'Saw' (2004)/Directed by James Wan/Grade: D-
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Fewer movies have left me as perplexed over their popularity as Saw (2004). Helmed by then-newcomer James Wan, and written by Leigh Whannell, it follows Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), who wakes up chained in a dirty bathroom, along with Adam (Whannell). Though neither has a clue how they arrived there, they both soon become embroiled in a deadly psychological game orchestrated by Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), a notorious serial killer with a penchant for creative and violent traps.
That's the setup for a movie which was surprisingly more of a psychological horror film than the infamous, so-called 'torture porn' its sequels quickly became. Saw was rightfully more focused on the inner torment Jigsaw inflicted on his victims over what they'd done, as opposed to just literally tearing them apart. Additionally, the cinematography by David A. Armstrong really enforced the feeling of claustrophobia Wan had strived for (part of this was also due to the low budget of $1,200,000). I did actually feel closed in with Gordon and Adam, which made me feel their stress as they struggled to find options to get out.
That's where the positives stopped for me when I first saw it. Saw increasingly unraveled in its logic so fast, that all I could think about were the eighty-billion questions I had. How did Jigsaw create this big scheme? Where did he get all the resources or funds for what he does? Why did he hide his identity behind a stupid little doll on a tricycle, even though he was revealed, at the end, to be the mysterious 'corpse' lying there on the floor throughout the whole story (a twist ending I quickly guessed at the start)?
My biggest issue with this movie also came right at the very end. It was revealed that John Kramer, Jigsaw's actual identity, anonymously paid Adam to follow and take pictures of Gordon, who cheated on his wife. How does this make any sense? How did Jigsaw find Adam? If the victims are supposed to be there for their own wrongdoing, doesn't it seem really hypocritical on his part?
It didn't help that the characters were all about as unlikable and lacking in any distinctive personality as you could possibly imagine. Who was Gordon? Who was Adam? Who were any of these people? All anyone did half the time was whine, yell at each other, hurl insults. Not before or after have I felt such an apathy towards the characters in a horror film. Whether anyone lived or died, I wouldn't have cared one iota, which instantly sucked all potential fear factor.
Saw was one of the biggest letdowns of a movie that I've ever seen. It had not one shred of plausibility, no reason to care, and simultaneously dull and infuriating characters. The best I can say about it, aside from the two positives I previously mentioned, is that at least James Wan and Leigh Whanell went on to do better things, like Insidious (2010). Plus, Leigh Whannell has since proven himself to be an exceptionally good director, with titles such as Upgrade (2018) and The Invisible Man (2020). This did not showcase their talents well.