Skip to main content

Empire List #499: Saw

In 2004, the “Saw” franchise began and in October of 2010 the world should see it arrive in 3D. This has been without a doubt, one of the most successful horror franchises in history: one movie a year, all made on a relatively small budget, a simple plot, buckets of blood, twist ending after twist ending, and a truckload of traps. Yet I must confess that out of all of the movies in this franchise, I only saw the first one by James Wan in 2005, and I was not impressed.

At the time I was still in CEGEP (pre-University school in Quebec), living with my mom in Quebec City. I was flipping channels one evening on a weekend when the menu showed that “Saw” would be playing soon. There are not many movies released in English in Quebec City, so I am glad whenever I can catch one on TV, no matter the subject matter. I remembered seeing the posters for “Saw” the year before, featuring Shawnee Smith wearing the infamous “reverse bear trap,” and I was mildly curious. I had read that it had a twist ending and that a sequel was on the way so I thought I might as well watch a free movie.

The movie opens in a rather unique way: two men, chained at the ankles and locked in a dirty bathroom with a dead body on the floor. The only way to free themselves is to cut through their bones with a saw. Audiotapes inform them that Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) must kill Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell) before six o’clock or he’ll lose his wife and daughter and be left to die. Lawrence tells Adam that he knows the identity of the man who kidnapped them, a serial killer called Jigsaw, who forces his victims to play sadistic games in order to better appreciate their lives.

Flashbacks show detectives investigating the various crime scenes, that include one in which a man who was trapped in a cage with barbed wire and another who was locked in a room covered with a flammable substance and had to use a candle to read possible combinations to the door’s lock on the wall. At the time, people had compared these scenes to the investigation in “Seven” which also featured a serial killer that committed gruesome murders and left an orgy of evidence at the crime scene. The difference is that in “Seven” the murders are left unseen, leaving it to the audience to imagine the crime, which is more effective than staging gory death scenes for spectacles.

That being said, the twist ending did take me by surprise. Midway through the movie it is shown that it was Zep (Michael Emerson) an orderly from Dr. Gordon’s hospital who kidnapped him and Adam. (Spoiler alert) Detective David Tapp (Danny Glover) frees Lawrence’s family and chases Zep to Jigsaw’s hideout, but Zep kills him. When Zep enters the room to kill Lawrence, but is killed by Adam. Lawrence, who had indeed sawed off his foot, crawls to the exit to go get help. But then the “dead” body wakes up, locks up Adam in the room, and the credits roll as we hear Adam weeping in the room. The man in question is John Kramer, a patient with a terminal case of brain cancer who was a patient at Lawrence’s hospital.

I later learned from an Internet animated prequel that John Kramer is a divorced engineer who decided to devise his sick traps to give people new love for life after he was diagnosed with cancer. Apparently, because he was about to lose his life, he felt people should appreciate their lives even more. Hence he targets junkies, people who have tried to commit suicide, or anybody else he feels are wasting their lives. Oh, jeez, what a nice guy! Why doesn’t he just do what everyone else does and write some self-help book?

This is just one of the many things that makes no sense in this story. Also, if he was a divorced engineer dying from cancer, where did he get the money to build all those traps? Shouldn’t he have been spending money on medical bills? And in this age of C.S.I, Bones, and other crime procedurals, how come no cop ever manages to catch this guy, despite the mountain of physical evidence left at the crime scenes?

All of these plot holes are inconsequential of course. This movie, and all of those that came later, is just an excuse to watch people be tortured in a gruesome and bloody ways. “Saw” and later “Hostel” started a new trend in American cinema known as “torture porn,” which consists of movies where characters are tortured throughout almost the entire movie in ways that are more and more disgusting and cringe-inducing from one torture chamber to the next.

Not for me, thanks. I found the ending of this first movie to be surprising but a little insulting. It’s almost as if the writer was saying “FOOLED YOU! The bad guy was in the room the whole time and you didn’t see it coming!” I have skipped every sequel ever since, but I have been curious enough to read the plot summaries on Wikipedia. They still don’t make sense. As for watching people get tortured for entertainment, I prefer “Dexter.” At least on that show the people who get tortured have it coming, and there is no idiotic game or a moronic puppet riding a tricycle.     

Also, in what kind of a world do we live in when Danny Glover, who played ass-kicking Detective Roger Murtaugh in the “Lethal Weapon” franchise, gets killed by a simple hospital orderly? Here’s my fantasy for the “Saw” films: to see Glover’s character get back from the dead and kill Jigsaw and his merry band of apprentices with his six-shooter from “Lethal Weapon.” Now that is gratuitous violence I would appreciate.   


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #316: Trainspotting

In the 1990s Hollywood directors were the kings of cinema, whether it was for big summer blockbusters or smaller independent films. Guys like James Cameron or Michael Bay would blow up the screens while Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino put the emphasis on snappy dialogue that created relatable characters for the moviegoers. Then in 1996, as if to scream “we can do this too,” Danny Boyle released Trainspotting in the United Kingdom.
Based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the movie took the world by storm despite having no explosions, a cast of actors who were relatively unknown and a budget that today could barely pay for the catering of a Transformers movie. Furthermore this is not the story of young people going to college to enter a life full of promise, but about young heroine addicts meandering through the streets of Edinburgh. Despite introducing these characters during an energetic montage set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…