After over a decade of bland remakes, sequels, and derivative Slashers, Leigh Whannell and James Wan introduced a refreshingly original and smart Horror film that would have an immediate and lasting effect on the genre while becoming an instant sensation among fans. That film was SAW, and unlike so many other Slasher and Survival films of the time, SAW did not rely on a masked madman, tired genre conventions, and scantily-clad teens to thrill its audiences, but rather pitted men against each other in a series of twisted morality games. In it, the Jigsaw killer assembles a series of deadly traps, which victims have the ability to escape if they are willing to sacrifice a part of themselves in order to learn the value of life, itself.
The title functions on various levels, referencing the voyeuristic themes found within the film as well as its bloody torture methods. Whannell's methodical plotting and clever twists lead up to one of the most shocking and surprising endings in recent Horror. Each of the ironic traps turn the victim's vices into their own personal torture, with every device proving to be just as imaginative as they are suspenseful. These edge-of-your-seat sequences are made that much more frightening thanks to James Wan's high-powdered and hyperkinetic shooting and editing style, which fully explores the three-dimensionality of the sets while bombarding the screen with intense and graphic imagery. If any argument can be made against the film, it is in the weak and often goofy performances of both Danny Glover and Cary Elwes, whose stiff line deliveries and staged acting impair many key scenes.
SAW (along with HOSTEL, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES and others) was unjustly panned during the media strike against the so-called "Torture Porn" sub-genre -- a derogatory term that was used to describe films that glorified mutilation, violence, and torture as a form of entertainment. This unfair assessment is too quick in dismissing the strength of the script and its underlying themes of redemption, and focuses solely on the more visceral, surface-level actions that occur on screen. Despite these harsh criticisms, SAW has proven itself to be a modern Horror classic that has spawned numerous sequels and continues to thrill audiences years after its initial release.
If you liked SAW, check out:
EVIL DEAD TRAP, HOSTEL, STEEL TRAP.