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Horror Review: Saw

Written by Josh Brewer,  September 4th, 2017, at 5:00 p.m. Tweet to: @theJWBrewer

Title: Saw

Director: James Wan
Writer: Leigh Whannell
Release Date: Oct. 29th, 2004
Cast: Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Michael Emerson, Ken Leung, Shawnee Smith, Tobin Bell

Cliff’s Notes

A doctor and a photographer end up in the clutches of the Jigsaw Killer. Who’s that, you may ask? A mo-fo with a love of waking folks up and chopping up those who stay asleep.


No horror flick has been as influential in the 21st century as James Wan’s Saw. Its stylish directing, vicious violence and effects, and focus on the character and choice as the basis of horror have been done time and time again, and never to the level that Saw reaches.

At its core, Saw works best as two men in a room set opposed to each other, their moral codes the only thing that keeps them from destroying each other. It is also where Saw is most effective. The back and forth between Elwes and Whannell, and their realizations about their predicament, work as a captivating character portrait of two men fighting for their lives. It’s here than Wan excels, a sign of his fantastic character work to come in films like Insidious and The Conjuring, with his work both fantastically calculated and seemingly chaotic.

Outside of the room, things go alright, though the film seems a little lost in terms of its focus as it jumps back and forth between the room and the detectives trying to solve the crimes. It’s a shame that things falter here, and Saw’s only real failing. The second act meanders just a touch too much, as if the film was too afraid to make it just about the basement bathroom.

It’s all forgivable, though, when it comes to the traps and kills. Saw revitalized the horror world when it came to unprecedented levels of violence and terror, providing a continuation of Lynch’s body horror and combining it with the harsh reality of torture and apathy. They serve as a thrilling, visceral ride through the psyche, adding one hell of a punch to Saw’s already potent chill leve.


Elwes has always rocked and Saw falls right in line. Whannell plays opposite him well, though seems a little lost in some of the more challenging moments. Glover and Leung play off of each other well while Potter and Emerson do their thing. Smith takes her small roll and kicks its ass, providing a terrifying moment. And Bell does everything perfectly, even if he’s not too busy.


Wan rocks his shots and tempo, but occasionally goes a little overboard. I’m all about style, but a few of the moments really took me out of the flick. His best work comes from the Jigsaw traps, which read as a vicious nightmare that you don’t get to wake up from.


Whannell does well in his freshman outing. His first two acts could have been a little tighter, but he rocks his characters and creates all kinds of groovy horror set ups. And the finale rocks.


All kinds of messy! Cuts, splits, burns, gun shots, shotgun shots,  and dummies all make an appearance. The kills in Jigsaw’s house don’t pull punches. The practical effects rock.


The last five minutes rock.


I don’t know if I’ll call this a lowlight, but I think film could have used more of a narrative push in its second act. We spend a lot of time jumping around without a ton of focus.

Final Thoughts  

A quality flick with an amazing ending, Saw rocks its simple setup and execution. While the film has a few problems, the finale more than makes up for them.

Grade: B+

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