“You don’t know me, but I know you. I want to play a game.”
When two men wake up, chained and disoriented, in a dilapidated bathroom, they have only a few hours to piece together a sinister puzzle before an unknown man inflicts his own brand of justice.
Starring Cary Elwes as Dr. Lawrence Gordon, Leigh Whannell as Adam, Danny Glover as Detective Tapp, Monica Potter as Gordon’s wife, Shawnee Smith as Amanda, and Tobin Bell as John/Jigsaw. Directed by James Wan with a screenplay by Wan and Leigh Whannell.
One of the fundamental platforms upon which civilization is built is the idea of responsibility or accountability. Be that moral, ethical, or financial – if a person cannot be held accountable for their actions, what’s to stop them from doing anything they want?
In 2004, James Wan and Leigh Whannell posited the same question to the American public with the release of Saw, the film that launched a mega-franchise and, arguably, helped define Lionsgate as a distribution powerhouse. Leading up to the release of Saw, Lionsgate had been known as a Canadian company who distributed films “too controversial for the major American studios”. The Saw franchise spans seven films to date, including the 2010 franchise cap, Saw 3D.
People sat up and took notice of Saw, partly because there is a contingent of film goers who love a good scare. But Saw also piqued the audience’s interest in contraptions, in elaborate puzzles and mind games designed to exact deep, personal introspection on those being “tested” by Jigsaw. Like Se7en, the filmmakers of Saw wanted to inject a little intellect into an otherwise blood-splattered and tenaciously violent film.
The overwhelmingly dark nature of Saw has often been called unnecessary and distasteful. After all, why inflict such dastardly tests on those whose lives are already filled with agony and despair? There are also questions about the way in which morality is depicted in the film. After all, Saw sometimes depicts morally shaky and inconsistent behavior from everyone including Jigsaw who is supposedly sitting in judgment of the whole of humanity.
Part mystery but all horror, Saw serves up plenty of scares in its own time as Gordon and Adam attempt to piece together the events leading up to their incarceration. And thanks to the set structure, the men are too far apart to reach one another physically, so you rarely see the men in a shot together. This lends to the characters’, and by extension the audience’s, feeling of solitude and overall helplessness.
At times, Saw feels like a two man play, with performances by Elwes and Whannell built to match – with Elwes over-performing against Whannell’s novice. And I, at times, feel the film relies too heavily on these men. I get frustrated as a viewer when Dr. Gordon and Adam wait until the final 30 minutes before Jigsaw’s deadline to actually start asking one another the really serious questions. I hate it when things are unnecessarily drawn out, as many things are in the original Saw. It causes a ripple in the storytelling from which Wan and Whannell are lucky Saw ultimately recovers.
Personally, it’s the performance of Shawnee Smith, as the drug-addicted Amanda, that brings me back to Saw, and the Saw franchise, time and again. While her screen time is somewhat limited in Saw, it’s the hopefulness inspired by her escape from Jigsaw that lends credibility to the idea that Dr. Gordon or Adam have any chance of surviving. Check out Smith in the reverse bear trap scene from Saw below.
When combined with Tobin Bell‘s performance as John, the cancer-riddled Jigsaw, hellbent on leaving a mark, Saw is a film full of twists and turns that hints at the rich story that will evolve across the franchise in the years that follow. Not for the squeamish, self-righteous, or faint of heart, Saw is a horror fan must-see.
Amanda and the Reverse Bear Trap:
1.) Yes. Obviously no one with a secret (and who doesn’t have at least one secret?) wants to be sitting opposite John/Jigsaw.
2.) Yes. The bathroom in which Dr. Gordon and Adam awake and find themselves chained to pipes is cause enough.
3.) Yes. Zep’s eye peering out at Dr. Gordon’s daughter from inside the blackened, partially open closet counts among the many moments of “OMG!” in the film.
Wiki facts: Saw
Is Saw rotten or fresh?
How did Saw do at the box office?
Watch or buy Saw on Amazon
Related: Saw set to be remade … already??
 “Lionsgate.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 6 Feb. 2013. Web. 9 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lions_Gate_Entertainment>