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Horror film released in 2004, directed by James Wan

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A gruesome but well-made thriller.

  • Dec 1, 2010
*** 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" is a horror film. Some people praise its "scare factor", which people claim is due to the realism involved. Sure, "Saw" correctly depicts what happens when people loose their minds to claustrophobia and their own imagination, but that doesn't make it scary. The intensity, in my image, is meant to thrill and often times make one cringe. It's a psychological horror film if it's a horror film at all, or maybe its just another gory one. No matter, I didn't find "Saw" to be scary, but rather "thrilling" instead. This is a misinterpreted film for its lack of an understanding audience. Structurally, this is a horror film. Truthfully, it's a thriller at heart. Whoever thinks that "Saw" is a horror flick through and through clearly doesn't understand the director's intentions. I recently watched a short interview with director James Wan. The man himself said that what started out as a thriller transcended into a series of horror films, which I kind of want to explore after seeing the first installment in the torture porn franchise. What is torture porn, you say? Well, if you know what porn is...and you know what torture is, and then put those things together. People...seem to enjoy watching other human beings die on-screen through prolonged torture, which gives the term its name. I don't know if I particularly enjoy it although I'm just not as squeamish as others. Some have even called "Saw" twisted, but I disagree. It's not twisted because it doesn't go all-out with torture. Being an R film, it can't exactly show the goriest of all details, although it shows quite enough of the brutality as it is. I never felt sick-to-my-stomach, so to speak, while watching this movie. I never felt queasy. Not for a second did I regret the experience. Sure, the violence is more inventive than that of most films, but that can either be a good or bad thing. I guess it depends on what kind of person you are. I know that I, a person who is fond of the horror/thriller genre, know which one "Saw" falls under. As I said before, it is a thriller, and a pretty damn good one to say the least. It's not legendary, but it doesn't mean to be. This is one thriller which I actually found myself enjoying, and seldom do I do that.

"Saw" has a great premise going for it. The film takes classic claustrophobia but puts it into a larger space, although the limitation is forced and the stakes are high. Tension comes from however far the characters choose to push their own demise. The killer whom places each character in their sticky situation clearly has things pretty well thought out, and that's why "Saw's" premise is a good one. The film consistently seems to have atheistic symbolism in it; as it is pretty much saying that God does not choose when you die, and it is your choice whether your demise it met through torture. I personally don't know what to believe; the words of a movie maniac or the words of "God". My own religious tendencies should by no means prevent me from noticing symbolism such as this, even if the symbolism itself isn't terribly crucial to how well the film works. "Saw" is the sort of film which really only works once unless you can be more inventive going about the thing the second time around. I highly doubt that any "Saw" film can be good let-alone entertaining like this one, since from what I have heard, some of the installments focus too much on blood and forget to intellectually stimulate viewers. The first "Saw" doesn't necessarily stimulate your intellectual side, as the thrills come without much thought, but it's more intelligent than it should be. The plot is told through re-caps and two different stories within the story. The two stories are those of the two men in the cell and the retired police officer hunting down the sadist. Before I go any further, I should explain some things. So the film begins with two guys waking up in a sort of abandoned asylum; chained to the wall and forgetful of nearly anything they did before their forced arrival to such a place. Assuming they were kidnapped, it's up to these two men to work together in order to find out who their captor is. The only problem is: this captor is a tricky one; consistently compelling each man to raise the tension through secrets. Each man has their secrets, all of which are pretty much revealed by the end. However, it's really a matter of who this "Jigsaw Killer" is, and if he is somehow tied to the two men in the asylum. What occurs in the tight space with limited movement is a whole lot of emotional tension between each character; with Jigsaw's predetermined notes telling one man to kill the other. Jigsaw is even holding one of the men's family captive, and the man has but a cell phone to communicate with. What follows from then on is a high-speed chase and solid thrills, resulting in an overall violent, yet satisfying torture trip. It may not appeal to everyone; quite in fact, most people will pity the film, but I personally felt it to be smarter than most thrillers. The characters and their identities are revealed in time, as thriller characters should. This is no revolutionary thriller, but it's a seldom seen "non-pretentious" one. And that's why it works as much as it can to be good.

Tobin Bell might as well be the highlight of the series, that is if that spot isn't already occupied by the film's infamous amount of gore. Bell hardly makes much of a proper appearance in this film, which makes me anticipate both his capture and his dialogue to come. What I know is that Bell's character, The Jigsaw Killer, is a dying man, and he needs apprentices to accomplish the work that due to his physical short-comings, he can no longer carry out. Cary Elwes seems fairly good although at times overly sentimental. This film often tries to make you cringe through the characters and their consistent screaming, and in that sense Elwes is one hell of a screamer. I thought he was annoying, so apparently he got the job done. Leigh Whannell is also pretty decent, although he too is an annoying yet potentially effective screamer. My old friend Danny Glover also makes several appearances throughout the film as a retired cop, who has one hell of a dark secret. You'll have to watch the film to discover just what that secret it, and for the most part it's worth unraveling.

Aside from the critics who DISLIKE the film, there are also those who defend it. "Saw" is a thriller which I personally like, and it's one of those films that critics can't get by due to its amount of violence. For this occasion, the violence is not unnecessary, but rather disturbing to most people. There's so much screaming involving that it makes it all the more unsettling, and all the more psychological. The film sports a cool visual style, which has good cinematography throughout. The texturing for the picture is absolutely wonderful in some scenes, and the cinematography often times helps to make the film the slightest bit more intense. That is why this movie is a THRILLER, not a horror film. Horror films aren't like this. People get so goddamn confused nowadays...gore isn't what makes the movie scary. It's the ideas and the use of imagination. But...scary or not, I kind of enjoyed "Saw". No, I DID enjoy it. I could care less about what others think; I thought it to be a good, effective thriller. Perhaps a bit overrated as far as its fan base goes, sure...but what the hell. It's worth it just to enjoy the thing. The music, on a different note, is also very good. I liked the intensity and the music, even if it was not necessarily beautiful. The gore, on a visual level, is presented with decent style. It doesn't look down-right ugly, although the gore isn't like "The Midnight Meat Train"-sort of appealing. It doesn't look THAT good, but it doesn't look that bad either.

If you're a fan of simple minded, psychological thrillers, then this might be your film. However, it is also brutal and sometimes sadistic, so watch it at your own risk. I personally did not find it to be out-of-this-world brutal, although who knows...others might. No, others will. They most certainly will. And you know why? Because it's perfectly human to be sickened by content such as this in a film. But you have to admit; this is a well crafted thriller, even if the gore may squander all potential for some. I have but few complaints regarding the plot's consistency and the fact that a film like this just simply cannot be amazing. Ever. I mean, come on. It's torture porn. Sure, it's entertainment...but not much more than that. Am I fine with that? I guess I am. And that's only because this is GOOD entertainment, and not something that I'm particularly embarrassed to have enjoyed. I do not expect to enjoy most of the sequels as I expect that they are nothing more than excuses to show-case brutality. I doubt that many of them have an equal amount of thrills and spills like this film does, which is precisely the flaw in the series; you just can't imitate this one correctly a second time around. You just can't. It won't work. It may be decent...but decent isn't really good enough when the first film was relatively good. But when I finished "Saw", I came to a conclusion: I will watch this series. I don't expect it to be anything short of cheese, but what the hell. At least I'll have more films to criticize. See, I'm optimistic without being an optimist.

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December 02, 2010
This was alright and a good beginning for the franchise. Too bad it couldn't keep it up and the series finally collapsed. Nice review!
December 02, 2010
More Saw (2004 movie) reviews
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 …
review by . November 04, 2004
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, …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … 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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