Director: James Wan Starring: Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell & Danny Glover Synopsis: With a dead body lying between them, two men wake up in the secure lair of a serial killer who’s been nicknamed “Jigsaw”. The men must follow various rules and objectives if they wish to survive and win the deadly game set for them. Rating: 18 Runtime: 103 minutes
“I’m having a blast! This is the most fun I’ve had without lubricant!”
Every once in a while, a film comes along that redefines its genre. After a slew of 90’s horror films that were either remakes of classics or generic teenage stalk and slash films, the horror genre needed a swift kick up the backside. When Saw hit cinemas in 2004, it did just that. Saw was a “game changer” and brought with it a host of sequels and copycat films and created a new term in horror, torture porn. Films like Hostel and I Spit on your Grave carried on the trend, but Saw was the first film in a long while to be so gruesome and, for its time, was quite shocking.
There is a simple premise behind Saw. Two men awaken inside a grimy looking bathroom, not knowing how they arrived there, and who are subsequently set an individual task each after listening to cassette tapes they find on their person. Adam (Leigh Whannell) is simply instructed to escape the room, while Lawrence (Cary Elwes) must kill Adam in order for his family to survive. This immediately sets up a tension between our two protagonists who vow to try to help each other escape, but who surely know they might have to kill the other in order to do so.
After we spend some time with Adam and Lawrence, we are given some back story to their characters, and the mysterious events that have seen them end up in a dilapidated bathroom, and after a failed attempt to use a saw to cut through the chains that are keeping them prisoner, Lawrence soon realises that the pair are the latest victims of the Jigsaw Killer. The mastermind behind this game is well-known to the police, and has become infamous for a series of grisly murders in which the victims have to try to escape these elaborate “games” in order to survive.
One of the reasons why Saw works so well is its simplicity. Place two men in a room, take everything away from them, and see what they will do in order to survive. It’s not necessarily a unique concept, and one that could have fallen flat on its face very quickly, but it takes a special talent to make it work. Director James Wan is now synonymous with the horror genre, but Saw was his first effort. He manages to maintain a level of tension throughout the film, and the grimy, grainy look wouldn’t be out-of-place in a David Fincher film. While some things don’t work so well. Like an overlong hostage situation, and a car chase toward the end of the film which adds nothing to the plot or the pacing and, in fact, looks a bit silly, but Saw should be celebrated as one of Wan’s finest endeavours in horror.
The performances of our two lead characters weave between solid and understated, to complete OTT theatricality. For the most part, Elwes and Whannell prove a tight partnership, working on each others fears and excellently showing the pressure their characters are, understandably, under. This is mildly undone however, as near the end of the film, Elwes’ performance starts to border on camp instead of dramatic tension. The rest of the supporting cast move the plot along nicely, and deliver some strong performances of their own. Danny Glover provides an experienced head as the disgraced Detective Tapp, who has made it his life goal to stop the Jigsaw Killer, and Ken Leung has enough of a spark about him to be memorable as his partner Detective Sing. Michael Emerson is as good as he always is as the mysterious Zep, while Monica Potter plays Lawrence’s wife but barely has enough screen time to register in the audiences thoughts.
Saw plays out like a dark, twisted thriller that mixes its elements to become one of the most memorable horror films of the last ten years. Its simple plot contains enough twists and turns to keep things interesting without getting overly confusing, and the blood-soaked imagery will stay with you long after you have watched the film. While Saw may not have the replay value of say The Cabin in the Woods or Halloween, which can be watched a multitude of times, it remains a standout horror film that redefined the genre.
In summary: Saw remains a tight and edgy horror film ten years after its initial release, and its impact on the genre cannot be underestimated.