The most successful horror franchise since the slasher heyday of Jason and Freddy, Saw celebrates its 10th birthday with a seasonal re-release. The surprise horror hit was also my inaugural Halloween review. With a decade of perspective and six increasingly desperate sequels (after five, it’s pretty creatively bankrupt), how does Saw look at 10?
Naturally, the movie retains its original flaws; Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell’s performances/accent-battles have not improved. The Conjuring director James Wan need not be ashamed of his first movie, even if Saw II–IV helmer Darren Lynn Bousman deserves most of the credit for the franchise’s sustainability. Wan whiffs on a few shots one has to believe he’d film differently—and more artfully—as a 10-year vet, and what looked stylish in 2004—remember those fast cuts during the trap sequences—looks aged in 2014. Still, Wan fearlessly went for it, though one might be surprised to find Saw is more grotesque than gory; the franchise’s gornographic reputation is informed more by its sequels.
As a franchise, Saw’s lasting legacy can be attributed to the most recognizable horror actor since Robert Englund. Large and strange looking (think Tom Noonan), Tobin Bell imbues Jigsaw with intelligence and morality, yet not quite insanity (though Jiggy is beyond crazy). Most slashers lack any sort of relatability, a trait John Kramer has in spades. Not that anyone knew that in the original; it’s doubtful even screenwriter Whannel knew. He was too focused on his red herring, Michael Emerson of “Lost.”
Taken on its own, the first Saw is best remembered for Jigsaw’s Rube Goldberg-ian traps like Amanda’s jaw-shattering mask. They remain the most ingenious aspect of a movie that balances psychological terror with gut-churning brutality. If you haven’t watched Saw in a few years, give it another shot; I’d much rather have a series continuation/reboot to watch next Halloween than another Ouija.
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