Saw (James Wan, 2004)

“So are you going to watch yourself die here today, Adam, or do something about it?”

Introduction

I always felt cheated when I watched The Exorcist or Psycho whereby the true horror never really affected me. Apparently people vomited and passed out watching The Exorcist while when I watched it – don’t get me wrong – it was scary, but the whole ‘ground-breaking’ aspect doesn’t bother someone who has watched Scary Movie 2 prior to watching it. I watched Saw after it was recommended to me by a friend who worked in a cinema (Mike B). He told me the situations people woke up in – ” a girl wakes with a reverse bear-trap on her head, she has 5 minutes to get the key to get it off of her head … the key is in the stomach of a paralysed man laying on the floor”. I was amazed. It sounded incredible. To be honest, I know that my flat mates were unimpressed – many considering my sanity at the time. I think I appeared that little bit too keen – nevertheless, it eventually arrived in Aberystwyth Commodore Cinema and I was ready to go, but was not willing to go. More importantly, no flat mate would join me either. If I recall, Beth was simply horrified by the content and, therefore, this did not impress Alistair much – while Jo, I believe, was watching something else at the Arts Centre cinema (who would think there was any choice in Aberystwyth cinemas?), Rhys J was unimpressed – mostly because his girlfriend was unimpressed – so I was in a sticky situation with no friends to go with. I contacted a different friend – Lawrence – an open-minded semi-Gothic chap who, if he was free, probably would enjoy such a movie. He was free and he joined me. The lucky thing.

Following the movie, I was so scared and, thus, amazed at how scared I was that Lawrence and I had to resort to the local pub and drink. Conversing about how it was made and what was good and bad about it – thus fictionalizing the story, putting our minds at rest prior to going home. In the dark. Alone. I felt that the fear I felt as I squinted my eyes and waited for the flash of the camera to reveal the inevitable enemy lurking in the shadows must be similar to the fear felt by others in a very good horror movie. I had never seen something quite like it – and I was proud to have seen it at the cinema and ‘survived’. (Coincidentally, turns out events at Saw III led to people fainting and vomiting akin to The Exorcist http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/6101704.stm)

Saw and its predecessors have remained with me ever since and, prior to the release of Saw VI it seems only fitting to review them all because, seriously, I think the films are – though cheap and fitting for the horror genre – they are also interesting, ethical dilemmas (“What would I do in that situation?” rather than ” yeah, Jigsaw is spot on with that one”) and gritty, sordid horror movies which – if I may praise such a genre – fully deserve the title of torture-porn. With the dumbing down of certificates, these 18-rated movies, are all thats left of the gratuitous horror that you need to keep well away from the kids – but on a special evening, with the lights down low, with friends or even daring partners, these films give such a rush. A feeling that the fear of the screen and what may be shown may be morally wrong in and off itself.

What I reckon…

The first watch, as I recall, was a complete blur. I was overwhelmed with the horror-rush I was experiencing. I was intrieuged to find out the outcome – and the different situations that was presenting themselves. Obviously, how the Doctor and Adam would escape was an interesting reason to pursue watching. I bought the film to go through the experience again and, just the menu on the TV screen gave me chills, and it wasnt long before I ‘hooked-in’ other friends – Rhys BL, Jo and [at-the-time] my new girlfriend – and on the second viewing I could clearly see some major problems. Namely the acting – which is terrible. Cary Elwes as Dr Lawrence Gordon is simply boring – mundane, monotonous, and uninteresting. While the screen-writer Leigh Whannell played Adam as this hugely annoying, whiney unlikeable photographer. You could argue that this is their ‘characters’ … but then you probably wouldn’t mind whether they died or not.

Nevertheless, having watched it recently I was also interested at how the flashbacks – that are an important facet to the sequels – is solidly placed in the main feature itself. The only ‘escape’ from the room Adam and Dr Gordon are stuck in is these flashbacks. It is also a film that has this – not gothic – but ‘heavy-metal’-anger tone. As Amanda attempts to take of her head-trap (“think of it like a reverse bear-trap”) the camera simply shoots around her – dizzying to watch – while a guitar ‘rocks’ the soundtrack. Not wholly neccessary put clearly suits the intended audience – an audience that is more firmly established, whereby the soundtrack is more profitable. In Saw the score is entirely created by Charlie Clouser with a stunning string sequence that merges into the credits. From Saw II onwards the films end in silence – only to rock-on with the likes of X Japan and Soulidium and whatever hip-goth-rock band is in fashion to play over the credits. Shame because the strings sounded great over the credits.

Anyway, some funny things to consider when you have watched the other films. Namely how the plausible survival of Dr Lawrence Gordan…

Loads of youtube videos and imdb messages posts and forums talk about this. Apparently there is ‘all this footage’ scattered throughout the franchise to show that he survived – from limping Jigsaw accomplices (Saw II) through to bloody rags (Saw IV), not to mention the fact that his status on the official Saw website states that he is ‘unknown’. I guess that pretty much means a cameo at the very least.

Finally, the film is suprisingly different to the later installments. In one sense, its unsure of the tone it wants to set – maybe not unsure, because it still looks gritty and sordid like Fincher’s Se7en – a clear influence. What it seems to do, is have no shame in actually shooting sequences in different settings other than gritty, dingy sets. For example Dr Gordons family live in a very 50’s-esque house – with deep reds and a very plush quality to it, which then accentuates the dirty nature of every other set – the ‘room’, jigsaws pad, etc. Even in the second one, it seems to remain very dark and dirty – horrible police offices and that house falling apart. I question if this simplification in tone in the series may have made them all a little … how to put it … too obvious?
Nevertheless, the twist ending floors anyone not in the know and places this film into a category bracket that few horror films achieve, but I question if the completely flawed acting is bad enough to destroy that status in equal measure. Will Saw remain a classic? If anything, the fact that the Saw franchise is the only longest-running, consecutively released franchise – beating Lord of the Rings – currently – by a further three sequels. So, the franchise will go intot he history books at the very least

The scale of Saw is incredibly small – few characters, small situations which affect few people. But the ante was up the following year. We plow on and watch Saw II …

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2 comments

  1. Horror is my favorite genre and always has been. The first movie I remember watching was “Alligator” about alligators that supposedly lived in the NYC sewers and ate people. I was 2. Since then, I have made it my mission to watch any and all horror-related content. I've seen silent horror, classic horror, slasher horror, thrasher horror, teen horror, ghost horror, haunted horror, Sci-fi horror, foreign horror, and every horror-related television show ever produced from the short lived “Haunted' and “American Gothic” the current “Paranormal State” and “Supernatural.” My friends are into horror too, and indeed, one of them actually had a book published called “Horror Movie Trivia: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Scary Movies But Were Afraid to Last.” He is an expert on horror movies. So, when I doubt, I turn to him.

    As a result, I feel that I am pretty learned on the genre in general. Now, onto the “Saw” movies…

    When I first heard the premises I wasn't impressed. It sounded like something I had heard before. Still, I will see any horror movie in a cinema so I went. After watching, and turning my head a coupe of times, I still wasn't impressed. It still felt like something I had seen before.

    I can't put my finger on what the series reminds me of. Everyone immediately jumps to “Se7en”, but that movie wasn't entirely original either as there were quite a few lesser-known movies that came out before it that it had traces of. (“Se7en” just did a better job of putting them together and had a hotter cast.)

    Through the first viewing, the only thing that I found remotely disturbing was the little clown dude. That guy freaked me out. The whole “serial killer kidnapping for morality reasons” (or whatever) didn't frighten me. I got THAT out of my system with “Manhunter.” (The pre-quel to “Silence of the Lambs”, later remade as “Red Dragon” which I also thought was pretty good.) Of course, he didn't kidnap for morality reasons, but he did bring a human element to his kidnappings/murdering which they tried to do with John and his illness, “poor me, am I the only one in the world that loves life” persona.

    And actually, by the end of the first one, he REALLY annoyed me. Who was he to judge the fact that someone was/wasn't getting the most out of life and appreciating it? Okay, so the people that he captured and put through the tests had done some bad things, but hello. Pot, kettle. And the argument that his people could TECHNICALLY get out of their predicaments doesn't fly. Oh, sure they could. If you overlook the fact that they had been drugged, were drowsy, were disoriented, were frightened, and were put on a timer with a warning that if they didn't do what they had to do something horrible would happen to them. Yea, it should have been a piece of cake for them to escape.

    Cary Elwes, who I loved in “The Princess Bride” and is even tolerable in the cheese movie “The crush” annoyed the hell out of me and I cringed through most of his scenes. His acting in general appeared to lapse at the most crucial parts of the plot. Sometimes, I laughed out loud, as did quite a few people in my cinema.

    Which I can still overlook as long as the movie entertains me. And none of the “Saw” movies have.

    The one thing I CAN appreciate about the “Saw” movies is that they are attempting to tie them together in a way that as far as I know, no other horror movie series has done in the past. By doing this with parallel time periods and plot lines, that is fairly original. Their original intention? I highly doubt it. But, go for it if it brings you money. I might sit down and watch all of them in a row when they are all released and try to give it another shot. In the meantime, they are just not my cup of tea.

    When I told my friend that you were reviewing the “Saw” movies she replied, “you've got to be kidding me? what are we on number 6 now? they aren't just beating the dead horse… they reanimated it into an equine zombie just so they could kill it again and again and again.”

  2. What a brilliant response!

    If I want to try and get out of this I-love-SAW-movies situation, I shall state what I state when I speak to people who don't know me personally but I want to impress with my film knowledge and tell them the catch-all-problems answer – “It's a guilty pleasure, I know, but…” [make of that what you will]

    So as its a blog (on the phone rebecca I would not state this to you, but everyone in the world can read this so), I know it's a guilty pleasure so I am wholly aware of the huge problems with the films … but I am still drawn to them! I don't want to go over-and-over about the sequels because, believe me, the reviews will appear in the next month and we can all discuss them then. But there is something very special about the sequels that keeps them going…)

    With regard to this first film, when I left the film and when I think about what specifically 'scared' me – I don't think it was Jigsaw himself, just maybe the world and the there-is-nothing-i-can-do-but-die situation people were in. Akin to waking up in desert knowing you won't make it, but just having to remain lost and know that sure-enough, you will die. Scares the hell out of me and for a long time in my childhood I got really scared when on holiday that I would just get lost and die. But I love your truth about the traps they can/can't 'escape' from (a focus in the later films with Jiggy's apprentices). Not to mention your summary on Jigsaw – he doesn't have the right to judge others but, then again, he has such a cool voice so he has to use it for something productive. Other than a serial killer, what else could he do that is so fulfilling? Teaching maybe?

    I think, if you watch the films with a positive, glass-full, optimistic attitude to life then you watch these negative, glass-empty, pessimistic people (and criminals) get their punishment. Thing is, as a teacher, there is nothing worse than talking to another teacher who simply slams the job (“how was your day today?”, “Oh, the worst, I hate these kids, they are…etc” – solution – find a new job). These attitudes spread and affect your attitude and, on a very influential day, may turn your happy-go-lucky attitude into a sour, sod-off attitude. These people who – as Jigsaw says – 'don't appreciate life' deserve to be represented in such fiction so that all of us who know about their nay-saying ways can sleep safe in the knowledge that Jigsaw is not after us.

    Thanks for the response Rebecca!

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