Director: James Wan
Starring: Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer
Death is a shortcut
Two chained up men wakes up in an old bathroom, while a third man is lying in a pile of blood in the middle of the room. They have no idea how or why they are there, but one of them is familiar with a psychopath that has been kidnapping people and killing them by putting them into terrible traps that no normal human can get out of.
The reason why he knows about this maniac is because he was the prime suspect of the police. Now the maniac is holding his wife and young daughter captive and he is instructed to kill the other young male in the room, a guy that has been spying on him for the several last weeks. They cannot trust each other, but at the same time they have no one else who is able to help them.
Before Saw became one of the most successful horror franchises of all time, it was only a small nearly 10-minute short film done by the young filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell. The short film was enough to convince Lions Gate that the duo had enough talent and secured them a 1,2 million dollar full feature film based on their short.
And then there was Saw, a surprise hit that would spawn six sequels, video games, comic books and even a roller coaster ride located in England. Even though it was one of the films, together with stuff like Hostel, that was “blamed” for the distasteful named subgenre “torture porn”, it is actually much more of a crime mystery (although the sequels would become more and more gory). It relies more on shock and intense terror than anything else.
The film can be separated into two acts, one that takes place in the bathroom with our two main characters and another part which follows the investigations of the crimes and the flashbacks showing the backstory of the characters. They do an excellent job in keeping the mystery alive to the very end and delivers a shocker of an ending that made the entire film work and become something unique to the genre. It is actually kind of giallo in the way they hide the killer throughout the nearly 100 minutes of running time and it makes the entire experience much more intense than what an early reveal would have done. I would even go as far as calling the ending for a brilliant piece of filmmaking.
While the scenes in the bathroom are very intense and great, I didn’t care that much for the flashbacks and even the main characters. The two guys in the bathroom is played by Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell (yeah, the screenwriter). I would have liked to see some more effort put into fleshing these two characters out a bit more, as they are carrying most of the film. Surprisingly enough, Danny Glover shows up as detective David Tapp, quite a big actor catch for such a low-budget film.
It’s interesting to see, nearly ten years later, how different this film is from the other James Wan efforts that where to follow Saw. His later efforts have been much more about providing scares than pure terror and they have also been much more visually based than what we get to see of him in this one. He could probably have continued to keep working as a director within the Saw series, but instead he went on to deliver more interesting features and made himself into a director that had more cards to play with. It has obviously worked great for him and I’m happy he decided to do more with his career than binding himself to one franchise, otherwise we might not have gotten a The Conjuring or Insidious film.
Saw is a great film that still has the same punch today as it did when it originally premiered almost ten years ago. It is intense, smart and exciting to watch. As is common with horror franchises, the ones that followed would go in a different direction, but the original can stand on its own as a great piece of film that would launch the career of one of the best horror directors that are currently still active in Hollywood today.