Written by: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Michael Emerson, Ken Leung
Desperate times call for necessary team-ups even if it occurs with a random stranger as you’re both trapped in a filthy bathroom. Low-budget but incredibly impactful, Saw nails the basics of horror storytelling filled with plenty of intrigue and a level of terror increasing with each and every reveal the film has to offer.
Waking up in a random dirty bathroom, Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Lawrence (Cary Elwes) find themselves cuffed on the opposite sides of the room by their legs. With a seemingly dead body in between them, they try to use the clues around them to find out why they’re in this predicament, as a mysterious voice begins to play games with them.
Setting the course for a new generation of independent horror filmmaking, Saw’s legacy has shown what can be done by simply having a camera in one room with two individuals and the level of scares and terror that can be possible. When looking at it in totality, the idea of its existence gets much more impressive, because of its simplicity and how incredibly effective it is at accomplishing its goals. They make this occur in several ways, with one of them coming from the room these two are trapped in.
Spending too much time in a filthy bathroom alone brings shivers down my spine, so having this story take place primarily in this setting was destined to make me feel uncomfortable. Both men are barefoot inside a room that has not seen the clean side of a mop in some time, it creates such a grimy atmosphere to make the process of trying to escape all the more grungy and this film really communicates this issue incredibly well. Then you have the dead body in the middle of the room with the blood splatter coming from its head. Now, I’m no germaphobe but even I just could not stand the pure filth of that place. It only heightens the frustration these characters have, which sets the stage for the level of desperation continuing to grow between these two as they try to get out of this hellscape.
Stuck in this scenario, Adam and Lawrence need to communicate as complete strangers and build a level of trust in order for mutual safety to be reached. Part of the games put on by the mysterious serial killer comes with pitting these two together in order for one to sacrifice the other for their own safety. Many occasions, especially given to Lawrence to do something that would harm Adam for his own sake, which really gets at what Jigsaw wants to put his victims through. You either play the game or you die, leaving these two to get more desperate as time goes on.
With most of the focus taking place in this room, another subplot takes place out of it with a detective named David (Danny Glover) trying to get to the bottom of the Jigsaw murders. This side of the film features standard police work, but its connection to Adam and Lawrence comes from a sense of hope David’s investigative work brings in, possibly opening the door for the two men to be saved without having to play Jigsaw’s games. Whether or not the hope manifests into anything real gets revealed in the film as well as some fairly wild reveals.
Serving as James Wan’s first major work, his collaboration with Leigh Whannell serves as such a highlight and with the latter starring in the film, it shows two incredible talents coming together to create something special. While also starring established individuals like Cary Elwes and Danny Glover brought this film some legitimacy, the way Wan and Whannell establish themselves as supreme talents in the horror genre gets proven wonderfully with the careers they have together. Wan goes on to start other horror franchises that have blossomed both critically and commercially while Whannell has dipped his toes in other types of stories and has demonstrated his wonderful skill as well. With this serving as their jumping-off point, it feels like quite the work to appreciate their humble beginnings from adapting their original short and the way they have made superior works since.
Very basic in its construction but extremely impactful with the tension built within this situation, it makes perfect sense Saw made such an impact upon its release. If anything, it became one of the pioneering moments where horror films could be made for 1 million dollars and then gross 100x that for an instant profit. This film spawned many sequels while also helping the rise of the so-called “torture porn” type of horror flicks. However you feel about these films will dictate whether or not this trend was good. All of this shows the impact of what this film accomplished and what we receive here shows exactly why.