The ‘Saw’ franchise is one of those that splits people right down the middle (no pun intended). It’s received a lot of bad press because of its overly violent nature, and a lot of people have pre-conceived ideas of what the films entail. I therefore went into watching this film with an open mind, expecting gore and violence, whilst hoping to appreciate it as a film rather than a blood fest. With this outlook, I have to admit that I really enjoyed the film on the whole.
The first installment of the infamously grizzly franchise follows to story of two men, Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Dr Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes). Both men awaken in a strange room, with their legs chained to some sewage piping. In the room lies the body of a dead man, in possession of a tape recorder which holds the clues to their escape. Adam and Dr Gordon must decipher these clues to escape the wicked game of life and death that they find themselves in. Of course, this game has been set up by the infamous Jigsaw killer (Tobin Bell) and the film also follows the attempts of Detective Tapp (Danny Glover) to track down the serial killer and bring him to justice. I won’t tell you exactly what happens, but there are another six (soon to be seven) films in the series after this one, so it doesn’t take a genius to work out who comes out on top.
I’m going to start by addressing the violence in the film, because that is what has made the ‘Saw’ films so famous. To be honest, this film is not overly violent at all. There is obviously the occasional bloody scene with an array of severed limbs and whatever else, but the violence is no more abhorrent and graphic than something like that beach scene in ‘Saving Private Ryan’. I have seen other films in the franchise, and the violence level certainly gets cranked up as the series progresses, and they appear to get more and more ridiculous and twisted. This film wasn’t like that at all. I get the feeling that with this being the first installment, they had to be wary with what they could actually get away with in terms of violence, and as a result this film has got much more to it than just being a gore fest.
The storyline is really good; it keeps the audience guessing what is going to happen next, and to what lengths people will go to to escape Jigsaw’s clutches. The narrative is slick and clever and this film must be applauded for that. A downside is the level of acting on show, which appears to be a bit of a genre-wide problem. Gore and slasher films always tend to feature some rather questionable acting and ‘Saw’ is no exception. Both of the main characters began to grate on me somewhat as the film progressed and I would put that down to the acting. It was pretty wooden on the whole, but then again, this isn’t a film that’s aiming to sweep the board for awards in the acting categories. This is a film very much reliant on plot and narrative, and it excels in that sense.
‘Saw’ is an iconic piece of cinema, there’s no question about it. It created a whole new sub-genre of horror films that has continued to grow since this films release. ‘Saw’ is without a doubt the biggest and most successful however, and for good reason. This film is genuinely chilling and frightening, even on a second or third viewing, which is always a good indicator of a successful horror film. A lot of the fear factor (for me) comes through the jigsaw puppet, who is just a horrendously scary and iconic inclusion to the films. ‘Saw’ is about much more than violence, which is a good thing, as it allows many of the other good elements to come to the forefront. James Wan has once again delivered a fantastic horror film with a twist and this film deserves to be lauded as a game-changing piece of cinema. Gore films are definitely an acquired taste, and whilst the ‘Saw’ franchise has built its reputation upon that, you could watch this film as a crime thriller and it’s just as good.
Director: James Wan
Starring: Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Tobin Bell