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Horror film released in 2004, directed by James Wan

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What's in a Name?

  • Nov 4, 2004
  • by
Pros: Great story idea, nice effects, not a jumpy film

Cons: Acting.

The Bottom Line: Great story idea; not a "boo!!!! Scared ya..." flick, thankfully. Poor acting decreases the rating, unfortunately

For most people, horror films are either a "yay" or a "nay." They're a yay for me, but I never get to see them as for my boyfriend, they're a "Hell no!!!" I was surprised when said boyfriend invited me to watch Saw... "Come on, Laura, you love horror movies... this will be fun!" Of course I jumped at this once in a life-time opportunity, and we booked it to the theater to see Saw on opening night, and I've since seen it again :)

I hadn't previously heard much about Saw, and frankly, all I can remember pre-Saw is the phrase "He doesn't want us to saw through our chains... he wants us to saw through our feet." Freaky, huh? Yeah, I thought so. What I assumed about the movie was that some psycho chained up a few people and gave them some saws to torture them. Why? I didn't know and didn't care. And was there a real story, or just some gore? Again, I hoped to find out by watching the movie...

Saw begins kind of awkwardly; you see total blackness, yet you can still see movement. We see water and bits of light, and hear a man struggling confusedly, eventually gaining some knowledge that things aren't normal, and yelling out. When the lights finally come on, we see two men with their legs chained to opposite ends of an old, nasty bathroom with a suicide victim laying in between them, bloody, gory, and disgusting. The first man is Adam (Leigh Whannell... he also wrote the script), the second man is Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes, and I couldn't stop picturing him frolicking in Tights, a la Robin Hood Men in Tights). Both men have no recollection of how they ended up chained with each other, but after a bit of exploration, they find cassettes and players, and learn that Dr. Gordon is expected to kill Adam by 6pm (it's currently 10am) or else his wife Alison (Monica Potter) and daughter Diana (Makenzie Vega) will be killed.

After a bit of thinking, Lawrence realizes he may know who the man is that put them there. "They call him the jigsaw murderer, but he's not really a murderer..." Lawrence tells Adam about how he came to know of the jigsaw murderer... he doesn't really kill people; he puts them into situations where they end up killing themselves. One man is made to cut himself to live; another woman, who survived the incident, had to find a key to unlock a horrific device before it went off and killed her. (These sound confusing, I know, but I don't want to give away the details and ruin it for you.) Lawrence was actually a suspect in these incidents. In any case, the time marches on and we see Detectives Tapp (Danny Glover) and Sing (Ken Leung) attempting to catch the jigsaw killer, as well as Diana and Alison Gordon being caught and held captive, waiting to be rescued by Lawrence.

At one point, Adam and Lawrence find saws and try cutting through the chains, until Lawrence points out that he doesn't think they are supposed to cut through their chains... they find other hints to their escape as well throughout the movie. For example, a cigarette Lawrence could use to kill Adam, if he can figure out how. While Lawrence and Adam fight together (and sometimes against each other) to find a way out of the dumpy bathroom, the suspense builds in several areas for the viewer. Once the perpetrator's identity is made public, we watch him struggle to get away and pull of his little game while the clock quickly runs down. Once 6pm hits, Lawrence's time will be up. Will he make it, and will the jigsaw killer's antics be stopped?

Saw had several things going for it, but a few minor problems ruined what could have been a near perfect film. First of all, the story was really incredible. James Wan and Leigh Whannell wrote the story about a jigsaw killer who forces people to appreciate the life they are given by scaring them into that appreciation. Little camera movements and filming choices made Saw scary and gave it a great atmosphere as well. For example, the beginning (as I mentioned earlier) is very awkward and confusing; its hard for the viewer to understand what's going on with the water, the darkness, and the chaotic camera movements. This gives us a feeling like we're actually there, we are Adam, we are finding ourselves in a nasty bathroom chained to a pipe. Also, if you notice, there is never much sunshine or other natural light shown in the film, giving you a dark, trapped feeling. Each victim in the movie is trapped, and the relatability is great. The musical score was absolutely fantastic as well. Charlie Clouser is a mastermind at creating tension and atmosphere with his music. At times, the music was driving and pulsing, creating a tense, angry feeling in the viewer. Other times the music was just plain creepy, and sometimes the music was non-existent, leaving the viewer with a feeling of (you guessed it) suspense. The camera cuts were great, sometimes changing to a video-camera feeling. The camera also lingered a few seconds on things you wouldn't expect, increasing that stomach-tingling feeling you get during suspenseful moments.

However, like I said, the film had enough little things wrong with it to lower its rating in my book. The first thing I noticed was the amount of make-up used on Cary Elwes... holy cow! I know as the movie goes on he and Adam are supposed to look more desperate and sickly but come on... Even I don't wear that much cakey make-up. Also, some of the cast's acting got progressively worse as the film went on. As Lawrence's mind started slipping he began acting strangely, and while a slight change in character was to be expected, I was not expecting to see him look so much like Will Ferrell making fun of someone. I kept expecting him to break down and laugh, but the problem was... he was serious. The film also started to lag a little bit during the chase scene. The viewer should be held in suspense, but... my suspense started to turn to annoyance as the scene dragged on a few minutes too long.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film. As I tried to explain to one of my friends, its not really just a scary movie... its horrific, but also a mystery. You try to fit the pieces together, just like the jigsaw killer wants you too. There are several parts in the film that make you say "Oh wow..." The ending is magnificent; the whole theater was full of gasps, and you'll love it, I promise. One major plus with this movie was that it wasn't a "Boo! Scared ya!" film. (I get so tired of building music where you end up almost peeing yourself when a cat jumps or something...) In my opinion, that's a cheap way to get make your viewers scared. This movie avoids the cheap scares, instead using your own mind against you. The scenarios the jigsaw killer puts people in are gruesome, but its like a train-wreck... you don't want to watch, you don't want to know... but really you do. Get to know this film, and if you can, watch it again and see if you can catch more of the little pieces to the puzzle.

Cast... for those who missed it the first time:
Adam... Leigh Whannell, Matrix Reloaded
Dr. Lawrence Gordon... Cary Elwes, Robin Hood, Men in Tights
Detective David Tapp... Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon 1-4
Detective Steven Sing... Ken Leung, Artificial Intelligence
Zep Hindle... Michael Emerson, For the Love of the Game
Diana Gordon... Makenzie Vega, The Family Man
Alison Gordon... Monica Potter, Along Came a Spider
John... Tobin Bell, The Road to El Dorado


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More Saw (2004 movie) reviews
review by . December 01, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****      Before seeing "Saw", I will warn you that you may throw up. You may be unsettled by the film's violence and gore as well as the atmosphere, which could make it all the more upsetting. Nevertheless, that was simply a warning. I personally liked "Saw", as it was a well made thriller. By now I bet you're already saying, "Thriller? I thought this was a horror film." Allow me to explain some things. In the minds of many, "Saw" …
review by . May 16, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
I Saw This Several Times
Prior to 2004, we rarely had the pleasure of seeing a psychological film with the level of intensity as seen here. In fact, Lions Gate was one of the few studios which actually would give us something as violent as this. Those of you who haven't seen this film are in for a nice surprise. Don't let the cast such as Cary Elwes or Danny Glover fool you. Saw is as vicious or bloody film as the multiplex theatres would allow you to see.      The premise is actually pretty …
review by . May 15, 2009
Saw is a excellent horror film. I went into the movie theater with pretty low expectations. Great, another lame horror film with a lot of jump cuts and flashing images. The film had those but they were used very well. The direction and acting were all up to par.  The story line's interesting as well because the characters seem real instead of your usual cardboard cut outs.    The film starts off with two guys in a barren wash room, decay is present everywhere and a corpse …
review by . November 13, 2008
With some of the PG-13 tripe coming out as horror nowadays, SAW is a refreshing step back into the good old days where horror meant blood, and blood meant horror. No annoying harpies or pretty pictures of hell or tragically humanized vampires here, just an ingenious killer with an obscure motive.     SAW dives right into the depths of the madness too, opening with our killer's current victims, two men chained on opposite ends of a filthy restroom, a body in the center clutching …
review by . October 23, 2007
Pros: Twisted plot (in more ways than one), get ready for a good scare     Cons: Twisted plot (in more ways than one), get ready for a good scare     The Bottom Line: High-end actors, buckets o'suspense, and plenty of twists to keep your heart rate up.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot. I realize, as Halloween creeps closer, that I’ve failed to review SAW II, but I figure before I review that, …
review by . September 13, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
With an unoriginal script full of plot holes, a limited budget, cheesy acting, and a twist (though a cop-out) ending, SAW could have been another washed-up horror movie. Instead, it became the surprise horror hit of 2004, birthed a new killer icon--the Jigsaw Killer, prompted two sequels (so far), earned over $100 million worldwide, and revived the movie career of Cary Elwes.    The film opens in a disgusting, dirty, disused, and probably diseased bathroom with two men, Adam …
review by . June 03, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
Saw, starring Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, and Cary Elwes is an intense roller coaster with twists and turns and hairpin curves. Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) wake up, each chained by the leg to a pipe in a filthy old utility room, prisoners of a criminal called Jigsaw who plays with the minds of his victims by devising tortuous games forcing them to choose between the lesser of two evils in order to live.    The movie transcends beyond a classic …
review by . April 04, 2005
Audiences are jaded, especially horror fans, so it's extremely hard in this day and age to make a truly disturbing film on either the visual or plot levels without coming across as trying to hard. This film skates the edge of "trying to hard", and in my opinion falls on the side of genuine. What I like is that this film is stepping in the right direction, away from teen horror flicks and the "I'm a ghost and didn't know it" flicks that seem to dominate the genre. One of this films strengths is that …
review by . February 17, 2005
Grand Guignol! This low budget horror flick falls into that category - stories that are meant to horrify audiences. And it succeeds, on many levels. Written by Director James Wan and actor (in this film) Leigh Whannell, SAW drags us into the darkened sewer where Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) are chained to opposite sides of a filthy room, the centerpiece of which is a corpse recently dead by gunshot suicide. Yet on this corpse is a tape recorder and after some otherworldly …
review by . December 30, 2004
I went to "see saw", simply because I am a huge elwes fan. I haven't always liked every film he's been apart of, but all in all he's very dependable. After reading the reviews of several critics and balancing whether or not I should spend the twenty bucks, I sauntered into the theater with low expectations. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised.    Saw opens with two men in complete darkness. Only their voices are heard, as they figure out a way to turn the lights on. It takes …
About the reviewer
Laura Elizabeth 'Anderson' Brack ()
Ranked #321
I'm brand new to Lunch and looking to get settled. I write on epinions.com as laurashrti, and enjoy writing product reviews.      I'm a 27-year-old library employee working … more
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About this movie


The first film of the Saw series.

Filmed in 18 days.

Originally rated NC-17 until the filmmakers slightly edited a few scenes in order to receive an R-rating.

Adam (Leigh Whannell) wakes up in a dank room across from Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and the body of a guy who has blown his own brains out. Not a happy place, obviously, and it gets worse when both men realize that they've been chained and pitted against one another by an unseen but apparently omniscient maniac who's screwing with their psyches as payment for past sins. Director James Wan, who concocted this grimy distraction with screenwriter Whannell, has seenSevenand any number of other arty existential-psycho-cat-and-mouse thrillers, so he's providedSawwith a little flash, a little blood, and a lot of ways to distract you from the fact that it doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense. Wan and Whannell (who's not the most accomplished actor, either) pile on the plot twists, which after some initially novel ideas become increasingly juvenile. Elwes works hard but looks embarrassed, and the estimable Danny Glover suffers as the obsessed detective on the case. The denouement will probably surprise you, but it won't get you back the previous 98 minutes.--Steve Wiecking
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Director: James Wan
Genre: Horror
Release Date: October 29, 2004
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Leigh Whannell, James Wan
Runtime: 98 minutes
Studio: Evolution Entertainment, Twisted Pictures, Lions Gate Films
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