Saw: Old-School Review

Saw Synopsis: Two strangers (Leigh Whannell and Cary Elwes) awaken in a room with no recollection of how they got there, and soon discover they’re pawns in a deadly game perpetrated by a notorious serial killer.

Nearly two decades after its Sundance premiere, Saw is a fascinating beast to revisit. Taking away the context of the dopey, mega-slasher franchise this novel horror hit generated, director James Wan’s breakout film stands as a clever grunge reimagining of 90’s thrillers twisty formula. 

Wan and co-writer/star Leigh Whannell have certainly endured a myriad of likewise comparisons, but it’s the duo’s sincere understanding of successful predecessors that make Saw’s twisted narrative shine. Even at the start of his career, Wan exhibits remarkable poise as an auteur. His refined storytelling steadily develops the detective procedural narrative while developing atmospheric horror through mystifying unease. Years after experiencing the shocking final frames, further rewatches still allow me to appreciate the dense developments implemented into every frame. 

It’s a joy to see Wan’s patient sensibility blend with a melody of frentically visceral flourishes. Each glass-breaking jump-cut and dizzying edit help establish the material’s grizzly identity, with Wan unknowingly laying the blueprint that the more verbose sequels followed upon. The twisted gore may seem tame compared to the sequels, but Wan’s restraint allows his setpieces to generate grander surprises. Wan consistently morphs his dingey assets into an alluring aesthetic, with his impressive ingenuity allowing low-budget assets to become a strength. 

Saw remains a beloved staple even through its poorly-aged imperfections. The seldom frames of character development remain fairly stiff, as each dulled piece of exposition detracts from the mystery’s intoxicating dread. Neither Whannell nor Cary Elwes has much to work with despite their noticeable dedication, while series stalwart Tobin Bell seldomly appears in his series debut. I can’t lie, part of me can’t help but miss the outrageous gore behind the follow-up’s low-rent design. 

Still, Wan’s first (and only) outing remains the franchise’s peak form of genre entertainment. It’s easy to see how Wan and Whannell grew into esteemed filmmakers from their impressive debut outing.

Ahead of the release of Spiral, I will be watching and reviewing every entry of the Saw franchise. Stay tuned over the upcoming weeks for my thoughts on the numerous sequels.

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Matt is an American who has grown up for passion for film and its empathetic powers to tell unique stories (especially in the science fiction sphere). Some of his favorites include Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, Goodfellas, Frances Ha and Moonlight.