So, I know that this is a film a lot of people have disdain for, but ten years after its original release, I still find it to be a gripping, bracing thriller. One can debate the direction of the series after this, but this first film doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with all the “torture porn” movies or even called, in my opinion, a “horror” film. It’s just a dark, nihilistic little thriller, mean without being mean-spirited. Watching it again in a theater recently, I just found myself still on the edge of my seat during a lot of scenes; Jigsaw stalking Adam through his darkened apartment, for one; Tapp & Sing investigating Jigsaw’s lair for another. These are just nailbitingly suspenseful. Wan knows how to draw a scene out and make you almost beg for the explosive release of the actual scare. He’s not up to Conjuring level yet in this film, but he’s well on his way. And I do love Cary Elwes’ wonderful performance; he gives the film its real heart. The character is a cliché, the dispassionate, morally compromised modern man forced to confront what really matters and then unleash his pure animal nature. But Elwes is so perfect in every single mode that he makes the character genuinely compelling and evocative again. I would tend to class this as film noir, really; it’s a film driven by twisted morality and broken characters. It’s also intensely suspenseful and often disturbing, if never in a horrific or graphic way. I think people have forgotten just how tame this film is when it comes to the actual violence. The camera looks away at most of the moments that might be truly gory and the disturbance comes from the emotional trauma, not the physical. The story of Amanda and the reverse bear trap is par for the course; it’s the insane terror, the brokenness of the aftermath and the chilling way Jigsaw’s points ultimately seem to make a twisted kind of sense that give that sequence its impact. It’s a dark film and an intense one and it remains . . . well, yeah, I’ll say it: a masterpiece. One has to settle immediately the fact that not a single second of this movie could take place in the real world (the very first scene is impossible; exactly how long would Adam have had to be asleep UNDER WATER in order for that to work?!), but once you do that, the film’s emotional intensity carries you through. It’s well-made, well-acted and profoundly effective. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – unfairly classed as “torture porn,” Saw is actually a taut, masterful, intense and gripping thriller that retains its power. 4 stars.