Review: Saw (2004)





James Wan


James Wan, Leigh Wannell


103 min.


Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer, Mike Butters, Paul Gutrecht, Michael Emerson, Benito Martinez, Shawnee Smith, Makenzie Vega, Monica Potter, Ned Bellamy, Alexandra Chun, Avner Garbi, Tobin Bell

MPAA Rating

R (For strong grisly violence and language)

Buy/Rent Movie



Though most other film festivals would consider it off limits, horror films have been receiving a strong reception at Sundance for several years, including Saw, a gruesomely violent flick that requires its audience not to eat anything before watching.

The story revolves around two men, abducted from their homes and locked into a dingy, disused lavatory where they must pit wits with a mad serial killer whose hands never directly bring about his subject’s deaths. Between these two men, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam Faulkner (Leigh Whannell), chained by ankle to opposite ends of the room, is a dead body, shot in the back of the head and bearing a cassette recorder that both of them can use to uncover their missions of survival.

Adam knows more than he’s telling and it’s up to Lawrence to figure it all out. Although both are unwitting pawns in this killer’s game, the story is mostly about Lawrence. In addition to his current predicament, he is the subject of an ex-cop’s (Danny Glover) vengeful pursuit of the Jigsaw killer (Tobin Bell) and his wife (Monica Potter) and daughter (Makenzie Vega) are being held hostage by one of Jigsaw’s dangerous associates (Michael Emerson).

Each of these players is interconnected by strange and unique circumstances that threaten to tear them apart and to bring them together at the same time.

Seeing Elwes and Glover in a horror film is a bit of a delight. Neither seem on the outside like natural fits for the genre, but they both rise to the occasion. Shawnee Smith as one of Jigsaw’s reborn survivors Amanda, and Michael Emerson provide strong support in thankless, almost villainous roles. The remaining cast members all perform adequately considering both the genre and the budget.

The film expounds on a short film that directors Whannell and James Wan made in 2003, taking the scene in which Amanda escapes from the deadly bear trap device directly from it, edited and adapted to fit in with the film’s story. It was the trap that launched a series and put Jigsaw into the annals of slasher history.

What is most interesting and entertaining about the film is that it doesn’t take its audience for granted. It presents twists that are not only logical, but which are quite fun. It leaves tantalizing questions unanswered (at least not until later films) and it does so without seeming like an unnecessary series of unrelated bloody deaths. It plays quite well into the tradition of the genre, putting despicable people in harms way and rewarding the more virtuous with redemption. Jigsaw isn’t a hack-and-slash murderer, he’s a methodical classy figure who uses his intellect to help provide people with a much needed jolt to change their lives forever or allow themselves to die at the hands of their own hubris and proclivities.

I would be remiss if I didn’t briefly touch on the gore-filled violence presented in the film. Whether it’s a half-naked overweight man scrambling towards an exit through a dense bramble of razor wire or someone taking rusted hacksaw to flesh and bone, the film does not allow refuge for the squeamish. It also managed to spur on an entire genre labeled as “torture porn”, a misnomer if there ever was one.

Without Saw, we never would have had a Hostel, a Devil’s Rejects or any number of other recent slaughter pics. Whether that’s a positive or a negative depends on how you view the evolution of the genre. For me, I’m glad to see some inventiveness thrust back into the traditional memes. They may not all be quality films, but at least it’s a distraction from the mind-numbingly dull retreads like I Know What You Did Last Summer or Cruel Intentions; and don’t even get me started on the boat load of unnecessary remakes. And while I am a fan of the more psychological aspects capable in the genre, there will always be a part of me that appreciates new directions, even if they have the potential to devolve into bloated, pedantic sequels.

Review Written

September 18, 2009

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