The reputation of the "Saw" franchise has ebbed and flowed over the years, sometimes declining thanks to an endless stream of sequels. While these subsequent installments became increasingly centered on the series' signature death traps and eventually became big-budget gore films, it's easy to forget that the original "Saw" was a much different case. Having more in common with "Seven" than "Hostel", this film stands as one of the best horror films of the 2000's decade. While the modus operandi of antagonist "Jigsaw" remains the same, this first installment is much more concerned with plot and suspense than buckets of blood. That's not to saw that it doesn't have it's grisly moments, but they aren't the main focus of the film. Instead, director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell seek to combine the serial killer-thriller and horror genres, and do so to wonderful effect.
The plot here is much more complex than one may expect, filled with genuinely surprising twists and turns. The way the story unravels is methodical, but the moments of gore and intensity are spread out perfectly, so that the film never lulls or becomes boring. For the majority of it's run-time, the main narrative is confined to one room, but through flashbacks and recollection of the events leading to that moment, it weaves an unpredictable storyline and never feels restricted. The cast is mostly good as well. Cary Elwes may be a bit stilted, but his natural charm and confidence shines through, and his performance becomes quite intense by the denouement. Meanwhile, Whannell not only writes, but stars in the film, and gives a solid turn as well. Though his screen-time is lesser here, Tobin Bell is also brilliant as "Jigsaw". His voice alone is more chilling and iconic than words can describe. He truly inhabits the role.
But the real sucker-punch comes from the film's ending shot, and final, incredible twist. It's a moment that one never forgets the feeling of experiencing for the first time. Everything comes together. The twisting plot, the well-rounded characterization, brutality of the horror aspects, the emotional impact and chilling philosophical implications. All of this tempered by Wan's surprisingly stylish and mature direction. The film has an atmospheric look, despite being shot on such a low-budget. It builds a world of shadowy city streets and gloomily-colored industrial locations. This is a horror film that truly has it all. Suspense, gore, an astonishing amount of humanity, and a clever script to boot. Jigsaw has become an icon for a reason, and at the end of the day, despite continuing sequels, this film remains that reason. A true masterpiece of it's genre.
My Rating: 10/10
My Rating: 10/10