Perhaps I’m feeling like a glutton for punishment, but the upcoming release of Spiral: From the Book of Saw got me in a bloody nostalgic mood as we anticipate its premiere. Nearly 17 years after the low-budget original became one of the most profitable horror pics ever and spawned now eight sequels/reboots, I felt it was time to revisit the franchise.
Hence The Jigsaw Files where I will recap the series movie by movie. It naturally begins with the original Saw. Shot for a reported teensy budget of $1.2 million, it came out of nowhere in October 2004 to become a genre classic. So is it?
This marks the directorial debut of James Wan and he went on to be involved in numerous franchises. Some were of his own making (Insidious, The Conjuring). Others brought on his talents like in Furious 7 and Aquaman. Wan came up with the story along with Leigh Whannell, who has since helmed Upgrade and The Invisible Man (both critically acclaimed scare fests).
Most of you are familiar with the story. Whannell costars as Adam, a photographer who awakens in a dingy and feces covered washroom with Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes). The duo soon discover that they are part of an elaborate game orchestrated by a serial killer who concocts these elaborate schemes. They have to figure out why they have been placed in such a foul setting and they only have hours to do so before their time expires.
The screenplay intersects their countdown with Detectives Tapp (Danny Glover) and Sing (Ken Leung) trying to figure out who this monster is. Saw is told in a non-linear fashion that isn’t totally clear until the climax. I had forgotten about the Lost TV series connection until my rewatch. Leung was the quirky medium Miles. Michael Emerson, who is involved in the mayhem happening here, is an Emmy winner for his brilliant portrayal of Ben Linus.
What’s striking about Saw upon another visit is that its meager budget limits some of the gore we became accustomed to in the sequels. Don’t get me wrong… it’s there, but not quite as prevalent. Elwes and Whannell get the most screen time (Glover apparently only shot for two days). Both actors have their moments of extreme overacting and I’m pretty sure that’s on purpose. Some may find this exercise humorless, but there’s some winking and nodding occurring in my estimation.
The other plot point that audiences might forget is that Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw (who becomes this franchise’s Freddy, Jason, Michael… take your pick) plays a minimal role… kind of like Jason in the first Friday the 13th. This is, of course, until the surprise ending. And that ending is still one of the better twists in modern horror history. If you’re a stickler about it making sense… well, you might hurt your head deciding if it holds up to scrutiny. Yet it was effective when I first watched it and it still is today.
Saw is certainly not perfect. Its price tag limitations show, but even that adds to the B movie vibe. Wan shows right away why he’s become the in demand filmmaker he is now. And this Saw remains a cut above most of what followed and rightfully has the reputation that precedes it.
The Jigsaw Files will continue with Saw II (2005)…