Spiral: From the Guide of Noticed
When 2017’s Jigsaw begins, there’s been zero Jigsaw exercise for a decade. Half the story follows 5 victims strolling by a barn filled with comically elaborate traps, whereas the opposite half options extra boring cops and a pair of medical experts attempting to establish new victims. One in every of these examiners actually should have been the principle character — Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson), one in all many on-line Jigsaw fanatics who collects outdated traps, hinting at a bigger, extra attention-grabbing world — however she’s relegated to a minor position.
As well as, the movie’s eye-rolling twists are the primary within the sequence that really feel like they make prior entries worse. A timeline twist for the viewers reveals that despite the fact that the occasions within the barn are crosscut with the police investigation, they really occurred a decade in the past. The barn seems to have been Jigsaw’s earliest recreation — Kramer, who was closely featured on the posters, unsurprisingly seems alive and properly. In the meantime, within the current, an an identical recreation unfolds in the identical barn, although it isn’t proven onscreen. It’s additionally one other apprentice twist, because it seems medical expert Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) was one of many victims within the barn 10 years prior. However Jigsaw, in a transfer utterly antithetical to his character, took pity on Logan and saved him from the sport, they usually’ve been working collectively ever since.
The movie options quite a few difficult, Rube Goldberg-esque traps that are all brightly lit, and extra foolish than scary. The barn is harking back to the sequence’ later entries, the place the dimensions of Jigsaw’s video games expanded from cramped rooms to complete factories. However Jigsaw loses the signature gritty, lived-in really feel. Every little thing is a bit too clear and polished. The movie is sterile, and visually discontinuous with the remainder of the franchise. As well as, it shoots its personal lore within the foot by revealing the barn to have been some secret authentic recreation, earlier than all of the others. This robs John Kramer of his easier scale in earlier movies (and in flashbacks because the sequence went on), when his traps had been grimier and extra DIY, and it robs the franchise of its gradual descent into full-on industrial mayhem. It might be deliriously enjoyable to observe a Jigsaw sufferer be mangled by a blender the dimensions of a jet engine, but it surely’s unusual to assume that John Kramer scaled right down to a easy rest room filled with chains after this elaborate insanity.
The dedication to constructing continuity retains followers on their toes as they have interaction in one in all fandom’s favourite pastimes: hypothesis.
Jigsaw, the primary Noticed movie written by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, did not relaunch the franchise in 2017, however the screenwriter duo took one other shot at reviving it with Spiral in 2021, which additionally returned Bousman to the director’s chair. It was the primary A-list Noticed film, that includes main stars like Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson, and it even had its personal tie-in single by 21 Savage, a hip-hop remix of “Hey Zepp”. However regardless of the cash behind it, the movie appeared far gaudier than Jigsaw. Noticed motion pictures aren’t meant to look costly, even when they’re.
However whereas Spiral feels visually steady with the remainder of the sequence in a approach its predecessor isn’t, it doesn’t have the identical obsession with narrative continuity as the opposite sequels. It incorporates a copycat killer organising gory traps for corrupt policemen, however it could possibly’t assist however really feel prefer it’s studying from a completely completely different “e book of Noticed” than most long-time followers, whose lasting appreciation for these movies comes, no less than partially, from simply how a lot time the flicks spend attempting to justify their very own existence.
The killer in Spiral seems to be ostensible “good” cop William Schenk (Max Minghella), who modeled his strategies after Jigsaw, however the signature Clouser suite doesn’t even play over this reveal. (As an alternative, it performs over Schenk’s monologue about his motivations.) That alternative breaks what would be the sequence’ easiest aesthetic tenet. Regardless of Bousman’s involvement, Spiral appears like a Noticed movie made by individuals who essentially misunderstand the sequence. That meant it was time to return to fundamentals.
The Jigsaw Redux Period: Noticed X… and Past?
Photograph: Alexandro Bolaños Escamilla/Lionsgate
The premise of Noticed X feels just like the filmmakers admitting that these motion pictures don’t completely perform with out Jigsaw. As an alternative of one other sequel about an apprentice finishing up his work, the sequence’ 10th entry merely slots someplace between Noticed and Noticed III, not solely making Jigsaw the protagonist for the primary time, however bringing again Amanda as properly, framing the movie as a sentimental drama that simply occurs to function industrial-style gore.
Nineteen years and 9 sequels later (and with Noticed VI director Kevin Greutert again on the helm), the franchise lastly has a second film that feels considerably polished and emotionally grounded, regardless of its buckets of blood. It provides the viewers extra of what they need (traps and twists!), however in surprisingly vivid element, since a narrative advised from Jigsaw’s POV additionally permits issues to be extra process-oriented: This time round, the viewers is his apprentice. The complete film, in essence, turns into one big flashback to fill in dramatic gaps about Kramer’s most cancers analysis, and the way in which it impacts his and Amanda’s work, in what quantities to a blood-soaked melodrama.
Jigsaw’s warped morality has all the time been marred by inconsistency. However when the franchise begins filling in its narrative gaps, the killers’ outlooks all of the sudden click on into place, whether or not by a dozen flashbacks revealing an apprentice’s makes an attempt to chop ties with Jigsaw, or a former addict changing into hooked on the brutality of torture over the course of a number of entries. By making these rationalizations the central level of every flashback — and within the case of Noticed X, the purpose of your complete movie — the sequence is ready to pull off new and ridiculous plot twists at each flip, which tie its seemingly disparate elements collectively and guarantee its longevity.
This dedication to constructing continuity retains followers on their toes as they have interaction in one in all fandom’s favourite pastimes: hypothesis, predictions, and wild guessing. With the Noticed sequence, they’re given the chance to infer which present character will subsequent be force-fitted into an origin story about residing life to the fullest by committing a complete bunch of murders. And with a return to a time within the sequence when Jigsaw was nonetheless alive, it introduces much more such potentialities: The producers have even teased a continuation of Noticed X’s story.
In an leisure panorama the place fan engagement is the important thing to a profitable franchise, it’s notable how a lot of this sequence has been about fooling the viewers — and alluring them to show they’re too intelligent to be fooled, to tease them with the potential for getting out forward of a story that’s each predictable in its obsessions and unpredictable in its unlikely tips. It’s the most effective a part of the Noticed franchise: the sprawling continuity that turns these movies from mere torture porn into torture porn with a aspect of cleaning soap opera.