What do you get when you mix two strangers chained to rusting industrial pipes, a dead body and a creepy tape? You get the foundations for Saw of course.
Complementing the character-focused entrapment scenes are a heavy bout of flashbacks which flesh out the psychotic history of the mysterious ‘Jigsaw’ – not quite a murderer, the cloaked figure is hidden in the shadows for much of the film. Placing his victims in some truly gruesome traps he aims on providing them with a way of achieving redemption for the sins they have committed in their life. His seemingly Samaritan-esque mantra takes a gruesome turn as the victims have to endure great pain to free themselves with many of them failing. The dialogue between Lawrence (Cary Elwes) and Adam (Leigh Whannel) and their attempts to work out a way of escaping their grubby surroundings offers a neat counterpart to the more gorier scenes in the film.
Essentially a psychological exploration of a two-person situation, Saw embraces the conventions present in kidnapping, crime, bogeyman and whodunnit films to create a film that holds an eclectic story at its heart. For eagle-eyed viewers there are hints at the ending throughout but be warned, there are red herrings-aplenty. Director James Wan designed the creepy doll and its tricycle himself. Often used in the film to be the bearer of bad news, it has already become legendary. Harnessing the fear instilled in films like Chuckie the film attributes it to a serial killer. Scary stuff.
Blood is central to the film’s core. Whereas films of the 60’s and 70’s may have skirted around the use of blood and films of the 80s and 90s used it excessively to try and move past previous decades decadence, the noughties tackled gore head-on and fully embraced it, pushing the boundaries of what its audiences could physically stomach. Without giving too much away Jigsaw suggests to the film’s central captives that if they wish to escape they might try considering sawing their feet off to escape their chains (hence the film’s title) and the execution of this is harrowing.
Saw is interspersed by CCTV footage of Lawrence and Adam signalling the impact of technology on horror. With Wes Craven’s Scream placing mobiles in the killer’s hands now we find ourselves watching films such as Psycho and subliminally thinking ‘why doesn’t Marion just text someone for help?’. As they slowly begin to realise that they are more closely connected than they first thought Adam and Lawrence discover they must work together in order to stand a chance of ever escaping Jigsaw’s cruel trap. As they try to decipher the cryptic clues left behind by their captor obsessed-cop Detective Tapp (Danny Glover) follows Jigsaw’s trail culminating in a suspense-riddled race against time.
Saw ushered in a new wave of horror films that fully embraced gore. Although plenty of films had tried their hands at gore before its arrival, Saw took horror to a new level. The noughties saw horror movies take one step further than their predecessors – instead of spurning strange convoluted sequels that went off-course and damaged the original story we were inundated with yearly episodic chapters. Although Lawrence’s make-up sometimes seems a tad pasty at times and he gets a bit sappy toward the end Saw is, nonetheless, highly enjoyable. Forget its gore-focused children, Saw is an intelligent and well crafted horror.
Best bit: The revelations at the end are pretty good whilst the entrapment scenes are riveting.
Best line: Many of Adam’s lines inject a sardonic level of humour into the situation which offers light relief, one of these includes; (After being asked his name) ‘My name is Very Fucking Confused. What’s your name?’
Best performance: Elwes and Whannel carry the film.
Watch this if you liked: Se7en, the other six Saw films.
Gore Factor: 9 / 10
Spine-chill factor: 7 / 10
With its flashbacks and Jigsaw’s cryptic history Saw is a bit of a Lost-fest. Lost’s Ben and Miles even star.
Pre-production was five days and filming and editing took an impressive 18.
Shawnee Smith, employed because one of the writers had a crush on her as a teenager, shot her footage in a day whilst suffering from a heavy bout of flu.