“If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw.” This was the primary tagline for the “Saw” horror franchise, which lasted from 2004 to 2010 and resulted in a total of seven films. Each of these films was not critically well-received. In fact, most were received extremely poorly. However, they cleaned up at the box office nearly every single Halloween, and amassed over $400 million at the box office alone — who knows how big that number might be if we took into account the revenues from DVD and Blu-ray sales. The bottom line is this: “Saw” was the beginning of not just a franchise, but also a new wave in the horror landscape, and ten years after its release is a good time to review where it stands today.
I might as well say up front that this is not going to be a normal review. Of course, I will take a look at the film’s aesthetic qualities, but I would much rather focus on how “Saw” changed the game, so to speak, for the horror genre. First of all, everyone knows “Saw” is a horror film predicated on torture rather than scares, but there’s a little more to the first film than that. Sure, the film has plenty of gory and grisly sequences of people trying to escape from the notorious killer Jigsaw’s twisted games of life and death, but one key aspect that often gets overlooked is the crime procedural narrative that intertwines with the main storyline’s horror roots.
Another quality that would go on to define how a “Saw” film looked is the hyper-speed editing during torture sequences. The films’ particular editing style added to the effectiveness of each scene’s ability to either disturb a normal filmgoer or satiate the desires of all horror enthusiasts, myself included. Finally, perhaps the defining quality of the series that the original film introduced was the twist ending. If anything, the signature twists were what kept regular viewers coming back despite all of the gore. Looking back, “Saw” was an effective, original horror film with a twisted premise which spawned many less-than-spectacular sequels.
With every subsequent sequel, each filmmaker became less focused on a crime procedural narrative and more focused on creating new, disturbing ways to torture and kill nameless faces. Eventually, it all became silly — verging on self-parody. Additionally, in the grand scheme of things, even the craziest of murderous devices fell to the back burner in favor of creating a twist ending that, at a certain point in the franchise, would be more shocking than any blood spilled, organs removed, or body parts eviscerated. In short, the franchise declined in quality with each proceeding chapter, but that does not taint the legacy of the original film.
Believe it or not, “Saw” was responsible — at least partially — for a new wave of horror films, domestically and abroad. If it were not for “Saw,” there would not have been movies like “Hostel” or any film from the new wave of French horror that emerged in the late 2000s, although the rise of the latter could be more closely attributed to films like “Irreversible” and “High Tension.” The influx of similar films gave rise to a new subgenre of horror: torture porn, which is exactly what it sounds like. Ever since “Saw,” many filmmakers have used the depraved torture of characters as an easy way out, because it is inherently easier to disturb than it is to scare. So, whether you are a fan or a critic — I find myself somewhere in the middle, as it works for some films more than others — you can either thank “Saw” or curse it for starting an admittedly shallow trend.
Ten years after it premiered, “Saw” still stands as a horror classic worthy of annual Halloween viewing. The executives of Lionsgate certainly did a good job of burning that idea into the brains of the masses by releasing “Saw” films on Halloween weekend, unlike a certain remake of a certain film that has Halloween in the title. The first film had a budget of little over a million, and has grossed well over $100 million since. As depraved as it appears, the legacy of Jigsaw will remain forever.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars