FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 18, 2009

Day 17: "Make your choice."

The fact that I'd never seen Saw up until today made me feel, at times, like one lameoid of a horror fan. Love it or hate it, the franchise is a bonafide juggernaut, dominating the box office come Halloween- the sixth film in the series is due to hit next week. I'd been loathe to pop it in the DVD player because I have seen Saw III, and I thought it was a big ol' pile of bleeargh. People generally agree with me as they add "But the first one's good!", which is entirely possible. Can you imagine someone neglecting to watch Halloween because their introduction to the series was Part 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers? That would make a person what doctors refer to as "crazy". I'm not crazy, so I figured it was time for me to check out the original film; that way, if I wanted to hate on it, I could do so with an opinion based on experience.

As I'm the last person on the planet to see this movie, I'm sure you know the plot: a mysterious figure known as "Jigsaw" abducts people who, he feels, don't appreciate life enough. He hooks them up to deadly contraptions that are generally timer-based; escaping with your life generally means ending someone else's, or at the least losing a limb or two. Lawrence and Adam (Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell) wake up chained to rusted pipes in a filthy bathroom, and they must comply with Jigsaw's rules or figure their own way out before the clock runs out.

I was expecting...I guess, more from the film in terms of violence and gore. Given that Saw (along with Hostel) is one of the films "responsible" for the "torture porn" genre, I figured it would be much more graphic. There's violence and blood to be sure, but nowhere near on par with what its detractors would have you believe. I appreciated that, although by the third installment it's the traps and the death that are the thing, not the tension raised by the ticking of the clock. However, that's true of most any horror franchise- compare Friday the 13th to Part VII: The New Blood. It's assumed that fans want the outrageousness to grow exponentially with each new outing...and maybe they do. Franchises don't get to six and seven films for nothin'.

The filmmaking style, all jump-cuttin' and seizure-inducing, actually seemed to work here, as if it were an intentional device and not simply an arbitrary choice; unfortunately, director James Wan has spawned a generation of copycats and the aesthetic has been rendered largely pointless and driven into the ground.

I was surprised at how dodgy the acting was at times, although you can't really go wrong with Shawnee Smith and Dina Meyer, even if their roles are but wee. Well, I guess you could go wrong, but not here.

The bottom line? I think Saw has gotten a bad rap as far as its reputation as a slice of degenerate cinema. Though it started a trend that's deeper than a sewer line, way back in 2004 it was a fresh kick in the ass for the genre. I don't think I need to see any more films in the series, but I'm glad I finally gave it a shot. My opinion is now based on experience, hooray!


Anonymous said...

It's got Michael Emerson in bad can it really be? But I agree, by the standards of the franchise and the trend it spawned, it's quite tame. Ironically, that's probably what makes it any good.

Rhubarb said...

I've tried to watch Saw twice. Both times I got bored watching interminable scenes of two dreadfully unconvincing characters yelling at each other in a designer grotty bathroom.

Having tried to watch this and Hostel (which I regrettably made it all the way through) I've decided that the term "torture porn" is actually quite accurate. When they're watched at home, most people will fast-forward straight through the bad acting and half-assed story to get to the action.

Anonymous said...

"I think Saw has gotten a bad rap as far as its reputation as a slice of degenerate cinema."

I guess that's another thing it shares with Halloween.
The first SAW always reminded me of a Giallo - same silly plot, ridiculous twists, etc. - and that's probably why I like it and there's another interesting parallel here in that the first gialli were (intended to be) regular thrillers rather than crime/horror/gore hybrids.
Apparently James Wan isn't to happy about the direction of the franchise either and tried to counter the trend with "Dead Silence" (just like Carpenter tried with "the Fog"?).

Stacie Ponder said...

Rhubarb, that's the best reason for calling torture porn "torture porn" that I've heard yet! Kudos!

I can't say I really DUG this movie, but it certainly had more going for it than I expected. I was surprised to find myself appreciating what they tried to accomplish, anyway...but oh, what this film has wrought!

Unknown said...

I agree with much of what you said. I never really got into the Saw series, but can appreciate the first couple of them. The first time I saw it, it reminded me of Se7en, but not nearly as good.

Love your blog!


Verdant Earl said...

I don't get the fascination with these films, but I thought the first one was decent and surprisingly harmless. Amazing that they have made 6 of them in 6 years. And a seventh one is already green-lit. Crazy.

Jason Adams said...

Cary Elwes gives a monstrously terrible performance in this movie. That's all I remember about the first one. I stopped watching the series after Part 3 made me want to drink myself into a coma.

Jeff McMahon said...

'Torture porn' is a bogus term since there actually is porn with torture in it (or so I'm told).

Anonymous said...

"The first time I saw it, it reminded me of Se7en, but not nearly as good."

That's how I felt. I always viewed it as Seven without the religion. And not nearly as good. But I didn't hate it.

Stacie Ponder said...

"Torture porn" is a bogus term for MANY reasons, but it's become a handy term to use when describing a certain genre of horror film. It's the "porn" part I have a problem with- maybe those movies should be labeled "Torturetastic" or "Tortasia" or something. :)

Cary Elwes was horrible in this. Then again, he's kind of horrible in everything. Is he still banking on the charm of Princess Bride, or did I miss something great from him along the way?

Anonymous said...

It's become real popular for folks to add the "porn" tag to anything they simply don't like. And I think part of it is, they feel more justified in hating it. I mean, if it's "porn", that makes it automatically sleazy. And it puts any supporters automatically on defense. But I knew it was a useless term when I heard it used to describe Vacancy (which is a cat and mouse thriller) and Touristas (again, cat and and mouse thriller). The fact is, neither of those films were anything close to Hostel or Saw. I then knew the critics who loved the term so much were full of sh** and looking for quick shorthand so they would not have to do actual work.

deadlydolls said...

Stacie, you make some excellent points that people forget when bashing Saw and its followups. Having seen all the films, I don't understand where the intense hatred from the horror community comes from. Some are better than others. I think III is especially mean-spirited and weak, but then IV came along to ramp up some of the randomness while giving us a more sympathetic protagonist.

Is the series anywhere near as fun or well-done as Elm Street? No, but I'll take Saw V over F13.5. At least the Saw series maintains an actual story that has remained convoluted but still consistent.

I don't know why I always find myself defending Saw when I'm not in love with it. I guess I just hate the glee some people take in ripping it apart without having watched it.

jennyoctonails said...

People also put "porn" at the end of stuff they like, such as "food porn." I think that it's generally used to denote very intense, focused, nearly obsessive attention to a particular subject. But yeah, I think "torture porn" is a bad term for this subgenre of movies because it's both overused and under-descriptive.

Cary Elwes ridiculous accent and horrible acting in Saw was what kept me away from the sequels initially. Once I started reading reviews, I figured out they weren't my cup of horror tea.

Unknown said...

Great review!

I love the Saw series for what it is, but I can admit that it has wound its way into violence-for-the-sake-of-it territory.

I can't wait to see Saw VI this weekend, but I think I will only love it for its traps and not the plot.

Ashlee Blackwell said...

I can't remember seeing the original Saw uncut or all the way through so you're not the only lamo. My whiny fangirl-like pessimism about "new horror" came with the inauguration of these films.

But as I and my love for horror in general are as odd as the first Saw's successors, I actually liked them. And not just for Shawnee Smith who gave me Summer School flashbacks.

I like how the victims aren't really victims. How we're not really meant to feel sorry that some sick nutjob's got 'em in a bloody limbed pickle. It shows that the good people can be bad people so who's really the villian.

And a lot of backstory isn't necessary a bad thing. It plays to a huge audience because of its drops of mystery/suspense like a big Sixth Sense teaser. People love playing the guessing game. Like a yuppie Friday night board game after a marathon of Friends.

The story is Jigsaw is pretty cool. And Tobin Bell gets major points for playing a complex character well.

So, really. I don't have to have really seen the original to agree with your review. A good one at that.

Robert H. said...

Am I alone in thinking that Cary Elwes portrays the WORST doctor in screen history?

Anonymous said...

I think you guys missed the point entirely. Had Elwes acted really well, we might have felt sympathy for his character and not felt like he "had it coming." It was an artistic *choice*. ;)

Anonymous said...

Check out this interview with Saw VI write Marcus Dunstan. Whether or not you like the series, he has some interesting things to say about the "torture porn" genre:

dementia13 said...

I liked this, but it hasn't piqued my interest in any of the sequels. The suspenseful parts were good, but this has some of the worst dialogue I've seen in any movie. Some movies make it hard to tell whether I'm watching bad acting, or dialogue that can't possibly be delivered in any kind of natural way, and I think that's part of the problem here. For a horror film, the suspense part is the most important one to get right; but if a film so flawed is the best in its series, I'll pass on the rest.

mudpiegirl said...

Pornography by definition is sexual activity meant to arouse, and as one commenter noted, it can be used in a "positive" sense, such as food porn, or hair porn. Indeed "anything" porn just means that the highlighted subject is what causes the viewers' reaction/appreciation. So is torture porn a bad term? I don't think so. People who like these movies are watching for the simulated torture and that is what "turns them on," so to speak.

There maybe crossover by some classic horror fans who also like the torture porn subgenre, but it also seems that many do not because it's not the torture they like, but the suspense and tension that come from more typical horror moveis. They don't want to be repulsed, they want to be scared. So, suspense porn, gothic porn, supernatural porn, or grand guignol porn, etc., etc., works also and sounds more positive. I don't think it's the porn add-on that really is the problem, it's the implication that you enjoy the torture (which is true, at least fictionally).