With the sixth installment of the Saw franchise set to hit theaters this Halloween and news that Saw VII has already gotten the green light ...
The Rise and Fall of the SAW Films
Saw feels very much like a short film, which is what it was originally intended to be. Director, James Wan and writer/actor Leigh Whannell met in film school. Whannell had always wanted to write and act while Wan was an aspiring director. Their combined talents met in the middle and Wan came up with the idea of Saw for a short film that the two would shoot on their own.
The original concept was simple. Two guys are chained to opposite ends of a decrepit bathroom, and between them is the body of a dead man with a tape recorder in one hand and a gun in the other. Both captives have mini tapes that lay out the rules of a life or death game engineered by a mysterious mastermind. The film would cutaway to the bad guy, but the twist ending reveals the apparently dead man on the floor is the true villain, as he gets up and walks out the door.
It was up to Whannell to flesh out the script, but once finished it proved to be much larger than a short film. The duo brought the script to America and to convince potential producers they weren’t just writers but filmmakers, they shot Amanda’s trap sequence with Whannell as the lead. The short film spoke to producers who guaranteed Wan the director’s slot and cast Whannell as Adam opposite Cary Elwes who plays Dr. Gordon.
The film’s origin as a short is evident in the use of minimalist sets like the bathroom, where most of the action takes place between two characters. With such close quarters, we really get to know Jigsaw’s victims, which make Dr, Gordon’s decision to hack off his own foot and Adam's final imprisonment that much harder to bear.
This type of closed action perfects a theme that runs through the rest of the films, as apparent strangers are thrown together without any knowledge of how they are connected and have to work together to survive the game.
Most of the traps in Saw are simple and directly related to the victim’s “crime.” The man who is forced to find a way out through the razor wire maze tried to cut his wrists and the scam artist is burned alive, in much the same way he burned other people with his lies.
The only trap that doesn’t reflect the victim’s transgression is Amanda’s. She wakes up with a reverse bear trap strapped to her face that will permanently rip her jaw open if she doesn’t retrieve the key to the device from the guts of her dead cell mate. Considering the fact that she’s a junkie, a more appropriate alternative might have been the needle pit that shows up in Saw II.
Because of the disconnect between Amanda’s test and her crime, the audience tends to focus more on the technicality of the trap. This is reflected in a poster for Saw that made the rounds at film festivals and shows Amanda in her death mask.
The focus on the traps, instead of the lessons they are supposed to teach runs throughout the rest of the Saw films. With ever increasing springs, timers, triggers and pulleys, most of the later traps look like they could have only been conceived and built by an aerospace engineer, not an aging cancer patient.
But the true beauty of Saw is the emotional traps Jigsaw uses to control people. He forces Zep to kidnap a mother and child with the threat of his own death, and he uses Dr. Gordon’s family to motivate the physician to kill Adam. He is able to assume complete control over their actions, so much so, that he can become a passive voyeur with the assurance that his game will be carried out without a hitch.
Jigsaw’s supreme mastery of the human condition is showcased in what could be the best twist ending of a horror film. Adam has bludgeoned Zep, the apparent villain, to death and rifles through the man’s pockets looking for the key to his chains. Instead he finds a tape player and as the music swells, it’s revealed that the audience has been played all along by a clever killer.
In a genre dominated by slashers and postmodern horror films, in the new millennium Saw carved a unique place for itself in the pantheon of fright cinema. And despite Jigsaw’s final words as he leaves Adam in darkness, fans of the film would ensure that the game was far from over.
Up Next: Saw II: Finding a Formula
Passing the Torch: A Comparative Study of the Saw and Friday the 13th Franchises
About author: Monster Scholar
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