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Halloween Movie Review #16: Saw

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I’ve seen Saw before, along with every one of its sequels. But yesterday we recorded a commentary on it for next week’s 2 Guys and a Chainsaw podcast, so I revisited it for this month’s project. And I am amazed at how well it aged.

The plot of this first one, at least, is relatively straightforward. Two men awake in a bombed out bathroom, chained to pipes, with no idea how or why they got there. It turns out a mysterious guy nicknamed “Jigsaw” is setting people up in deadly traps to teach them to truly value their lives. As the cops close in on the killer, cryptic clues in the room lead the men to discover how they are related and what must be done to escape their predicament.


Danny Glover and Cary Elwes surprised everyone as the unlikely stars in this low-budget film. Most of the performances are not terribly convincing, particularly that of Leigh Whannel, one of the two men in this room.

Whannel also wrote the screenplay with his buddy and director James Wan, fresh out of film school in Australia. If he had stopped with this movie, he may have gone down as one of the worst dialogue writers in modern cinematic history. Thankfully, he has since redeemed himself (in my humble opinion) with subsequent flicks, including the excellent The Conjuring.


The whole movie reeks of rust and tetanus, like a Nine Inch Nails video come to life. Much credit to Wan for overall stylishness. At the time it was a novel tone, soon to be copied ad nauseum by Hostel and Wolf Creek and a dogpile of torture porn that rose in its wake. Interestingly enough, the original Saw is much tamer than I remembered it being. I think my memories of the subsequent movies – which get increasingly more visceral and nasty – blend with it. In retrospect, it’s amazing that this one had to be cut to receive an R rating, while its sequels go much, much farther.

The notoriety and unlikely success of Saw is akin to The Blair Witch Project several years before. For a low budget, first-time Hollywood film by two friends, shot and edited in 18 days and originally intended as a direct-to-video release, its cultural impact cannot be overstated. Unlike Blair Witch, and despite its flaws, I still believe it deserves its place in history eleven years later. Bravo, boys.




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