Saw Movie Timeline: Get Ready For Spiral With A Full Story Recap

The Saw series has a long and complicated backstory, and with the latest movie, Spiral, arriving this week, here's your chance to catch up.

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The general rule of horror franchises is that, as the series continues, the plots get simpler and more repetitive, until the inevitable reboot which resets everything. Not so with the Saw series. What started in 2004 as a clever, gripping, but relatively modest thriller has, over the course of eight films, become a preposterously complicated narrative, with flashbacks, parallel subplots, recurring characters, twists, turns, and head-spinning callbacks. Spiral: From the Book of Saw is the ninth movie in the series, and it hits theaters this week. But it's been four years since the last movie, 2017's Jigsaw, which itself was preceded by a seven year gap since Saw 3D. So fans could be forgiven for not really remembering what the hell has happened so far.

The only true way to make sense of what's going on is to sit through all of the previous movies--and handily, the first seven can be found on HBO Max, while Jigsaw is currently streaming on Peacock. But for those that don't have time, here's a recap of the essential elements of the story so far.

The main problem of attempting to chronicle the plot of the entire series is that so much happens out of sequence. Every movie contains flashbacks to scenes at different points in the timeline, with a variety of important events occurring before the first movie. So let's go from the very start.

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There are several key players in the Saw story, all of whom have some backstory that is revealed before the first movie kicks off. At the center we have John Kramer, also known as the Jigsaw Killer. Before he was a torture-obsessed maniac, Kramer was a morally responsible architect with an equally wholesome, pregnant wife named Jill, who ran a clinic for recovering drug addicts. But a robbery at the clinic led Jill to have a miscarriage, and soon after, poor Kramer discovered he had an inoperable brain tumor. He attempted suicide but failed, and then decided that his life should follow a darker course. He became determined to use his remaining time to set up a series of gruesome games, each one designed to test his victims' will to live.

We also have Amanda, a recovering addict at Jill's clinic, who was one of the people involved in the robbery. Kramer abducts her, and she survives his test--the infamous "reverse bear trap"-- and is "reborn" as his apprentice.

Finally, there's Hoffman, a cop whose sister was murdered by her boyfriend, Seth Baxter. Hoffman learns about the so-called Jigsaw killer, and uses a Jigsaw-style trap to kill Seth in an attempt to frame the serial killer. Kramer learns of this, abducts Hoffman, and blackmails him into becoming another apprentice.

Pre-Saw

Jigsaw, the eighth movie in the series, served as both a prequel and sequel, and started with Kramer's first ever game, a ridiculously elaborate test involving the victims being pulled toward a wall of spinning buzzsaws. The sole survivor is a man named Logan, who (we later learn) mislabeled John Kramer’s X-Ray, delaying the diagnosis of his cancer. Kramer recruits Logan as his first ever apprentice and the pair design the reverse bear trap.

Saw

Now, onto the first Saw. The film centers on Dr. Gordon, the doctor who first diagnosed Kramer's tumor, and a man named Adam. Adam is a photographer hired by a cop named Tapp to spy on Dr. Gordon. Tapp is convinced that Gordon is Jigsaw--he's been framed by Hoffman (something we don't discover until Saw V). Gordon and Adam have been chained and locked in a bathroom together, with a corpse on the floor.

An orderly at Gordon's hospital named Zepp is working with Jigsaw, and will murder Gordon's family unless he can escape in time. Gordon ends up sawing off his own foot, while Zepp is stopped from killing Gordon's family by Tapp. All four end up in the same warehouse, where Zepp kills Tapp and Adam kills Zepp. Gordon shoots Adam before he escapes, and Adam is left to die in the room. FInally, the corpse in the center of the room stands up and reveals himself to be Jigsaw all along.

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Between Saw and Saw II

Saw 3D: Gordon is nursed back to health by Jigsaw, and recruited to become another apprentice. He promises to keep Jill safe after Kramer is dead.

Saw III: Amanda enters the bathroom and kills Adam, who had not died from the gunshot wound Gordon inflicted at the end of Saw 1.

Saw II

A dodgy cop named Matthews raids Jigsaw's hideout and learns that the maniac is holding eight prisoners--including Matthews' son Daniel and an undercover Amanda--in a house that is slowly filling with a deadly nerve agent that will kill everyone still inside in two hours. Six of these victims were sent to prison as a result of Matthews planting false evidence, and one by one, they are killed by traps, leaving only Daniel and Amanda.

Matthews releases Jigsaw in exchange for the location of the house, but unfortunately these events took place days ago and what he thought was a live video feed was in fact a recording. It turns out Daniel was safe in Jigsaw's lair all along. The film ends with Matthew locked in the bathroom from the first movie, while Jigsaw and Amanda escape.

Between Saw II and Saw III

Saw III: Matthews mangles his foot and escapes from the bathroom, but is caught by Amanda soon after.

Saw VI: Jill visits Kramer at the Gideon Meatpacking Plant, which Kramer built for many of his games, and where he is planning his next game. He gives her a mysterious key. Hoffman discovers Amanda’s involvement in the incident that led to Jill’s miscarriage, and uses it to blackmail her.

Saw III

Onto Saw III, and this is where things start to get really complicated, as the events of both Saw III and Saw IV take place simultaneously. Six months after Saw II, two cops named Rigg and Kerry are looking for Jigsaw, with the "help" of Hoffman. Kerry is abducted by Amanda and killed in a trap, with Rigg framed for the killing.

The movie largely focuses on a doctor named Lynn Denlon, who is placed in one of Jigsaw's traps (the shotgun collar) by Amanda and forced to perform life-saving surgery on a bed-ridden Kramer. Meanwhile, a man named Jeff is consumed with a quest to avenge his son's death by a drunk driver, and has his ability to forgive tested by Jigsaw. Needless to say, he doesn't forgive anybody and everyone involved dies nastily.

Meanwhile, Lynn's surgery is a success, but a jealous Amanda refuses to remove her collar and shoots her instead. Jeff turns up and shoots Amanda, then kills Jigsaw with a buzzsaw, which triggers Lynn's collar. Bye Lynn!

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Saw IV

As mentioned, Saw IV takes place at the same time as the bulk of Saw III. Rigg and Hoffman find Kerry's body, and the movie introduces two new cops--Peter Strahm and Lindsey Perez, who figure out that Jigsaw must have accomplices. Rigg is abducted and forced to play a game in order to save Hoffman and Matthews. However, Hoffman is just pretending to have been captured and this is all part of his plan to frame Rigg.

Meanwhile, Strahm and Perez interview Kramer's ex-wife Jill, and they learn about the Gideon Meatpacking Plant. During the subsequent investigation, Perez is injured by an exploding doll, so Strahm heads to the plant alone, where Rigg is playing his game. Rigg triggers a trap that kills Matthews, but not before Matthews can shoot him.

Strahm bursts in just after the ending of Saw III and shoots Jeff dead. Hoffman manages to capture him and locks him in the plant to play another game. Finally, during Kramer's autopsy, a tape is found in his stomach that tells Hoffman he is to be tested, even after his master's death.

Saw V

OK, four movies down, four to go. Ready for more? Saw V starts with Hoffman's test for Strahm--his head sealed in a box that slowly fills with water. Strahm uses a pen to perform a tracheotomy on himself in order to survive. Meanwhile, Kramer leaves Jill a black box in his will.

The injured Strahm is placed on medical leave, with an FBI agent named Erikson taking over the Jigsaw case. But Strahm continues his investigations in private, correctly believing Hoffman is Jigsaw's apprentice. Hoffman starts a new game, involving a group of people who were all connected by their involvement in a building fire that killed eight people. All but two of them die.

Strahm figures out that Hoffman was involved with the death of Seth (Hoffman's sister's boyfriend, who killed her--remember?) and gets confirmation that he was working with Jigsaw. But Hoffman has framed Strahm as Jigsaw’s final apprentice, putting Erikson on his trail. Strahm finds a human-size box, along with a tape from Hoffman telling Strahm to climb inside if he wants to survive. Instead, following a scuffle, Strahm throws Hoffman inside. Believing he has won, Strahm discovers that this was Hoffman’s plan all along. Hoffman’s box sinks into the floor, as the walls close in on Strahm, killing him as Hoffman watches from safety.

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Saw VI

We're getting there! Hoffman moves onto his next game, whose victims were specified by Kramer in Jill's black box. The game focuses on William Easton, the corrupt CEO of the insurance company that refused to pay for experimental treatment that might have saved Kramer's life. Hoffman forces him to weigh the lives of victims against each other. Inevitably most of them die horribly, and Easton himself ends up being fatally injected with acid by the son of another man whose treatment he refused to cover.

Meanwhile, Erikson and the now-recovered Perez figure out that Hoffman has been continuing Jigsaw's work. Unfortunately, Hoffman is there at the time, and is able to dispatch both ridiculously easily with the use of hot coffee and a knife. He then destroys all the evidence pointing to him and frames Strahm once more. Honestly, Jigsaw's apprentices should take more pride in their work instead of framing anyone they can think of.

The film ends with Jill kidnapping Hoffman and placing him in the reverse bear trap. She tells him this is Kramer's final test for him. Hoffman manages to escape but not without tearing his face open. Eeeww!

Saw 3D

Deep breath, just two movies left. After Hoffman escapes from the trap, Jill runs to Internal Affairs detective Matt Gibson and offers her testimony about Hoffman's involvement in exchange for protection. Hoffman remains committed to his work and embarks on yet another game based on Kramer's posthumous directions, involving a self-help guru who falsely claims to have survived one of Jigsaw's tests. Of course, when the test becomes a reality, he fails it badly.

Once that's done, Hoffman embarks on a little killing spree, taking out Gibson, before finding Jill and fitting her with the reverse bear trap. After seven long films of teasing, we finally see it go off, killing Jill in splattery 3D style.

Hoffman gets ready to skip town, but is abducted by Dr. Gordon, who reappears after six films to finally reveal that he is yet another Jigsaw disciple (the retcon to end all retcons). He fulfils Kramer's final request by trapping Hoffman and leaving him to die inside the bathroom in which the series began.

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Jigsaw

Half of Jigsaw's events take place pre-Saw 1; we covered that already. The film's present storyline takes place 10 years after Jigsaw' death. Logan, now working at the morgue, sets up a recreation of Kramer's first game. The investigating cop, Halloran, suspects Logan's Jigsaw-obsessed colleague Eleanor, but in the grand tradition of this series, Logan frames Halloran as the killer. The movie ends with Halloran and Logan--pretending to be a victim--waking up in a room, fitted with laser collars. Halloran confesses that he let criminals free for personal gain. Logan reveals he is this movie's Jigsaw, and lets the lasers kill Halloran.

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