johnlink ranks SAW (2004)

Last year I visited all of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films in the original order. This year, I figured I would g with SAW in advance of Halloween. I should point out, though, that my wife was fully on board with the Freddy films. She isn’t so much in for SAW, so we will see if I can get through all of them (alone) between now and Halloween. I have faith.


I watched SAW (2004) on 9.25.15. It was, I would say, my fourth viewing of the film. I watched this back in 2009 in the first infantile year of this blog, so this is a re-ranking.

While it is easy to think about the SAW series for what it represents in the modern horror landscape, it is important to remember that this film opens with a 16 minute scene in which we meet Adam (Leigh Whannell, who also wrote the script) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes). The two of them wake up in a disgusting room with a bath, a toilet, some pipes, and a dead man who has seemed to have recently shot himself in the head in the middle of the floor.

This scene is filled with discovery, suspense, angst, anger, frustration, and hopelessness. Amidst all that, Dr. Gordon remains forward thinking in his hope to find a way out as the clues begin to revel themselves. This opening is nuanced, careful, and powerful.

For whatever the series might have become, it will always have those first 16 minutes. And it will always have this first film.

Soon we learn of, through flashback, the police investigation into the Jigsaw killer by detectives Tapp (Danny Glover) and Sing (Ken Leung). The movie progresses – maybe less violently than we remember – through a series of past killings. That bit about being a little less violent is noteworthy. Director James Wan chooses to portray much of the violence, particularly violence that happened in the past, through a series of fast moving images which mostly eradicate blood and gore. We are left to imagine the worst of it.

jigsaw larioscine 2004 saw

Despite this, SAW is a movie which doesn’t mind apologizing for its killer. It allows the surviving victims, most notably Mandy (Shawnee Smith), to forgive the killer as they realize why he does what he does. It’s a scary proposition, but one the movie uses for a message about our own voyerism. While this is a message which loses its nuance over the course of the series (I imagine, based on the bits I’ve seen), it works for this as a standalone film.

The acting is mostly hit with a smattering of miss. Elwes is good, and he is a far cry from his most famous roles in projects like THE PRINCESS BRIDE. Whannell comes across as whiny and unlikable. Glover provides the proper level of pathos to his obsessive policeman, and a mid-film flashback scene is weak due to a recap that happens halfway through the film mores than Glover’s portrayal of it. Potter is goos – as she always is – as the victimized wife. Some of the victims or cops or hospital workers feel like glorified extras launched into a larger role.

Some of the weird stuff this movie tries to do, the animal mask and the random guy in the chair for instance, don’t feel like they are as strong as some of the truly brutal moments. Additionally, the moments of sudden break from amnesia feel like script rather than character driven. On the other hand, the clown is memorable because he’s a creepy freakin’ clown. The saw is memorable because of its double meaning and the pain of the moment, the guy in the cage of blades is memorable because of how much that would suck.

Having seen this a few times, SAW is a movie which does a good job of keeping us all guessing. The final reveal is notoriously iffy, but the movie drives at such a frantic pace as to forgive the craziness of such a last second surprise. The intensity in the moments leading up to it, in particular, help mask the break from reality.

Like many movies which spawn a series, SAW is a horror classic. It cannot be blamed for whatever came after. And no doubt about it, this movie is responsible for much of the entirety of the 21st century torture-porn genre. But this first film is really quite good, quite watchable, and quite important in the annals of horror history.




FINAL SCORE: 7.25 out of 10


~ by johnlink00 on September 25, 2015.

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