Incorrectly and unfairly written off as ‘torture porn’ by most, Saw marked the start of an unexpected and hugely successful franchise and is actually a very interesting and original thrill-ride.
Two strangers, Adam and Dr. Lawrence Gordon, wake up in a filthy and derelict room at opposite ends, chained to a pipe and with no memory of how they arrived there. With the only other occupant being a dead man lying in a pool of his own blood, a gun clenched in his rigor mortis stiffened hand, their odds for survival don’t look good. Following a string of riddles and clues they start to piece things together and realise that they are players in a game, orchestrated by ‘Jigsaw’, a sensationalised pseudo-serial killer who doesn’t do any actual serial killing but instead forces his victims to question whether they value life enough to fight their way out of his potentially lethal traps.
Directed by James Wan and co-written by and starring Leigh Whannell, Saw came out of nowhere in 2004 and took the horror world by storm. Following its sleeper success and the subsequent films using the Saw name, it suffered something of a backlash but if you ignore the many copycats and the increasingly shoddy sequels, it remains a solid and intriguing movie. The outcome isn’t always clear and for the most part will leave the viewer guessing until the final frames. It is by no means a work of art but it can certainly claim to be original and has been massively influential in the years since its release.
For a movie that is often remembered for being fairly extreme, there is actually very little gore on show here. It has its share of grotesque moments but most of the real violence occurs either off screen or via shaky-cam which obscures the action somewhat. Jigsaw’s elaborate death traps take centre stage instead but are enough to satiate any horror fan without needing to resort to throwing around an overabundance of claret.
Despite a cast that includes Danny Glover and Cary Elwes, the acting in Saw is fairly standard, particularly from Elwes who is thoroughly outshined by feature-film newcomer Whannell. Tobin Bell makes for an unusual and enigmatic ‘Jigsaw’, a killer the like of which audiences haven’t really encountered before, and he is backed up by some competent bit-part players.
Saw’s main failing however, is its disjointed narrative. The scenes that take place within the confines of the derelict room are taut and intriguing but those that serve to provide back-story are sometimes incongruous and occasionally confusing. The story whips back and forth from past to present and it’s not always explicitly obvious which is which, letting down an otherwise stand-out movie.
Saw is intelligent but not pretentious, showy but not flashy, complicated but not convoluted and it’s well worth any horror fans time.