SAW: A Twisted Horror Film That Will Knock Your Foot Off
It's not one of the horror greats that many people make it out to be, but Saw is crafty and ambitious enough to warrant a horror buff's time.
We’re getting another entry into the Saw franchise this October and to ‘”celebrate,” I thought it would be fun to revisit the whole franchise in order of release date. To start it off, let’s look at James Wan‘s directorial debut, Saw.
Throughout my life, I’ve always preferred dark, twisted, and disturbing movies for the simple fact that I admire directors who are unafraid to dive deep into a person’s psyche and uncover the deep dark secrets one may hold. It’s the simple “why” question that, still to this day, keeps me interested in these stories. For me, Saw was one of my first horror experience. I was just getting into horror, and I had to see it as Saw was considered one of the goriest movies ever made. And while that certainly isn’t an understatement, Saw is more preoccupied with the twisted nature of humanity than an exercise in gore. Even though it may stumble along the way, Saw is an ambitious, crafty little horror film.
After waking up in a disgusting bathroom, photographer Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) discover that they are chained to either side of the room. How they got there is a mystery as well as their connection to each other, but what they quickly find out is the man who put them there is the infamous “Jigsaw,” a disturbed serial killer who likes to play life-and-death sadistic games with his victims.
Even to this day, Saw is a very gruesome movie. It has little to no CGI, and almost all of its effects are practical, making it seem so much more real. It’s a craft to create such gore that looks realistic, and Saw is especially good in this area. Wan uses Brad Hardin and Mike Tristano‘s impeccable practical effects to create some twisted and disturbing imageries. Even scarier, he’s able to use it to such frightening results, leaving no part of his bathroom setting untouched.
It should go without question that Saw‘s setting is repulsive and disgusting. During the opening, we meet two characters chained to the wall in an abandoned bathroom, and when the camera shows us our first shot of the torture chamber, we immediately feel uneasy. It seems such an over the top setting, but at the same time, it works for a movie that is constantly trying to gross you out, especially when there’s a corpse’s upper body in the middle of the room. There’s a feeling of claustrophobia whenever we cut back to the bathroom, but it’s the severed limbs and blood that inflicts a sense of urgency.
To accompany all the terrific setting and practical effects, Saw doesn’t forget to keep its viewers on edge with its various twists and turns. With its use (and over-use) of flashbacks, this horror film wants to engage the audience and wants them to find the answers to the mystery it sets up. The mystery works best when it intersects with its setting. It gives its audience a Where’s Waldo-type work to find the clues and figure out the puzzle.
Subpar Performances And A Betrayal
Saw heavily depends on its main actors to produce excellent performances. While Whannell does a solid job, Elwes produces an over-thetop performance that bogs the film. He struggles to sell some of the heavier emotional scenes either in the flashbacks or in the bathroom. Whannell, on the other hand, is more constrained and, therefore, offers up a more believable performance. However, both actors should have given better performances than what they brought, and better acting would have certainly made Saw a better film.
Though, the acting can’t save what ultimately becomes a sloppy climax. Instead of cleverly putting the puzzle pieces Saw had sprinkled throughout the film back together, it cooks up a convenient climax where everything fits all too perfectly. To the film’s credit, it does fit together, but it doesn’t leave the audience with something to think about. For a film that, at first, seemed to want to engage its audience, it betrays its whole mystery by wanting to walk us through the solution without a challenge. It’s an act of mistrust towards its audience, and it only gets worse as the franchise continues.
Rediscovering Torture Porn
After all, Saw does what Saw does best; it shocks people. At the very end, it offers a twist that is original and unexpected all while it uses all its best elements to produce it. As disgusting, gruesome, and shocking as it may be, when Saw utilizes and acknowledges its strength, it can become quite an entertaining horror film. It’s that passion for gore and torture that brought back the infamous “torture porn” genre to a whole new generation.
As slasher movies were beginning to die, shocking and gory horror movies we’re quickly becoming popular with titles such as High Tension and House of 1000 Corpses. There seemed to be a need for gorier and gruesome movies. At that point, it wasn’t enough to let the gore to the audience’s imagination. Now, we needed to see exactly where that knife entered or how that chainsaw was going to cut into that person’s flesh. A lot of film critics at that time and even to this day don’t understand how “torture porn” movies can be scary, but let me explain.
In the 1970s, we started to see the rise of the “torture porn” genre, where horror movies began to use practical effects as a mean to scare its audience. A lot of them just didn’t work like I Spit On Your Grave, but some delivered great “torture porn” horror movies like The Evil Dead. This trend certainly tapped into the increasing fears of cults and serial killers, which were rampant during the 70s. People’s fears were, in fact, of being tortured like in Wes Craven’s The Last House On The Left, and what better way to scare them than showing every little detail.
But why the resurgence in the late 2000s, where serial killings and cults were at an all time low? While the torture porn movies of the 70s usually tortured an innocent white girl, Saw showed a darker reality. The characters onscreen connect to us because they aren’t innocent or pure. They have done awful things that they want to forget. The horrifying nature of Saw comes from the fact that the awful things we do will only drive the people we hurt to do even more horrible things to us. Now, that’s terrifying!
It may not be one of the horror greats that many people seem to make it out to be, but Saw is crafty and ambitious enough to warrant a horror buff’s time. It’s not a movie for everyone, but lovers of gore will find something to like in Saw despite its sloppy climax and mediocre acting. It’s become such a horror icon nowadays, and I believe it will continue to be for a long time. While I wouldn’t classify it as such, you can’t deny Saw‘s impact on horror movies.
What are your thoughts on Saw? Why do you find Saw scary?
Saw came out in theaters on October 29, 2004.
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