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Let The Game Begin

First entry in the Saw series remains the peak of the series

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Ian Obst, Online Editor

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Among its several sequels, even its recent eighth entry with Jigsaw, the original Saw feels like something truly special. When the sequels rely on convoluted twists and enough gore to label the series as a splatter film, the original relies on surprising restraint and a well-thought out mystery to carry its 100-minute runtime, more in the vein of horror classics like Se7en and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Its independent, low budget origins do show in several ways, but Saw remains to be a surprising horror classic.

Its premise is rather simple, along with its setting. Two people, photographer Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell, Insidious) and oncologist Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes, The Princess Bride), wake up in a seemingly abandoned bathroom, with a dead body in its center. The captives soon discover they are part of a game made by the elusive Jigsaw Killer, who puts people he feels are unappreciative of life into games that can determine life and death. With Dr. Gordon being given the task of killing Adam or suffer through the deaths of his family, the two must find their way out and figure out the identity of the Jigsaw Killer.

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Shawnee Smith as Amanda Young

For the majority of the film, this is the story, as the two struggle with their circumstances. While a part of the low budget, it also gives time to deliver some brilliant character development. Adam gets some dark sarcastic humor, while Dr. Gordon is the most sympathetic of the film’s characters. Other characters are introduced through the film’s flashbacks, including Detective Tapp (Danny Glover, The Color Purple) and Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith, The Blob). These sections give some of the film’s most iconic scenes, including Amanda’s escape from the “reverse beartrap”, helped by the surprising conviction from the entire cast.

The most surprising part of the original Saw, however, is the absence of many of what

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Cary Elwes as Dr. Lawrence Gordon

would become tropes of the series. Timelines are clearly defined, the Jigsaw Killer is working alone, the mystery has its well-defined clues, and the gore is very limited. This makes for a much different experience, one focused on its story and not its traps. While traps like the reverse beartrap and the bathroom are iconic in their own right, the reveal of the killer and the struggle of the characters involved is the center of Saw.

The film is not a faultless masterpiece, though. It has its faults, though this almost entirely comes from the lower budget nature of the project. Some of the editing is questionable, with edits that make some scenes blur together. Some of the dialogue as well comes off as laughable. This especially comes from Leigh Whannell, the film’s writer, as Adam. Though his humor comes off well, and some of the tense scenes truly work, some of his line delivery is bad. This is strange, since his performance in the original short film, included on the unrated version DVD release, is genuinely well done. But it is not terrible enough to make the whole movie fall flat.

Saw is far from perfect, as are many horror films. But the originality of the film, combined with the performances of the cast and the tension created by the offscreen violence, makes for a classic that stands the test of time. Much like the traps on display, Saw keeps its horror and execution simple and unforgettable.

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