Saw 10th Anniversary

Movie Review #898


Wide release on October 29, 2004. Re-release on October 31, 2014. Horror/Mystery. This film is rated R for strong grisly violence and language. Rated NC-17 before appeal; edited for rerating. Runs 103 minutes. American-Australian co-production. Director: James Wan. Written by: Leigh Whannell. Story: James Wan and Leigh Whannell. Cast: Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, and Tobin Bell.


By Alexander Diminiano

The experience of working at a movie theater is infinitely rewarding. I’ve loved every moment of it from the second I was hired. Research has shown that those who enjoy their work tend to lead far healthier lives than those who do not, which suggests that at this rate, I’ll still be smiling a full set of teeth when I’m a century old.

If you ask me, the best part of the job is tearing tickets. It’s like looking at living, breathing box-office statistics. It becomes obvious rather quickly whether the film will rake in much money, whether it’ll be well-liked, and what crowd might be seeing it.

But all that almost seems irrelevant to the 10th anniversary rerelease of “Saw”. Who got excited when they heard the original 2004 cult classic was going to be coming back into wide release for one week only? I sure did. I made sure I went and saw it on Halloween. Was I the only one? Kind of. The film made $650,000 in over 2,000 theaters this weekend. Which means that if we suppose that the average theater screened the movie twice a day from Friday through Sunday, then each screening nationwide averaged less than 6 patrons.

It’s a damn shame, because I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun on Halloween Night. (For the record, I watched “Rocky Horror” last Halloween and “The Exorcist” a year earlier. Try arguing that those two weren’t fun.)

“Saw” is James Wan’s “Se7en”. It’s a wicked twist of detective noir and haunted house horror, whose greatest trick is its crafty ability to seem far simpler than it actually is. The film opens with two distinctly opposite men waking up on opposite sides of a dank restroom. Each of them is chained by the foot to one of the pipes on their respective ends of the room. The less I tell you about the film, the less of this cleverly unraveling mystery I spoil. So I’ll keep it as simple as possible. There’s a dead body in between the two guys, and–as they quickly begin to discover–clues all around them. Clues that lead them to realize how they ended up in this dingy locale, and what will happen to them if they don’t find their way out in time. Or, what will happen if one of them doesn’t put the the other out of his misery in time. Clearly, these two did not come here by will, and the monster who brought them here calls it all a “game.” The question is whether or not it’s all for his strange amusement, or if there’s a proverbial “method to his madness.”

“Saw” works because its script works. As more of the plot reveals itself, this movie becomes increasingly interesting: Leigh Whannell’s writing is quite clever. When he isn’t developing the story through elaborate flashbacks, he’s developing it through his keenly resourceful characters. But while his storytelling is exceptional, Whannell proves to have a weak hand at dialogue. Whannell appears as one of two protagonists in “Saw”, the other played by Cary Elwes. Their characters really start to become laughable toward the end of the movie, but I would not argue this to be the result of poor performances. It’s the result of poor dialogue, as delivered in two solid performances.

Anyone who has heard of “Saw” knows that it’s not a family movie. And unless “family” implies “Manson Family,” it’s nowhere close to a family movie. There is a story here, and there’s more to it than a sick psychopath who enjoys killing people. The substance far outweighs that of a generic slasher movie, and this isn’t your generic killer. The so-called Jigsaw Killer is really just a tremendously violent version of John Forsythe’s iconic Charlie Townsend. (Wouldn’t you know it, cinematographer David A. Armstrong comes up the cleverest of shots to keep this killer’s face hidden.) Except rather than sending three women on missions, he sits and watches his victims as he gives his victims instructions on how they must do the unthinkable: that is, put themselves through inhuman torture in order to stay alive. The gruesome “art” of the Jigsaw Killer’s crimes is that he never lays a finger on any of his victims. But god what a violent film it can become, and how strangely fun it can be watching people put to the test of the most basic Darwinian principle. If you need a reminder of how exhilarating the “reverse bear trap” scene is, don’t rent “Saw” on DVD. Go see it at the theater while it’s still there.


7 thoughts on “Saw 10th Anniversary

    • I definitely see what you mean. I wanted to see for myself because I wasn’t convinced that the first Saw would even qualify as torture-porn. So I watched Saw II and Saw III last night. Saw II was more of the detective story that Saw offered, but it was definitely more anchored on gore. But by Saw III, I could definitely see it fading into torture-porn. There was still a pretty good story, but the whole investigation thing was dropped so that it could tell its story from the antagonists’ POV, which of course allowed for far too much blood and guts.

  1. I saw Saw for the first time on Halloween last week and I really don’t understand the hate it gets from critics. It doesn’t give in to the torture porn pitfalls of its sequels, and I honestly found Watchmen to be more violent.

    My main problems were that I felt the film should’ve given more hints as to who the Jigsaw killer was, rather than that one throwaway line in the hospital since a large portion of the film focused on trying to figure out his identity. And I disliked it’s Silence of the Lambs-esque ending.

    • ***SPOILERS AHEAD***

      I actually liked how the film employed some of the same footage several times for different purposes. Like that one flashback in the hospital (“throwaway line”? Lol, I beg to differ though) where they identify Zepp as one of the orderlies is originally shown to mislead us and make us think that Zepp is the Jigsaw Killer. Then it’s used again in that (awesome) montage at the end, alongside the reused shot of him telling Cary Elwes: “It’s the rules.” I loved how the film gave us every reason to believe in that one red herring, and then ever so suddenly gave us every reason to believe that John Kramer was in fact the Jigsaw Killer.

      Silence of the Lambs? I’m curious how you found the two similar. I felt that the ending to Saw II was similar to Silence of the Lambs, but not the first Saw.

      I do agree that Watchmen is more violent. So are many films. But just watching two of Saw’s sequels last night, man are they gory! Saw isn’t tremendously violent, but it is violent for sure, and those sequels make it look like a walk in the park.

      I’m glad you liked it!

      • I felt it was a throwaway line because Kramer is only mentioned once as the brain tumor patient. Zepp was a good red herring, but it would’ve been more 6th Sense style jaw-dropping if more references had been made to Kramer (IMO).

        Silence of the Lambs in the sense that Jigsaw gets away at the end (like Hannibal) and there is no conclusive ending to Cary Ewles story (he just disappears?).

        Oh yeah, I wasn’t saying the violence thing as a negative point against Saw. I’m glad it didn’t (or rather couldn’t) go to overly-violent route of its sequels. Like You’re Next, it was a great thriller that mixed the gore content in effectively.

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