Friday, August 6, 2010

Saw is NOT overrated

I'd like you to take a journey with me, if you will. We're going to go back in time, but don't worry, we won't be gone that long. We're going to 2004 specifically. Why 2004, you say? Because that is when the first Saw film came to theaters and helped define horror for the new generation.

This is the poster I have and it's AWESOME.
With a new Saw film coming out every year, people have forgotten a time before Saw, a time when this was a truly original horror film to behold. The many sequels, some good and some bad, have somewhat bastardized the series and the oversaturation in the media has led many to come to the conclusion that Saw (the original) is that most horrible word - OVERRATED.

No. It's not.

It may have just not been your cup of tea, but you cannot doubt the originality and effectiveness of the first film, as a horror film and as a sort of thriller-mystery.

I remember the time before Saw came out - I remember seeing the trailers on TV for this new horror film and getting more and more excited to see it, despite not really knowing much about it. The only indication of the plot, really, from the trailers was Cary Elwes' line, "He doesn't want us to cut through our chains, he wants us to cut through our feet." That line alone was enough to get me into the theater. The concept of the film seemed so different; you had to wonder where a story with that kind of premise could go.

Cary Elwes rules. And I think he knows it. Cocky bastard.
I remember the experience of sitting in the theatre and watching Saw. I went to see it with my friend Katie (hi, Katie) and I think we both saw ourselves as smart movie watchers. But this movie, for lack of a better phrase, had us both by the balls. We were squirming in our seats, talking to the screen, and had to pick our jaws up off the floor at the end. I distinctly remember as the screen goes black at the end, and you can still hear Adam's screams from the bathroom, Katie and I both turned to each other slowly with the exact same expression of shock on our faces. We were both prompting Monica Potter's character to kill Zep - actually saying, out loud in the theater, "Shoot him. SHOOT. HIM!" Very uncharacteristic, especially for me. And the scene where Adam is using his camera as a flashlight in his apartment? Oh, gosh, I about jumped out of my seat. Zep standing over the little girl on the bed covered in a bed sheet? Intensely creepy, and freaked me the fuck out.

The point is: I don't have physical reactions like this to movies, even horror movies, very often. Whatever it was that made Saw different, it had me. How did this movie work so well? Even looking back on it (several thousand times), I can't see what it was. Nothing can compare to that first time I saw it and that is why I still love it to this day. Horror films have to work on first impression and that is often how I judge them. My first impression of this film was better than any other horror film I had seen in a long time.

I asked Katie, the friend who saw Saw with me at the theater, if she remembered the experience. Somehow, I knew she would. I find out now that she's not a particularly big horror fan, but she wanted to see this movie, too. Here's what she had to say: "I remember being repulsed by both the film's gore and Jigsaw's sadism while simultaneously being fascinated by the whole experience's creepiness and horror. I wanted to look away, but I couldn't: The movie had me in its grip as an effective thriller."

Leigh Whannell and James Wan
As a wannabe filmmaker, I am also awed and inspired by the success of Saw. James Wan and Leigh Whannell were two first-time filmmakers from Australia. Leigh wrote the film (the story came from both of them) and James directed, with Leigh also starring in it, playing Adam. It was independent, fairly low budget, and shot in 18 days. I had no idea of any of that at my first viewing. They could have told me it was a 20 million dollar movie and I probably would have believed it.

And now that movie has turned into arguably one of the biggest horror franchises. Think about this - Saw was their first movie and they never imagined that it would evolve beyond even the first film. Yet apparently their simple yet highly entertaining and effective story had room to grow. And grow and grow and grow. They got the core of the sequel from Shawnee Smith's (Amanda) one little line in Saw - "He helped me." This gave root to the idea of Jigsaw's apprentice(s) and how he is (was) able to build and carry out all traps whilst suffering from cancer. And James and Leigh went from two nobody filmmakers to the hot topic of the horror industry.

Leigh in the jawtrap; from the scene
shot before the script was sold.
So in a way, this movie gives me hope. Leigh and James (I think it was mostly Leigh's writing, though) spent a long time working on the script - and not just the cool traps that are the center of the movies nowadays, but getting the story and the characters and those now iconic scenes right so that it would make, as Katie says, an effective thriller. And when they brought their script to America to sell it and get the money to do it right, they had people that were hella interested in it. They even shot a scene from the movie to show producers what kind of style they were going after. Smart budgeting and scheduling allowed them to get top-notch talent like Cary Elwes, Monica Potter, and Danny Glover. And now the movie is already in horror film history. It can happen, people. Those with the determination and the talent can make things happen for themselves, a concept that is pretty foreign to me right now. Still, thinking about what happened with Saw, and other films by first-time filmmakers, does give me that little glimmer of hope.

Billy, the famous Saw puppet, built
by James Wan
Is Saw perfect? Looking back on it now, with my very critical movie eye - perhaps not. Yeah, it's got plot holes (I looked up people's negative reviews of Saw and what a lot of them saw as "plot holes" were in fact not plot holes - learn the definition, dipshits) and the characters do dumb things sometimes, but that's only when you really nitpick the movie. As aforementioned, horror films have to work on a visceral level - if your guts and your body tell you that it's freaking you out, then it's GOOD. And my guts told me that Saw was one of the best damn things to happen to horror in a long time. I can't say the same for all the sequels; however, I am still amazed and how far they have taken a story that was never intended to make it past the first installment. It's unreal.

I will always be a Saw lover and supporter no matter how many sequels (hopefully, number 7 will be the last... I love Jill Tuck!) and copycats come out. It was the right film that came out at the right time and gave horror fans a dose of what they have been missing. And the blood hasn't stopped running since.


  1. Who said it was overrated? It wasn't, because most people hated it... and I was one of those! It was a cold, ugly and poorly-made horror movie, that relied on sadistic tortures and gore, instead on suspense and some inventive scares. I remember how hard I laughed at the end - it was ridiculous, as was the rest of it. Sorry.

  2. Interesting post. I'm not entirely sold on the film - I have trouble connecting with it from a storytelling standpoint as I look back - but strongly recall the initial effect it had on me. And when you mention the visceral level on which the film exists, I can see where that lines up with how the film worked on me. I personally thought the second film in the series worked a little better on both the plot and visceral levels, however.

    Regardless of opinion, I admire your approach here. Good stuff to think about.

  3. Great post. For me I think they just need to stop making these movies. I liked the first 3 and they should of stopped after the 3rd one and have it be a trilogy but that's it. I mean Jigsaw dies in 3, he's dead why the hell are they milking out the franchise!?

    Do I think the first Saw is overrated no but the whole entire franchise is, they just need to stop making these movies and it needs to go away. I still liked the first 3 though but that's it.

  4. I agree, they should have stopped at 3... which was okay, but not great, and then 4 just sucked. So confusing.