The Spool / Features
A beginner’s guide to understanding the Saw-iverse
Thinking about getting into the Saw franchise 10 movies in? Here’s what you need to know.

Thinking about getting into the Saw franchise 10 movies in? Here’s what you need to know.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the work being covered here wouldn’t exist.

With an inevitability that is oddly comforting in such a scary and uncertain time, a new Saw movie is coming out at the end of this week. As you could assume by the “X,” Saw X is the tenth film in a franchise that, just based on its lack of continuity alone, could conceivably continue for the next three decades or so. If you’re thinking about now, after all this time, finally getting into the Saw franchise, here are a few tips to aid you in your journey towards redemption by way of giant bear traps clamping down on one’s skull.

The best part about the Saw movies is that you can start with literally any of them. You could even start with Saw X, which takes place between the events of the original Saw and Saw II. It doesn’t matter. What began as a very simple premise of “What would you do to survive?” quickly became so convoluted, and so reliant on flashbacks, dual timelines, multiple points-of-view, and in-universe pre-recorded material, that it’s not necessary to watch the series either in its entirety, in chronological order according to when events take place, or even in the order they were released. Trying to put things in some sense of linear fashion is like trying to figure out what happens in Twin Peaks: it will only make you more confused, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

The best example of this I can offer is the fact that John Kramer, a/k/a Jigsaw, the series’ protagonist/antagonist (depending on how you look at it), died at the end of Saw III (coincidentally the last time any of these movies made something resembling sense). Yet, thanks to the aforementioned time shifts and flashbacks, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is still alive, if not well, exactly (because he’s also dying of cancer most of the time), throughout the rest of the series. Other characters come and go too, often popping up three or four movies after their first appearance. It helps to keep a Wiki open explaining who everyone is and how they connect to the overall plot (such as it is), but at the same time, it doesn’t really matter much either. Jigsaw is really the only character that counts. 


The most important thing you need to know about Jigsaw is that he’s a judgy little bitch. The elaborate, deadly traps he sets for people are meant to either punish or teach them a lesson about appreciating life, depending on what kind of mood he’s in. Sometimes it’s murderers, pedophiles, and crooked cops who find themselves strapped into a chair made of knives. But also, seemingly just to keep the dreary, unspecified city where all this happens on its toes, he’ll occasionally target a workaholic, or a guy who is unable to quit smoking. Jigsaw doesn’t believe in nuance: whether you’re a wife beater or you failed to tip your server an appropriate amount, everyone eventually goes into the chair (made of knives).

This is all related to some sort of overall plan that Jigsaw frequently alludes to, but ten movies in it’s not entirely clear what that plan is, except that it involves a lot of symbols and microcassettes.  

On the upside, Jigsaw gives back to the community. In addition to paying property taxes on the numerous underground dungeons and grimy warehouses he owns, he also runs an apprenticeship program in which individuals who ascribe to his muddled philosophy can receive on-the-job training in building their own rusty death contraptions. In just six weeks at Jigsaw Vocational Academy, you too can learn:

  • Drafting
  • Welding (must provide own torch)
  • How to negotiate the best deals on bulk orders of syringes and broken glass
  • Talking in a low, growly voice
  • Persuasive speaking
  • Designing and building your own weird puppet

Sometimes his apprentices are people who’ve survived Jigsaw’s traps and found it to be such a life-changing experience that they want to keep the whole thing going, like how a heart transplant recipient would decide to go to medical school. It’s paying it forward: I learned to accept the gift of life by having a red hot poker put up my backside, now you will too.


Other times, Jigsaw’s apprentices are merely cops who started out investigating his crimes, but eventually grew to like the cut of his jib. As we learn in Saw 3D, occasionally the apprentices even have their own apprentices. Eventually the Saw series will have no choice but to go to space, because everyone in Jigsaw’s town will have either been killed, or killed someone else.

As I mentioned earlier, however, none of that really matters, because the sole reason to watch any of the Saw movies is the gruesome head-smashing and body shredding traps. Dying seven movies ago hasn’t dulled Jigsaw’s creative spark a bit (whereas sometimes it takes me a week to figure out what to write in a birthday card!), and here’s just a quick list of some of the best kills in the Saw franchise:

  • Floor is LEGO
  • Human whoopie cushion
  • Unhappy Honda-days
  • Waiters sing Happy Birthday to you in public forever (no survivors)
  • (Literally) Bloody Mary
  • Oops! All Hornets
  • Massage chair (made of knives)   

I’m kidding, it’s the needle pit.

Saw X opens in theaters September 29th.

Saw X Trailer: