Saw (2004) – James Wan

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If it wasn’t for the fact that James Wan’s 2004 ‘torture porn’ flick Saw had spawned a series of increasingly shitty sequels, I’d say I really like it (which I actually do). The plot is fairly simple (in broad strokes at least) but still clever and original. I’ve never been a fan of those ‘torture porn’ movies like Hostel and Saw 3 through 7 or whatever. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for slashers and even over-the top goriness is fine with me, but I don’t really enjoy watching a movie that revolves around people getting slowly tortured and killed without some good reason. It’s like hot sauce. I’ll dump a gallon of the hottest toxic, nuclear waste you can find on my food, but it’s got to have good taste too. If all you can taste is hot, what’s the point?

Anyway, this movie is not what I just described. It’s definitely hot, but it’s got the flavor to back it up, if you will. It’s directed well and the cast is (for the most part) right on. Wan has struck a great balance between creepy and downright terrifying. And to boot, there’s a full on murder mystery developing throughout the whole film. It’s smart, imaginative, original, and scary as hell. And though I’ve seen Saw at least twice before, I found myself still interested in what was happening in the story.

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The movie opens with two guys who wake up chained to pipes in a dilapidated old basement. One of the guys is Cary Elwes (the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride). Oh, and there’s a dead guy with a gun in his hand laying in a pool of blood in the middle of the room. The two guys slowly put together some clues and figure out that someone has kidnapped them and put them there to teach them a twisted life lesson. They each find a little cassette tape and find out that if Elwes’ character doesn’t kill the other guy by 6am, that the kidnapper is going to kill his wife and kid. Among some other tools and weapons, the guys each have a hacksaw that doesn’t seem like it can cut through anything in the room except for possibly a human femur…

About half the story takes place in that room and the rest is basically flashbacks that slowly unveil the plot and let you know how the guys showed up here. One of the main side plots is that of the police detectives who are searching for the “Jigsaw Killer.” We soon find out that he’s the guy who locked up our heroes in this basement.  As the plot builds, so does the suspense and the horror. The flashbacks show you a bunch of other traps that Jigsaw has gotten people with. Finally the flashbacks catch up with the main story and there are a couple of big twists. First you’re like whaaaaat? And then you’re like WHAAAAAAAAAAT? The last half hour is super intense and exciting. And the ending just keeps getting better and better.

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The score and the sound effects are a big part of the feeling of the movie. Throughout the film, the sound effects are so real and unapologetic. It makes you feel like you’re really there in a condemned warehouse, soaked in blood (yours or somebody else’s). And the score is a mix of industrial/metal some dark, intense, and creepy instrumental that builds and crescendos with the plot. Just perfect.

The movie really is good but it sets the stage for a whole sub-genre that can’t match it. I know a lot of people like these movies but none of them live up to this standard for me. It’s dark, brooding, unsettling, disgusting, and at some points, hard to watch. But that was the point. It does all this without just leaning on the crutch of torture and blood. In a sense, it uses that stuff to augment the story, not the other way around. I think that all the sequels focused on the torture part and not on the story and that’s why they can’t live up to the original.

But how does Saw fare against the rating system:

  1. Is it Scary: 7- The whole feeling of the movie just scares you. It’s a chilling concept. And it’s not supernatural so it could happen to you in real life.
  2. Originality: 9- This movie was really the first of its kind and it spawned a long line of imitators.
  3. Blood: 7- Not the highest score, but it’s still pretty gross. It’s like watching the nightmares of one of those forensic doctors on CSI who autopsies murder victims.
  4. Believability: 7- other than a few lines of dialog and the logistics of some of the situations, it all felt fairly authentic to me.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 9- Maybe the best part of the movie in terms of scariness and mood. The whole movie just feels and looks creepy and unsettling. You’re scared before anything even happens in a scene.

Final Score: 39/50

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