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!