The Saw franchise is one of horror’s bloodiest. More torture than horror, Saw may be an acquired taste, but the series stands on some genuine merits. While the first film’s critical reception was rather middling, it still pulled off an incredible plot twist while telling a humble, fairly tense, story. Saw II felt similarly grounded, but it undeniably widened the series’ scope.
By Saw III, Jigsaw being given an epic send off and each subsequent entry would indulge deeper into what Saw fans wanted to see: traps. All of Saw’s best traps have weight to them, tying into character arcs or just writing out longtime favorites in increasingly brutal ways.
10 The Reverse Bear Trap
Audiences’ introduction to Amanda will always be one of the most memorable moments in Saw. She’s the only character who explicitly survives her trap in the first film. Her game also establishes a very important detail that fans ignore: Jigsaw isn’t playing fair. Amanda has to kill a man to survive.
For a serial killer who doesn’t kill, it sure seems like he orchestrated a scenario where someone was explicitly killed. Regardless, it’s a tense scene in general. Knowing that Amanda survives doesn’t take away from the tension. If anything, it keeps it bearable. There’s some real emotional intensity to Amanda struggling to break free.
9 The Angel Trap
On the subject of Amanda, this is the first Amanda orchestrated trap seen in the series. It’s especially notable because it results in the death of Detective Kerry, the only character who’s been in all three films thus far. With the roster of officers slowly dwindling, logic would dictate that Kerry would take over as Saw III’s lead.
But she dies within 20 minutes. The Angel Trap pierces into her ribs and an acid soaked key sets Kerry up to fail. Amanda’s test is cruel, unfair, and takes Jigsaw’s philosophies to its extreme. It’s through Amanda where his mantra as a serial killer is challenged. He never healed her. He only created a monster.
8 Jeff’s Final Test
With Kerry dead, newcomer Jeff ends up taking the role of protagonist for the rest of Saw III. The film ends up centering on Jeff’s personal struggles. Carrying the grief of a son who died in an accident, he comes face to face with the people closest involved with his boy’s death. Or at least those Jeff feels are most responsible for his state of mind.
It’s a story about forgiveness, and a cruel one. It seems that Jeff does ultimately come to learn his lesson, but Jigsaw goads Jeff into losing his temper. Jeff’s final test was to spare Jigsaw, but there was never a way he was going to succeed. After everything Jeff endured, the pieces fell exactly where Jigsaw needed them to.
7 The Mausoleum
Saw IV’s opening trap, the Mausoleum is one of the more interesting traps in terms of concept.Two men are chained together, one with his eyes gouged and the other with his mouth sewn together. They need to communicate somehow to keep each other alive while their chains gradually pull them towards their death.
It’s a good concept, and one that could work. But it plays out exactly how one would expect: with the blind guy freaking out to the point of being unhelpful. Art is forced to kill his compatriot to get free, but that’s how all Saw traps go.
6 The Water Cube
Saw IV and V were really setting Strahm up as the lead of the Hoffman Jigsaw movies. Strahm’s introduction in Saw V sees his head trapped in a cube. It slowly fills with water as Strahm realizes there’s no way out— the trap isn’t designed to be survivable. Lucky for Strahm, he busts out his pen and jabs it into his throat, ensuring he doesn’t drown to death.
It’s probably the most creative way anyone survives in these movies, and the pen is actually a detail Saw IV highlights often. It’s easy to miss as it’s subtle, but Strahm has that pen in virtually every single scene he’s in. That’s a nice little detail for observant fans.
5 The Glass Coffin
Of course, surviving a trap in Saw only means that another trap is on the way. Strahm may survive the Water Cube, but the Glass Coffin proves fatal. In a rare twist, the aforementioned object isn’t the cause of death. Rather, the Glass Coffin is the only safe space and Strahm pushes Hoffman right into it.
Strahm is gruesomely crushed to death after two films of development and Hoffman survives with a smile. It’s interesting to note, however, that Strahm was likely doomed no matter what he did. Hoffman could have very easily trapped Strahm beneath the walls, making the Glass Coffin his tomb.
4 Adam And Dr. Gordon’s Test
The first Saw is a genuinely good horror movie and it’s bolstered thanks to the dynamic between Adam and Dr. Gordon. The way their backstories end up blending into each others’, revealing more about the plot, allows viewers to form a real emotional attachment with both characters before things really hit the fan in the last act.
Dr. Gordon is forced to saw off his foot, but the game was rigged from the start. Adam had the key inside the bathtub, but it slid down the drain. Everything they did was ultimately futile. But upsettingly realistic. What’s especially nice about this trap is how slowly the two characters piece things together. It really feels like each moment is earned by sheer virtue of time noticeably passing.
3 The Shotgun Carousel
Saw IV and V, while interesting for those paying attention to the plot, are clunky films. They’re too gross for their own good and have mediocre B-plots at best. Together, they’re probably the worst movies in the franchise. Which makes Saw VI’s sudden spike in quality all the more endearing. It doesn’t last into Saw 3D, but it’s a nice change of pace.
The Shotgun Carousel is an especially brutal trap, with William forced kill off his employees one by one. It’s a very visceral scene that feels sickeningly real. It’s also serves as some actual commentary from Saw that goes beyond “people unmake themselves.”
2 Eric’s Test
Saw II isn’t as good a film as Saw I, but it has an interesting plot, an interesting main character through Eric, and a great plot twist. Eric’s test is probably the easiest in the series. All he has to do is sit down with Jigsaw and talk. Had he waited it out, it would have been revealed that his son was safe and with them all along.
But Eric, like most victims in Saw, is his own worst enemy. He succumbs to his demon, beats Jigsaw, and drives himself to what ultimately becomes his grave two movies later. It’s a sad fate for a surprisingly layered character.
1 The Reverse Bear Trap 2.0
Hoffman is a persistent serial killer. Saw VI really should have been the end of the series considering he manages to kill virtually every single person on his trail, effectively ending the Jigsaw investigation. Unfortunately for Hoffman, the original Jigsaw’s wife intervenes and places him within the Reverse Bear Trap.Like Amanda, Hoffman survives, but he has to fight for it. This trap is designed to kill him outright, there’s no ambiguity about it. Seeing Hoffman struggle only to smash his face into the window is only clever for a second before half his jaw is torn off as Saw VI cuts to credits. It’s an unforgettable way to end a movie.
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