Welcome to Beat the Algorithm, our recurring series that helps you find something else to watch if you enjoyed a new or notable release. In this edition, we look at some of the movies you should seek out if you enjoy the Saw franchise, especially the latest entry, Spiral.
Just when you thought Hollywood had already delivered more Saw movies than we could possibly handle, Spiral, starring Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson, has arrived. The film’s eight predecessors seemed to explore every possible nuance of the torture and death game subgenre, but Spiral assures us that there’s more blood to be squeezed from this particular stone.
Spiral follows a detective named Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Rock), who gets caught up in the spiral of a Jigsaw copycat’s sick and twisted games. The film maintains the Saw franchise’s cat-and-mouse tone, gritty aesthetics, and, of course, a commitment to grisly body horror and gore. But Spiral also brings in new elements, such as a complex father-son relationship, and a new kind of Jigsaw character altogether.
And let’s face it, even with the prolific nature of the Saw franchise, many people can’t help but leave each new addition itching for more. And we really can’t blame them. Luckily, there are a whole lot of movies that have inspired, been inspired by, or are just similar to, Saw. Here are some movies to watch after you see Spiral.
When it comes to cringe-worthy, hair-raising gore, Hostel checks all of the boxes. A massive, menacing chainsaw? A severed achilles? Graphic, eyeball torture? Yeah, Eli Roth has you covered.
Set in a torture chamber in Eastern Europe, Hostel is infamous not only for being one of the most relentlessly gory movies in recent history but also for its bloody sequences being impressively creative. Ring a bell? Like the Saw franchise, with each new film, Hostel’s bloody moments get more and more inventive. So if you like the sadistic and clever nature of Saw, stop what you’re doing and dive right into the Hostel franchise.
Part of what makes the Saw franchise so impossible to stop binging is the unmatched tension that comes with watching people try and use their smarts to get out of literal life-or-death scenarios. One recent film that has executed (no pun intended) this theme to near perfection is Circle.
The setup is simple: fifty strangers wake up in a closed-off dome, and they have to choose amongst themselves which one will survive. And it gets worse as someone dies every two minutes regardless of their actions. The homage to Saw is pretty obvious here as this intricate, perverse setup could have come right out of the series. And, while there’s admittedly less torture and bloodshed in Circle, the twisted mind games are satisfying enough to make up for it.
As far as ruthless psyops go, Jigsaw has nothing on the test organizers in Exam. The film follows a number of candidates for a top-secret, ultra high profile job, who are sent to a room and instructed not to speak to the guard, ruin their piece of paper, or leave the room. Simple enough, right?
Wrong. What follows is a hundred minutes of basically the worst of humanity. People turn on one another, commit unspeakable acts of violence, and attempt to cheat their way to the top. Perhaps the candidates aren’t physically tortured like they are in Saw, but their mental and emotional torture is almost as callous. And if anything, it emphasizes what the Saw franchise has told us time and time again: if a cruel villain puts a group of unsuspecting people in a room together, nothing good can come of it.
Would You Rather? (2013)
Ever played “Would you rather” at a sleepover? This is the same thing. Well, hopefully not exactly the same. Would You Rather? follows Iris (Brittany Snow), a woman who is desperate for money to fund her brother’s cancer treatment. A glimmer of hope is offered to her when she is introduced to a wealthy philanthropist who invites her to dinner and promises he’ll give her the funds if she wins his parlor game. The twist? It’s a game of would you rather that has no limits.
Would You Rather? is an excellent companion piece to Spiral, because its competitive game format allows the sickest of fantasies to be realized. You wanna see someone slit open their own eyeball? Now’s your chance. You wanna see what a giant shock machine looks like in action? Would You Rather? has you covered.
If you’re into gross-out torture movies, chances are you’ve seen or at least heard of, Takashi Miike’s Audition. The film follows a woman who falls in love with a man, only to find out that he’s been unfaithful to her. After making this discovery, she exacts her revenge in what is often regarded as the most brutal torture scene of all time. Any Saw fan who watches Audition will instantly be able to recognize the inspiration the franchise took from the Japanese horror film; even if the Saw films haven’t quite been able to live up to Miike’s sadistic vision, (yet).
Many consider Se7en to be David Fincher’s best film, and rightly so. The film follows two detectives: rookie David Mills (Brad Pitt) and seasoned William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), on their hunt to catch a serial killer who is recreating each of the seven deadly sins in his victims.
For Spiral fans, it is vital to not give this one a miss. Not only does Se7en bear resemblance to the Saw franchise in its story structure: two detectives on a cat-and-mouse hunt for a malevolent killer, but it is simply one of the best to ever follow that trope. Stylistically, it also clearly offered a lot of inspiration for Saw. Dark, gritty aesthetics, cynical detectives, and a suspenseful soundtrack? Fincher and Saw have a lot more in common than you might have thought.
The Game (1997)
You didn’t think that was the last we’d say about David Fincher, did you? His directorial style clearly offered so much inspiration to the Saw franchise that it would feel wrong to not add at least one more title. The Game is a great film for those who love the mind-game aspect of Spiral.
The film follows investment banker Nicholas van Orton (Michael Douglas) who signs up for a mysterious, personalized game his brother bought him a gift card for. Quickly, the game spirals way out of his control, leading to dire crimes, and forcing Nicholas to question the very fabric of his own reality. Like Jigsaw, those behind The Game’s game are masterminds at toying with people’s brains. They might even have the same effect on the viewer, too.
Funny Games (1997)
To put it simply: Michael Haneke’s Funny Games is not for the faint of heart. The film follows an Austrian family who go to their vacation home with their adorable dog Rolfi. Sounds pretty idyllic, right? Sure. That is, until two young men enter their home, hold them hostage, and torture them for the remainder of the movie. The sheer torture aspect is something that would appeal to Saw fans, as well as the sadists thinking up creative ways to inflict all kinds of pain on people.
And, if you like it, you’re in luck: Haneke recreated the film ten years later in English, shot-for-shot. So you can continue to get your Funny Games fix on. Just try not to take the title too seriously. It’s not exactly a knee-slapper.
Wolf Creek (2005)
Wolf Creek is one of the more underrated slasher movies of all time. Based on a bone-chilling true story, the film follows three young tourists travelling through the Australian Outback. Their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, and, (surprise, surprise), things don’t go too well after that.
An Australian native and odd recluse named Mick Taylor discovers them on the side of the road and promises to fix their car. The next morning, they wake up tied up and gagged. What follows are some of the most horrific torture scenes that ever graced the silver screen. Because of the level of violence, Wolf Creek was met with a lot of controversy upon its release, including one of the most damning reviews Roger Ebert ever wrote. We know for all the Saw fans out there, though, that’s only going to make you want to watch it more.
Cabin Fever (2002)
Of course, we had to give another shout-out to the master of gore himself: Eli Roth. The film takes place on a college spring break trip that goes wrong when a deadly virus begins to spread around an isolated vacation spot. We thought this film deserved an honorable mention because of the unique and repugnant body horror involved. Apparently, when a virus starts on the skin, it’s not too pretty.
Before we get started on this one, we want to emphasize that we are not talking about the 2013 Disney movie, (though, if you haven’t already, we think you should watch that one too). This Frozen – the OG Frozen – was made three years before its more famous namesake.
The film follows a trio of friends on a ski trip, who face a dire situation when their ski life gets stuck mid-air and no one else is around. From there, they are forced to find a way down before they freeze to death. This often-overlooked thriller is a great Saw pairing, as it follows people attempting to make their way out of an impossible situation. It also has some blood and guts involved, if that’s your thing. (We already know it is).
Final Destination 3 (2006)
Of course, the Final Destination franchise had to make it onto that list. It was tempting to put all five of them on here, but, if we had to pick just one for the Saw fans out there, it would be the third installment. Why? Simple. This film has the most creative and gory death scenes in the whole series, (which is saying a lot).
For those who aren’t familiar with Final Destination, each film starts off with a group of people who narrowly survive a catastrophic event, like a plane crash, a race-track disaster, or a roller coaster mishap. Then, the demon of death picks each person off one by one in the order they were supposed to die in. This demon has a pretty great sense of humor, too, so the deaths themselves are always pretty innovative.
In this particular chapter, we get a lot of good death-related content. First, we have a brutal rollercoaster debacle as a killer opening scene. We also have a tanning bed experience gone wrong, a nail gun debacle, and an incident with fireworks. And that’s not even half of it.
The Box (2009)
The Box isn’t particularly violent, but it is a psychological thriller if ever we saw one, which is right up Saw fans’ alleys. The film follows young couple Arthur (James Marsden) and Norma (Cameron Diaz) whose world is turned upside down when they receive a box on their front doorstep. According to the box’s instructions, if they press a button, they’ll receive $1 million — but someone they don’t know will die.
The two end up pressing the button, but, of course, the box comes with many strings attached. Supernatural occurrences, stalking, strange men in trenchcoats. Basically, anything you could think of.
127 Hours (2010)
And, last but not least: our honorable mention. 127 Hours tells the true story of a hiker, Aron Ralston (James Franco), who falls in a crevice and gets his arm wedged between two boulders. As he runs out of food and water, he realizes there is no way he is getting his way out of that sticky situation. Not unless he cuts his hand off, of course.
Putting 127 Hours on this list was a necessity because of the resemblance it has to the leg-meets-saw scene that essentially put Saw on the map. Any movie that watches someone cut off their own limb is a good one in the Saw fandom’s book.