Returning to my self-imposed hell by revisiting effective horror films from back in the day, we move onward through October rather painfully. (And of course this month would have FIVE Thursdays in it.) Still, at least today is a film that A) I’m far more familiar with than the previous entry and B) I actually really enjoy, although I don’t go back to it at all anymore. Not even in October. Nope. No siree. However, getting to review today’s film brings back some good memories from freshman year when my good friend Patrick and I, all crammed into those tiny little dorm rooms on campus with nothing but bottles of Captain Morgan and a flimsy DVD player, watched it over and over again. I guess we hadn’t really discovered it much before then. At least I hadn’t seen it until right around that time. Still, it’s a rare “horror” film — okay, more like a torture-porn — that I loved watching time and time again. The twist never got old. Not to me and Patrick. Nope. No siree.
Today’s food for thought: Saw.
Nothing shouts ‘horror film’ more than shitty lighting, even worse acting. . . and an obvious lack of funding. Faced with all of these realities and more, then-amateur filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell knew that their first stab at horror wouldn’t quite be the typical film festival entry; they also had no idea how much of a sleeper hit they had tucked underneath their armpits at the time, either. Brutal, dark and grotesquely thought-provoking, the pair’s 2004 slasher-slash-psychological thriller rose to cult-status in a hurry after its nationwide debut in theaters, later spawning a run of sequels that’s close to being unprecedented in film history (please keep it up, Fast & Furious!).
I could just as easily create a post about the entire series of Saw films here; but. . . meh. As much as I was swept off my twisted feet with the original, the immediate sequels (2 and 3 are the only ones I’ve seen) I didn’t much care for, and any subsequent releases became so painfully obvious as a marketing gimmick (annual releases around Halloween for seven years straight) that I don’t even want to acknowledge their existence.
The very mention of anything Saw– or Darren Lynn Bousman-related in the years after I witnessed the “first trilogy” conclude pretty much made me ill. The once-brilliant, granted perverted, conceit that was crafted by the Aussies had indeed succumbed to being one of its own tortured, wayward victims, soon to be corpses. A final gasp of breath offered up a 3-D gimmick in 2010. Who wants to see people getting hacked up three different ways to Sunday in such a format — is it more convincing if body parts are actually flying outward at you?
But seriously, how can anyone enjoy such violent stories? What’s the point?
If you were into horror, 2004 was an exciting time to be accustomed to seeing blood, gore and suffering on the big screen. The arrival of the Jigsaw killer and his ‘games’ marked a new era in filmmaking; granted, the subculture that grew out of this production might be even more cause for concern. It’s a disconcerting thought to have: knowing there are crazed fans for all types of forms of entertainment and the genres within. I wonder what that implies about the die-hards of things of this nature. . . shudder
Nonetheless, this particular film is brilliant, if not rough around the edges, and might be the most polarizing film made in the last decade. Why does one like Saw? Simple. The justification behind the violence. The victims picked in this film supposedly deserve the places to which they are exiled. I suppose depending on your worldview, the number of people “who deserve” any of this will widely vary — either that or your tolerance for humanity’s capacity for erring will completely inhibit your enjoyment of it at all, which would be understandable as well. The whole point of the misery is for the betterment of those suffering; those who are in these traps are meant to survive them and learn from them.
That concept’s a tough sell for a good number of viewers, but clearly Wan, Whannell and company are not concerned about that. And neither are followers of the Saw legacy. Ha! The legacy. What a joke. At least, I’m not concerned about the criticism myself. I can really side with both parties on this movie in all honesty.
What’s the deal with the Jigsaw Killer? He’s just a sick man, that’s all. . .
Again, polarizing. I bought into the set-up here, though. The fundamental principles of what this guy was doing in the very beginning (this film is maybe the best example of why sequels to horror films never should be approved) made sense to me. I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a psycho, though. Please don’t mistake me.
Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is an enigmatic figure, who, after discovering he has a terminal form of cancer, goes about creating vicious traps to put people he deems “unworthy of the life they are given” into, in an attempt to save them from themselves. One can sit and argue all day whether or not the guy has any right to put people through such trials or to even judge their lives, but then that’s all part of the thread of morality spinning itself through the gory story.
By now, Jigsaw’s one of the more memorable characters ever created in horror and the acting on the part of Tobin Bell is what largely makes the complex character such a satisfying watch. Plus, the way he is introduced into the story is quite possibly one of the most inventive and hair-raising turns ever created in the genre. It’s simply amazing the first time you experience it and seems to remain riveting on each return visit.
The traps. . .? Can someone explain this to me, this stuff is just messed up.
This element of these films is probably the most controversial of them all. First of all, it takes something of a warped mind to conceive of such devices from a writing standpoint — so a round of therapy might still be in order for Whannell and Wan at this juncture. But I digress. The traps are the tests for each character, meant to symbolize or reveal that person’s greatest weakness or flaw.
The most classic example revolves around a woman named Amanda, who is kidnapped by Jigsaw and, upon awakening, finds a metal bear-trap-like device on her head. She must remove it in something like a minute or so, or the trap will permanently snap open. In each of the traps (at least, in the original few films that I’ve seen anyway) a television set and a recording of this creepy-as-f**k clown on a tricycle accompanies the victim, which explains to them exactly their predicament and what they need to do in order to escape. The combination of the psychological element associated with the delivery of this information and how they potentially are going to die, along with the sickening originality of their plight has tempted many a horror director to try and incorporate similar extremes into their own repertoire (The Collector/The Collection; The Human Centipede). There may have been some success, but I haven’t much been interested to investigate beyond this one.
All the same, the traps invariably became more complex as the franchise’s budget became more lavish as time went on. As such, it became increasingly difficult to believe that Jigsaw was the man behind all these fancy killings; how does he exactly construct half of these things if his motif has been to build devices out of only items he has in his warehouse?
Recommendation: Well this most definitely has its devotees and it has its strong opponents. There will be very little to convince either to switch sides; it’s not like playing Red Rover here. Even still, if you haven’t yet exposed yourself to this, and are able to handle gratuitous violence and bloodshed, Saw is worth a watch for the compelling psychological element that lurks in the background. It’s a strong debut effort for the Australians, besides.
Running Time: 103 mins.
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