31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #11 – Saw (2004)

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Tagline: Live or Die. Make Your Choice.

Director: James Wan

Writer(s): Leigh Whannell

Studio: Twisted Pictures/Lionsgate Films

Budget: $1.2m

Box Office: $103.9m

Release Date: 29th October, 2004

IMDb Rating: 7.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 48%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Leigh Whannell – Adam Faulkner-Stanheight

Cary Elwes – Dr. Lawrence Gordon

Danny Glover – Detective David Tapp

Ken Leung – Detective Steven Sing

Michael Emerson – Zep Hindle

Shawnee Smith – Amanda

Tobin Bell – Jigsaw

Trailer

Plot According to Google: Photographer Adam Stanheight and oncologist Lawrence Gordon regain consciousness while chained to pipes at either end of a filthy bathroom. As the two men realise they’ve been trapped by a sadistic serial killer nicknamed ‘Jigsaw’ and must complete his perverse puzzle to live as flashbacks relate the fates of his previous victims. Meanwhile, Dr Gordon’s wife and young daughter are forced to watch his torture via closed-circuit video.

Inertia’s Insight: The sophisticated debut film from Australian duo James Wan and Leigh Whannell is brimming with core horror ideals: blood, gore, suspense, an intriguing plot and interesting characters. The difference with this film above others is the way in which the story has been crafted and how, rather than throw blood and scares at every turn, it paves the way for a clever whodunnit and one of the greatest reveals I’ve ever seen in film.

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Waking in a grubby, disused bathroom chained to a pipe with a dead body in the middle of the floor, Adam and Lawrence quickly begin to realise that this isn’t some urban legend come true or prank by a TV show – their lives hang in the balance, dictated to them by a recording on a mini tape found in their back pockets. As they attempt to understand their predicament and a way of getting out of it whilst simultaneously working against each other by playing the game, the story of Jigsaw is told in flashbacks by Dr. Gordon who was, at once, a suspect in the killings.

It’s a piece of impeccable storytelling to weave the narrative through flashbacks told by someone who was directly involved in the case during its height. As the flashbacks segue into the film as if no longer narrated, the twists begin. And when I say twists, it does make me think that the company ‘Twisted Pictures’ was named not after the twisted nature of Jigsaw’s traps but rather the way in which the story never sticks to one path. It’s rare to have a horror film as intelligent as this, delivering the scares whilst keeping you gripped on the path that it takes you on.

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The Saw franchise is infamous for its inventive ways of killing its victims – Jigsaw creates traps and deadly predicaments for people who do not value their lives day-to-day. He offers them an opportunity to fix this, to fight for their life – but it will require sacrifice, pain, bloodshed. The traps here are inventive and nail-biting, and would only go on to become more inventive and brutal as the films go on.

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Right until the very end you don’t quite know (or trust) who Jigsaw is or why they are there. Just as one person is revealed to be him, another is shown to be the true incarnation. And so it goes until the end, until the greatest reveal outside of Shyamalan’s writing room – the revelation of the true Jigsaw, his purpose, and the bleak understanding that in this film, no-one survives…

It is clear to see that Wan is finding his feet as a director here. The beautifully fluid shots of Insidious and The Conjuring are a long way off – instead the direction is at times like a little kid playing with his toy after a bit too much sugar. It’s effective in the scene with Amanda, making the immediacy of the situation prevalent, however it’s a tactic that Darren Lynn Bousman and subsequent directors of the Saw franchise would go on to overuse and abuse to minimal effect.

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There is something to be said for Whannell’s knack for writing that has since enabled him to craft a successful career. The duo of Whannell and Wan made their mark on the horror landscape, paving the way for the controversial ‘Torture Porn’ sub-genre that would dominate the mid-noughties, including six more sequels to Saw that would build a whole world around John Kramer and the legacy he intends to leave.

Jigsaw made a mark on his victims, taking a piece of them that he felt they were missing; Wan and Whannell gave us a film that horror needed, leaving an indelible mark on us all.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *

Trivia

  • All of the bathroom scenes were shot in chronological order so as to make the actors feel more what the characters were going through.
  • The whole film was shot in just 18 days.
  • The sequel, Saw II, was given the greenlight on Saw‘s opening weekend.
  • Billy the Puppet was made from scratch by director James Wan.

Quotes

JIGSAW: Hello Amanda. You don’t know me, but I know you. I want to play a game. Here’s what happens if you lose. The device you are wearing is hooked into your upper and lower jaw. When the timer in the back goes off, your mouth will be permanently ripped open. Think of it like a reverse bear trap. Here, I’ll show you. There is only one key to open the device. It’s in the stomach of your dead cellmate. Look around, Amanda. Know that I’m not lying. Better hurry up. Live or die, make your choice.

All images courtesy of Blu Shots: https://blushots.weebly.com


Tomorrow: Night #12 – It Follows (2014)

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