The Saw franchise has one of the most intricate webs of continuity of any horror franchise ever, with the complete timeline spanning over nine films. The longer any franchise runs, the more likely it is to develop continuity errors that fail to make much logical sense. This tends to be especially true in horror, where studios and filmmakers often don’t seem to care much about having one film’s ending logically lead into the next’s beginning.
The poster child for that problem in the world of horror is of course Halloween, which is currently unfurling its fourth distinct continuity over more than 40 years of Michael Myers‘ existence. Conversely, Saw went in the opposite direction, to the point where some critics would complain that the further along the series progressed, the harder it was to keep up without having seen every entry in it, preferably recently. Whether that was a big issue is debatable, but Saw definitely tried its best to tie everything together for most of its run.
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The most recent installment in the franchise, Spiral, looks to have finally broken that chain: while it has a few small links to the story of John “Jigsaw” Kramer, it’s mostly its own beast. For its first eight movies though, Saw wove a tangled web. Here’s a breakdown of what happened when, with the caveat that the Saw movies only rarely mention specific dates or years onscreen, so a bit of the chronological placements are educated guesses based on context and other factors.
Before Saw (2004)
Much of what unfolds in the Saw movies ties directly back to events that happened prior to the original film, as John Kramer‘s game had many players for many reasons. Before becoming Jigsaw, John was a successful civil engineer, while his wife Jill opened and ran the Homeward Bound Clinic, designed to help drug addicts get clean and back on their feet. With a son on the way, John and Jill were happy, until an addict named Cecil Adams robbed the clinic, causing Jill to lose the baby. That sent John into suicidal depression, and he began the spiraling downward of his life. He later developed brain cancer and due to a mistake by future apprentice Logan Nelson, and later a denial of care by insurance executive William Easton, was declared terminal.
Amanda Young, another patient at Homeward Bound — who unbeknownst to John had talked Cecil into robbing the place — is abducted by John, and forced to pass a test involving the infamous reverse bear trap. She succeeds, emerges with a new appreciation for life, and join’s John’s crusade. During the same pre-Saw period, Detective Mark Hoffman attempts to frame Jigsaw for the murder of his sister’s killer, leading John to reveal himself and blackmail Hoffman into becoming another apprentice. Detective David Tapp subsequently gets drawn into the Jigsaw investigation, and after the death of his partner via a booby trap, becomes obsessed with taking Jigsaw down. To try and throw Tapp off, Hoffman and John attempt to frame Dr. Lawrence Gordon for the crimes.
Saw sees Jigsaw’s first major game begin, as Dr. Lawrence Gordon and photographer Adam Stanheight are abducted by John and Amanda and trapped inside a disgusting bathroom. Adam had been hired to surveil Gordon previously by Detective Tapp, who’s hot on Jigsaw’s trail. Also roped in is Zep Hindle, an orderly who had worked at the hospital where John was treated. Jigsaw demands Gordon kill Adam, or his kidnapped wife and daughter will die. Gordon fails, but Tapp arrives and his family survives. Tapp pursues Zep, but gets shot, then Zep is killed by Adam. Finally, the masterstroke occurs, as John reveals he was the “dead body” in the room with them the whole time, long after Gordon sawed off his own foot to try and escape, and leaves the two men to die.
Between Saw (2004) & Saw 2 (2005)
After Saw, John returns and nurses Dr. Gordon back to health, who then becomes another apprentice, albeit one unknown to Hoffman and Amanda Young. Amanda kills Adam, without telling John. Detective Eric Matthews is investigated by internal affairs for abusing suspects, and would become the next major Jigsaw test subject, due to that and his tendency to lie under oath and put away innocent people. Bobby Dagen, lead character of Saw 7, begins his own lies about surviving Jigsaw around this time too, while William Easton denies live-saving care to Harold Abbott, whose family would eventually decide to kill him to end Saw 6.
Saw 2 (2005)
John’s next big test occurs with Eric Matthews, who’s forced to watch as his teenage son and a bunch of people he wrongfully locked up face their own tests inside an abandoned house. It turns out the footage being shown to Eric was pre-recorded, and his son had been safe inside a literal safe in the same room the whole time. Eric is left locked inside the bathroom from the first Saw by Amanda, who participated in the game under the guise of a victim.
Between Saw 2 (2005) & Saw 3 (2006)/4 (2007)
Eric manages to escape the bathroom but is badly injured in the process. He gets in a bloody fight with Amanda, who leaves him for dead, but Hoffman patches Eric up. Eric is kept locked away for months, while Detective Hoffman pretends to be investigating the Jigsaw case and Jill Tuck. Dr. Gordon and John select brain surgeon Dr. Lynn Denlon for his next big game, which would revolve around her and her husband Jeff, whose son had been killed by a drunk driver. John also forces his slimy ex-lawyer Art Blank into service, while Amanda begins designing inescapable traps, going against John’s twisted ethics. John’s health was rapidly deteriorating too.
Saw 3 (2006)/4 (2007)
Saw 3 and Saw 4‘s events need to be grouped together for clarity’s sake, as the two films take place simultaneously. John is nearing death in this time period, and knows he won’t be alive much longer. For her part, Jill begs him to give up his crusade, but he refuses. Amanda and Hoffman are also at odds among John’s ranks, with Hoffman angling to get her out of the way. He uses his knowledge of her involvement with John’s son’s death to accomplish that. While Lynn and Jeff Denlon are being tested, police officer Daniel Rigg is taking part in his own series of tests, organized by Hoffman, and involving Eric Matthews. Rigg is then framed for the Jigsaw killings. Lynn and Jeff are both ultimately killed, the latter by FBI Agent Peter Straham in a misunderstanding, after Jeff had just caused Jigsaw’s death. Amanda also died, as did Eric and Rigg.
Saw 5 (2008)
Agent Strahm is attacked from behind and placed in a Water Cube trap by Hoffman, but manages to escape via improvised tracheotomy with a pen. Hoffman “saves” Jeff and Lynn’s kidnapped daughter Corbett, and becomes a hero in the press, but Strahm rapidly becomes suspicious of him. John leaves behind a posthumous tape that informs Hoffman of what’s to come. The central test and its subjects aren’t really the story in Saw 5, as the focus is on Hoffman’s attempts to stay ahead of Strahm and his partner Agent Perez, who fakes her death in order to try and trip Hoffman up. Strahm catches up to Hoffman, but the latter gets the last laugh, as Strahm fails a rather simple test and gets crushed to death.
Saw 6 (2009)
Saw 6‘s central game tests William Easton, who’s forced to reckon with his company’s history of denying life-saving care and always picking money over humanity. Meanwhile, Hoffman uses Strahm’s severed hand to try and frame him for the Jigsaw murders. Perez and her FBI boss Erickson eventually catch him red-handed, but Hoffman kills everyone in the room, then burns it to destroy the evidence. Unknown to him though, John had instructed Jill to place Hoffman in the reverse bear trap as his own test, and had also asked Dr. Gordon to act in case anything were to happen to Jill. Hoffman survives.
Saw 7 (2010)
After patching himself up, Hoffman targets Jill, but not before she seeks help from internal affairs cop Mark Gibson, who had seen Hoffman shoot a man years prior. Sadly, police protection doesn’t end up being enough. The central game sees self-help guru and purported Jigsaw survivor Bobby Dagen put through a series of tests due to his ongoing lies. Hoffman massacres a bunch of cops, using Dagen’s game as a ploy to get Gibson away from the police station and get himself in, before killing Jill with the Reverse Bear Trap. The joke is on Hoffman though, as Gordon abducts him and leaves him to die in the original Saw bathroom.
Saw 8 aka Jigsaw (2017)
Jigsaw, the eighth Saw movie, takes place eight years after John’s death, although it features yet another character who turned out to be working for Jigsaw. Well, kind of, as the central game seen onscreen, run by previously unknown apprentice Logan Nelson, actually occurred sometime before the first Saw movie. It’s being discussed here instead of in the “Before Saw” section due to the vast distance between the two movies possibly making things hard to follow. In present day, Logan frames a corrupt cop named Detective Hallorann for the new killings, as revenge for Hallorann letting a killer go free that later murdered Logan’s wife.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)
Spiral is set in the same area, an unclear number of years after the events of Jigsaw. Outside of the new killer William Schenk lifting some of John’s methods, there’s no other direct connection between the two characters or the prior Saw stories. It’s revealed that years before Spiral, protagonist Detective Zeke Banks witnessed his partner Peter Dunleavy murder a witness. Zeke exposed Dunleavy, making him a pariah in the overall corrupt force. Dunleavy’s victim, a man named Emmerson, was actually William’s father, and William took up Jigsaw’s mantle as an adult in order to clean up the police department. His end goal was to enlist Zeke as an accomplice after testing him, but Zeke refused, and his former corrupt chief father died as a result.
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