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The Test of Time: Saw (2004)

Jul. 11, 2013by: Ryan Doom
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We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: James Wan
Starring: Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, and Danny Glover

By the time Saw 3D rolled around in 2010, I think everyone had had enough. Lionsgate didn’t mess around with the franchise, dumping a new entry on audiences every single October until the box office receipts weren’t nearly as impressive. I can’t blame the studio. The series probably built the studio nearly single handedly. Regardless, when that many movies come out in such a quick succession it’s easy to forget why the hell this became popular in the first place.

Under the examination: Saw.

For anyone who watched Saw after the “moment” (before the fantastic conclusion became apart of pop culture), I’m sure it’s a little like those who didn’t see Blair Witch Project when it had its moment in time. I decided to give it a go back in ‘04 without knowing a thing about it, and at the time it felt like a movie revolution to me. It was fresh, mean, and dirty, and it seemed as if this was a new movement in horror. You know, like when Nirvana killed Hair Bands, or the The Simpsons put Fox on the map, or when it became cool for bald guys to be bald. The idea of a new subgenre, torture porn, sounded great, but I got tired of the genre…and the Saw films after Part III. And apparently, so did the rest of the public. 

Well that room looks fun.

THE STORY: Two men wake up in a room with chains attached to their legs…and there is a dead body lying between them. Talk about awkward. They learn there’s a man named Jigsaw controlling them, giving them sets of rules and objectives to follow if they hope to remain alive. As the movie rolls on, we learn a little bits about who these two guys are and who might have captured them. Then the mystery really starts to unfold. At the same time we meet stressed out and too-old-for-the-shit Detective Danny Glover, who is, well, too old for this shit.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: The story. What made Saw stand out and why all those damn sequels got on my nerves is because the sequels never could match the impact of the first entry and the mystery of within the script. I’m sure the gore got better and Jigsaw’s objectives probably got a lot more f*cked up, but it’s difficult to match the power of Part 1. It was a great concept perfectly executed. In a lot of ways it reminded me of the Usual Suspects with it’s ability to spin a mystery that’s keeps on spinning until the final moments.

Scariest clown since "Crazy" Joe Davola

Saw opens fantastically with a scene that’s been ripped off over and over again. The idea of waking up in a pool of water with a chain attached to your leg in blackness is pretty freaking scary. Even scarier, when the lights get flipped on and there’s Westley from the Princess Bride staring back at you. Oh, and the dead body of the floor covered in blood with a revolver in one hand and a tape recorder in the other. That would be bad too.

The movie is made by two things: The Clown and Jigsaw. The Clown is still amazing and perfectly creepy on his little squeaking little bicycle. It’s the perfect tool to deliver Jigsaw’s voice, and reaffirms everyone’s fear of clowns. Even though we don’t see Jigsaw until the end of the film, we feel him. He hovers over every frame of the film and instantly became one of the best boogymen in the business. And that ain't easy to do.

Oh, and then there’s Ben Linus, who’s in a minor role here but he’s memorable and shows a bit of a glimpse of what he was capable of in the very near future. Not that the other actors here aren't good, but Michael Emerson always stood out here. Ok, so he stands out more now after Lost, but still, he's good stuff.

Too easy to say he's getting too old?

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Well, the main thing that blows is Cary Elwes’s makeup. I don’t know what meth the make up people were snorting or smoking (do you do both with meth?) but they made him look like a strung out Ken doll with rosy red cheeks and dark eye shadow. It’s damn disturbing, and actually took me out of the movie several times. At the same time, Danny Glover does a fabulous job of completely overacting to the point that it’s laughable. He’s in full old-man-cop-mode, as if he’s pretending he’s starring in the never to be Predator 3. He does a good job, but I think we’ve all seen him in this role a few too many times.

Saw also has some moments of shitty low-budget cinema, like after Glover has his throat slashed and Det Sing (Ken Leung from Lost) chases down Jigsaw. It’s a cheap scene with cheap music and cheap fog. It’s not very good. Then there’s the use of slow-mo at times, which looks dated and, well, cheap. Lastly, as much as I like the story, it starts to drag around the end of Act II when we learn more about the characters. The film loses its tension for a bit, but these are all minor complaints. 

THE VERDICT: Despite the fatigue of seven years of Saw movies, the original still packs a bloodstained punch. Director James Wan knows how to make scary movies as we obviously all know now with Insidious and his new flick The Conjuring. Saw might be a cheap movie, but that’s ok. Some movies don’t need a budget.

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4:57PM on 07/12/2013

Two words that come to mind when I think of SAW..

GAME CHANGER. I really can't imagine how it would have been had twitter or facebook been around back then. I've had movie and tv moments ruined for me because of said social media and I sure am glad SAW predates them.
GAME CHANGER. I really can't imagine how it would have been had twitter or facebook been around back then. I've had movie and tv moments ruined for me because of said social media and I sure am glad SAW predates them.
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+4
6:52PM on 07/11/2013
SAW is a true Classic . The rest ? No comment .
SAW is a true Classic . The rest ? No comment .
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6:26PM on 07/11/2013
Agree that Saw 1 was an amazing film - especially the first time you watch it! I thought part 2 and 3 were awesome sequels for it but every one after that was awful! Once Jigsaw and Amanda died there was absolutely no reason to carry on.
Agree that Saw 1 was an amazing film - especially the first time you watch it! I thought part 2 and 3 were awesome sequels for it but every one after that was awful! Once Jigsaw and Amanda died there was absolutely no reason to carry on.
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5:22PM on 07/11/2013
The 1st was great then they got progressively dafter and less enjoyable. They became torture porn instead of thrillers,
The 1st was great then they got progressively dafter and less enjoyable. They became torture porn instead of thrillers,
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+2
4:13PM on 07/11/2013

THEY RUINED IT.

Everytime people talk about SAW, they talk about it like non-stop gore. But the sequels are like that. The 1st one isn't great but it's a solid low-budget minimalist* thriller.

*I would've prefered that the whole movie had taken place in that room.
Everytime people talk about SAW, they talk about it like non-stop gore. But the sequels are like that. The 1st one isn't great but it's a solid low-budget minimalist* thriller.

*I would've prefered that the whole movie had taken place in that room.
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1:15PM on 07/11/2013

My favorite series ever.

The SAW series is still my favorite series of movies ever. It will always hold such a special place in my heart. It was my Star Wars. Just really vivid memories of all the movies for me. I went with my sister on Halloween 2004, and we bought tickets to Ray and snuck in to SAW. The theater only had a few people, but the experience was no less exhilarating. It was such an amazing experience. In the paper's review for the film, I thought it said something about a big twist about the
The SAW series is still my favorite series of movies ever. It will always hold such a special place in my heart. It was my Star Wars. Just really vivid memories of all the movies for me. I went with my sister on Halloween 2004, and we bought tickets to Ray and snuck in to SAW. The theater only had a few people, but the experience was no less exhilarating. It was such an amazing experience. In the paper's review for the film, I thought it said something about a big twist about the identity of the killer, and I was so disappointed when you saw his face a couple times. Of course this was just a red herring, so the end was even more mindblowing!

Then SAW II came around... honestly, I could write forever about my memories watching all of them the first time, haha :P And how many times I showed the movie to friends and hid while they watched the ending so that I could hear their reactions! It was amazing!

SAW arguably was the first movie that got me interested in film to a deep degree, too. Never before had I been so connected to a movie series in my lifetime. The first movie was mindblowing, probably the first real big twist I'd ever seen in a movie before (I was 14 at the time). And it got me into more twisty movies, and of course I followed the series to the bitter end!

I still remember SAW IV, and being so scared at how the new writers would continue the story. It was so scary! But then at the end of the movie, I was blown away yet again. You could say all the movies blew me away except for SAW V and saw 3d.

SAW V was such a huge disappointment the first time around that I broke down in tears. I walked to my car, Billy mask in hand, crying... I was so depressed because my favorite character had died, and the movie lacked a gut punch of a twist that the other ones had. It was devastating. Buuuut, I gave it another shot the next night, and I loved it so much the second time that I watched the next showing right after that!

My most memorable movie experience ever was SAW VI. It started out like crap, with the Pound of Flesh trap, but after that, it was perfect. Everything was a huge surprise... everything. All the little callbacks to the previous films, all the crazy twists, the story being my favorite of the series.... AHHH!!! :D :D :D I always say this, but never have I had such a fangasm rollercoaster as I did with SAW VI. Never before, never again. It was breathtaking. And the twists just kept on coming!

Amazing movie.

Sadly saw 3d was a steaming pile of horse shit. It took everything I loved and respected about the series, and ruined it completely. It was a repulsive, disgusting, cheaply-made, piece of shit. The movies have always had strong stories (or at the very least, small stories done in extraordinary ways), have always been awesome in their connections to the previous films, and all the traps have had deep metaphors. Oh yeah, and they also all had twists. saw 3d took a big fat shit on all that and gave us a senselessly gory and violent, misogynistic, atrocious finale with one of the stupidest twists in the history of horror in the sense that it only catered to the people who had only seen the first movie.

It was a slap in the face to every SAW fan out there. I have always defended the series by saying it has never been about the gore, but more about the messages and twists and complex characters. saw 3d didn't help my case at all, as that really is all it was: blood, gore, repulsiveness, and a distinct air of hatred towards women. Not only that, but they broke the series' one big rule: never kill an innocent. Don't get me started on the Brass Bull (or whatever it's called). The victim never deserved it, let alone one of the most disturbing traps of the series. SAW II's furnace? Nope. At least the person in there had something they did wrong, you know? But the Brass Bull... ugh...

UGH.

But I don't consider saw 3d a part of the SAW franchise (a fact I try to emphasize by not capitalizing any of the letters... it's just a thing). SAW - SAW VI are all amazing movies. SAW V feels a little cheaper, but I love how it retconned so many things. That's another thing the SAW series made me love is flashbacks, retconning, and retrospective character development.

Speaking of flashbacks and character development, the big twist about Amanda near the end of the true series (SAW - SAW VI) = one of the most mindblowing twists of my moviewatching pedigree. The ramifications of something so simple, and the absolute irony, and the tragedy... AH!!!

Sorry, I went a little crazy here, but I'm glad you consider SAW to have been well-aged :) I personally think all of Cary Elwes in SAW is pretty badly-aged, honestly... his line delivery is pretty bad haha :P It's one of those campy staples of the SAW series, though. The acting has never been the greatest. But eh, it's okay. They're masterpieces for me, and truly the most important movies I have ever seen in terms of my love of movies. :)
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4:35PM on 07/11/2013
Love your post. Not sure why all the thumbs down though. It's stupid when people thumb you down because it's your favorite series ever. In fact, it's mine too, minus Saw VII (3d) though, haha
Love your post. Not sure why all the thumbs down though. It's stupid when people thumb you down because it's your favorite series ever. In fact, it's mine too, minus Saw VII (3d) though, haha
1:00PM on 07/11/2013
Cary Elwes's makeup blows in this? How about Cary Elwes's *acting* blows in this? It's as if he had a bet with Danny Glover to see who could give the worst performance of their career.
Cary Elwes's makeup blows in this? How about Cary Elwes's *acting* blows in this? It's as if he had a bet with Danny Glover to see who could give the worst performance of their career.
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10:50AM on 07/11/2013
Saw holds up very well. I remember the first time I watched it I was awed at how it ends. That ending just took you by surprise and left you gasped. I don't know about the sequels because I only watched Saw 2 (which was okay). But Saw itself stands the test of time very well.
Saw holds up very well. I remember the first time I watched it I was awed at how it ends. That ending just took you by surprise and left you gasped. I don't know about the sequels because I only watched Saw 2 (which was okay). But Saw itself stands the test of time very well.
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