Ever since Saw came out way back in 2004, I’ve heard nothing but belly aching from movie-goers and horror-goons alike over how the movie ushered in a new era of gore-porn. That because of Saw, as well as Hostel, its pseudo sister-movie, all horror movies started to forgo any attempt at story telling in favor of graphic depictions of peoples’ heads getting shoved into bear-traps or corn threshers. I also recall it being quite buzzed about before its release, only to be met with cold to tepid reviews upon its actual release. So, keeping its reputation in mind, I skipped past watching Saw, Saw II, Saw III, and… Jesus Christ, there are seven of these things now?
But as the sequels rack up and the franchise becomes more and more engrained in our popular culture, I started to feel a bit left out. Who was this Jigsaw character anyway, and what was up with that tricycle riding puppet thing? Is it just there for the sake of it being kind of creepy, or does it service the plot somehow? (Answer: It’s just there to be kind of creepy). Also, I was starting to get tired of explaining how I, a person that does this dumb stunt every October, somehow managed to get out of seeing any of the Saw movies. Folding under peer pressure, I went ahead and subjected myself to what I expected to be the crowning jewel of torture porn.
A couple of things: First, Cary Elwes has a hilarious American accent. Just downright awful, it sounds like he stuffed his mouth full of marshmallows. Second, I think Michael Emerson’s career might officially be over. I can’t see him in anything without thinking “Hey look, it’s Ben Linus, I wonder what scheme he’s up to?”--and I never even really watched Lost. Consider yourself typecast, Mike. Third, this movie is not nearly as violent as people make it out to be. Maybe the sequels amp up the bloodletting, but on its own Saw comes across feeling pretty tame. Most of the gore in Saw is more hinted to and cut around rather than unflinchingly shown in the cold, florescent light. Even the scene that gave the movie its title is like a let down.
If anything, Saw’s biggest issue isn’t so much that it didn’t have a story, far from it actually, but that it tries really hard to spin a sprawling, twisting detective yarn. With red herrings abound and purportedly shocking character developments popping up every other scene, Saw’s story is frantic and poorly executed. Structurally weak, the narrative shifts perspectives constantly. Starting off with two men locked in a room sharing information shown through flashbacks, the movie eventually abandons that construct when it becomes inconvenient to the story. And its resolution? Yeesh, talk about telling instead of showing.
While not a particularly great movie, Saw wasn’t a total time-sink. To be honest, I rather like that it carries the torch of the seemingly never-ending horror franchise. There are seven of these things now. How great is that? I don’t even know how they manage to keep Tobin Bell in these movies, because I think he dies in like the second or third one. If the rest of the series is as passively entertaining as the first, I could see myself eventually slogging my way through the sequels.
Tomorrow: Okay, now we’re watching Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer