Director James Wan
Starring Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell
Scott’s Review #1,285
Reviewed August 4, 2022
One of the many reasons that I love the horror genre so much is how it changes and develops over time. Many classic horror films are influential to more modern ones and that’s all well and good.
But then sometimes a new idea or style comes along that throws everything topsy turvy and influences other films for years to come.
Saw (2004) is one of those films. It smacked everyone who thought they knew horror films upside the head with a relentless and pulsating gore-fest.
I was fortunate enough to see the film when it premiered and boy was it the ‘water cooler’ film of its day. The clever writing and intricate plot and set pieces were unheard of in a world of maniac-wielding knife setups and redundant endings.
It invented the grisly ‘torture porn’ moniker that became popular with films like Hostel (2005) and many more that would come after it.
The Saw franchise ultimately produced perhaps one too many sequels that left it feeling stale and exhausted, but what an influence the original Saw had, and continues to have.
I still remember the hold the film had over me and how much it resonated in nastiness, butchery, and enough creative killings to last a lifetime.
Needless to say, it’s not for the squeamish or faint of heart, and watching Saw now knowing the surprise twist doesn’t pack quite the same punch that it did in 2004, but I’ll never forget how I felt when first watching this film.
The twist ending is unforgettable.
Events get off to a kick-ass start when two men awake in peril. Photographer Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell) and oncologist Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) who do not know one another, regain consciousness while chained to pipes at either end of a filthy bathroom.
As the confused men realize they’ve been trapped by a sadistic serial killer nicknamed “Jigsaw” and must complete his perverse puzzle to live, flashbacks unravel the mystery of other character connections.
Meanwhile, Dr. Gordon’s wife (Monica Potter) and young daughter (Makenzie Vega) are forced to watch his torture via closed-circuit video.
A massive clue to the puzzle that Saw presents is lying right there in the bathroom but of course, the unwitting audience knows none of this. The fun of the film is to sit back and let the filmmakers slowly unpeel the onion and reveal the who’s who of the backstory.
And let the blood drip.
Unlike legacy films like Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) or even later efforts like Scream (1996) that brought thousands of rabid horror fans back to movie theaters, nobody is being chased with a knife in Saw.
It’s much more cerebral than that.
Who can ever forget the sound of Jigsaw’s grave voice pouring out of a tape recorder stating “I want to play a game” in a robotic tone? It is still as ominous a sound as one could imagine, and the big reveal still comes as a genuine shock.
Most of the characters have secrets to reveal and most of those secrets are dirty.
Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell who also stars in Saw, brilliantly craft a web of deceit amongst their players. The characters who suffer the most have committed a hateful act of deception or schemed their way to benefit based on someone else’s ruin.
In perfect form, all the victims almost deserve their fates like being caught in a shotgun trap, shot in the chest, or being forced to ‘saw’ off their foot to escape death.
The final reveal is downright freaky and will make the audience quickly rewind the events of the film in their heads. The character thought to be the main killer, and wonderfully played by creepy actor Michael Emerson (star of television’s Lost) is merely a pawn of someone more sinister.
Saw (2004) savagely hacked its way into viewers’ heads with a sophisticated, plot-driven experience with a film style enhanced by an independent look.
It’s had its day but it must never be forgotten for the influence left behind.