Horror Icons – JIGSAW – Saw (2004)

Would you kill to live? When a madman tries to teach how much life is worth, two men find themselves in a room with no idea how they got there or why they’re there. (IMDB synopsis)

Well, hullo there! Welcome back! I’ve recently had quite a few Reader Requests. But a) many of them are horror parodies or deconstructions, which are good once in a while but not for several weeks in succession, and b) many of them are closer to being action-adventure films with supernatural themes, rather than out-and-out horrors. I will address them at some point. Just not right now.
So instead, have another Horror Icon review on me! The Saw franchise has been one of the most popular and profitable horror franchises in recent history. This could have a lot to do with the films being released on Hallowe’en, constituting an annual tradition for some fans, and the fact that the filmmakers respond to said fans’ wants and desires to some extent. Anyway, let’s get on with the review!

Review:

So one of our main characters wakes up in a bathtub as something important slips down the plughole. And when I say he’s in the bathtub, I mean he’s submerged under the water, unconscious or possibly asleep. He doesn’t start floundering in panic until he wakes up. Maybe he got something stuck in his gills.
Anyway, he jumps out of the water and finds he’s in a dimly lit and grimy bathroom, his foot chained to a metal pipe, opposite a very sweaty man on the other end of the room, also chained up. And in the centre of the room? A corpse lying in a pool of his own blood and brains! Ah well, at least our protagonists won’t starve to death.
Mr. Very Fucking Confused, aka Adam, is unnerved at this first sighting of a dead body. “They’re different in real life. They don’t move.”
…That’s true. In fact, I’d say that not moving is one of their main defining characteristics.
Turns out that Adam’s sweaty companion is one Dr. Lawrence Gordon, played by a British actor who clearly has a problem with his American accent. It also turns out that the men’s captor has left them a set of cassette tapes labelled ‘play me’. When played, the captor’s voice instructs Lawrence to kill Adam by six o’clock if he ever wants to see his family alive again. Basically, if Horrorland had its own Mad Hatter, and that Mad Hatter had homicidal tendencies, this would almost certainly be his modus operandi.
Saw is a film I’ve seen many times before, and will likely see many times again. Some people consider the films to be psychological thrillers rather than horrors, and there’s certainly a case to be made for that. But I like to view Saw (and its sequels) as a subversion of the slasher movie subgenre. Jigsaw, as he’s known, is no less frightening than the likes of Freddy and Jason, and his method of killing is unique in that he doesn’t ‘technically’ kill people. Instead, he sets it up so that his victims can choose to kill themselves, or not.
The crux of the film is Lawrence’s attempts to escape the room and save his family. There are two obstacles in his way. First, he must kill Adam, and Jigsaw kindly plants a few tools around the disgusting bathroom to help him, but second, Larry must use a rusty saw to free himself from the pipe. Not to cut through his metal chain, but to cut through his foot. Yeugh.
This film isn’t perfect by any means – I suggest you go watch CinemaSins‘ video if you want a detailed run-down of all the plot holes. However, the first Saw film has so much story and so many plot threads that tie in together to form a glorious… er… blanket of…
Where was I?
Oh yeah. There’s so much meat to the film that there’s never really a boring moment. And although this one had comparatively less gore (or Gaw, if you will) than later installments, I think the scenes with the other traps are brilliantly shot. They’re highly stylised, with choppy editing, rapid sped-up shots and awesome sound design. The victims’ screams almost blend into the soundtrack itself. I also like Jigsaw’s use of the Billy puppet during Amanda’s ‘game’, which not only hides Jigsaw’s identity but also makes the scene feel a bit more off-kilter. I mean, that thing came out of nowhere. Who’s operating it? How’s it pedalling a tricycle by itself? How do I know his name is Billy, anyway?
Onto other aspects of the film. The soundtrack is great. Sometimes it reminds me of the menu screen music for a first person shooter game; other times, it sounds like the Devil’s own symphony orchestra. The film looks great too; all dark and grubby and off-putting in general. I think it has to do with the green filter. These guys love their green filter, just like Tim Burton loves his blue filter.
Now, Jigsaw is one scary character, but I think people underestimate two other creepy characters in this film.

1) Zepp Hindle. He’s the orderly at Lawrence’s hospital who becomes a pawn in Jigsaw’s game, preparing to kill Lawrence’s wife and daughter to save his OWN life, and thereby turning himself into a decoy antagonist. So, hogtying two helpless blondes in their own home is reprehensible, but understandable in the situation. What’s NOT understandable is holding a gun to their heads and listening to their heartbeats through a stethoscope.

Teddy

Even if he does give the daughter a teddy afterwards.

“You know what? That was pretty nasty of me. Here’s Wally Bear.”

2) Detective David Tapp. This is the guy who suspected Lawrence was the one carrying out these Jigsaw murders. Not only is he an obsessed cop, he’s a cop who works outside the law to get results. That’s not a good combination (unless it’s a screwball buddy cop TV show, in which case, fill your boots). Anyway, this dude asks extremely untactful questions of a recent Jigsaw victim – “Are you grateful to be alive now, Mandy?” – goes barging into Jigsaw’s lair/House of Arts and Crafts without a warrant, getting his partner killed to death in the process, papers his living room walls with Jigsaw news clippings, and then creepily stalks Lawrence Gordon even after being discharged from the police force! That last point alone brings Tapp’s creepiness factor up by 47%; I don’t care if he comes in at the last minute to tackle Zepp.

Aaaaaaand then we have the film’s beautiful twist ending. There are actually numerous twists and turns, but I’m talking about THE twist. …Jigsaw is, in fact, Lawrence’s cancer patient, and he’s been posing as the corpse in the room the whole time! OH MY GOOOOOOOOOOOD! So that explains why the corpse was facing away from good old Larry; in case he recognised his patient! It all makes sense now! 😀

Final Verdict:

I can’t find much wrong with this film (apart from, yes, the plot holes brought up by Jeremy from CinemaSins). What else can I say? This first installment was the filmmakers’ baby; of course they were going to make it as good as possible. The plots are equally engaging and they slot together just the way they need to. And most of the fear the audience feels comes from within, because this franchise makes them ask questions of themselves. What would I do if I were in this situation? What indeed? Saw taps into a subjective kind of fear, something the later sequels would play on even more successfully, and I think it’s fantabulous.

Rating:

8 jam sandwiches.

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