Two men, Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell) and Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) awaken to find themselves on the opposite sides of a dead body, each with specific instructions to kill the other or face consequences. These two are the latest victims of the Jigsaw Killer.
Saw is one of those franchises where you either love it or hate it. I genuinely haven’t met anybody that thinks it’s just okay or decent. I think it’s a really bad franchise for the most part, mainly because of how disgusting and pointless nearly every entry is. I only think that there’s one great movie in the series, and it’s this one. The original film from 2004 directed by James Wan. Why is this movie so good? It actually tells a creepy and interesting story and doesn’t put all of its attention on the blood and guts aspect.
When Saw came out, people were greatly impressed with the gory traps that the film introduced. The reverse bear trap in particular has basically become the iconic trap for the entirety of the franchise at this point. Is it cool? Yes, it is. But you can’t make a film where a couple of people are trapped in a torture chamber and get themselves hurt for an hour and a half. It’s an impressive display of the makeup team for sure, but it doesn’t make for a good movie per se. The most important element of any movie is to tell a good story, and this one certainly does.
Right from the opening scene, Wan throws you in this repulsive room filled with fecal matter and other gross markings and it really makes you feel uncomfortable and creeped out instantly. These two men wake up together in this exact same room and have absolutely no idea how they ended up there. At first, they don’t remember a thing about the night before, but as the film progresses, they slowly start to piece things together.
As these answers come to us along the course of Saw, it culminates in a highly satisfying yet heart-wrenching storyline of how evil people can truly be. What Wan did so well though, was he ensured that he didn’t give us all of the answers right away. Just when you may think you know exactly what’s happening, Wan completely makes you recall earlier events in the film and even adds further context to them that drastically changes the way the story unfolds from that point onward. With some films, this may come across as frustrating and hard to follow, but here it’s extremely rewarding and it makes it even more exciting to watch.
Next, I want to talk about the ending but without giving any spoilers. The first time I saw this movie, I couldn’t believe my eyes. My mouth dropped open and I was staring at the film, almost unblinking. No exaggeration. The twist ending to Saw is one of the greatest twists in cinematic history. It will make you audibly yell “No way!” the instant you notice what’s happening. It’s one of those endings that, by all accounts, you should see coming from a mile away, but you don’t. It’s a masterclass of writing and it’s still just as shocking sixteen years later.
Saw is definitely not without problems, though. One of the biggest ones is its editing from Kevin Greutert. There are countless scenes where previous victims of the Jigsaw killer are yelling and screaming and for some reason, every time we see one of these scenes, Greutert makes the odd and jarring choice to speed up these moments rapidly. It makes no sense.
Also, while the acting from both Leigh Whannell and Cary Elwes is actually quite strong for the most part, there are some moments in which they poorly deliver a line of dialogue, and it makes you cringe. It could just be that the line itself wasn’t too good, or the line delivery from these actors. Either way, it creates for some unintentionally hilarious moments. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen too often.
At the end of the day, Saw is an intense and gripping horror-thriller that successfully paved the way for an entire franchise of films, with a brand new one, titled Spiral: From the Book of Saw releasing next May. Whether you like Saw or not, there is no denying its incredible impact in the horror genre.
Saw is an exceptionally chilling and remarkably gripping horror-thriller with an interesting and haunting story, excellent makeup design, and a creepy atmosphere.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: R for strong grisly violence and language
Cast: Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Michael Emerson, Tobin Bell, Ken Leung, Leigh Whannell, Mike Butters, Paul Gutrecht, Benito Martinez, Shawnee Smith, Makenzie Vega, Ned Bellamy, Alexandra Bokyun Chun
Directed by: James Wan
Distributed by: Lions Gate Films
Release Date: October 29, 2004
Running Time: 103 minutes