The Test of Time: Saw (2004)

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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