Horror Movie Month: "Saw" Review

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The very first installment in the seven-part horror series, directed and co-written by James Wan and starring Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, Michael Emerson & Tobin Bell. Like the franchise, this 2004 picture profiles a serial killer so deranged that his M.O. involves anonymously torturing his victims into playing sadistic games that he feels will ultimately teach them the value of life--via survival or death.
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Horror Movie Month: "Saw" Review

Rating: NC-17 (strong graphic violence)
Length: 103 minutes
Release Date: Oct. 29, 2004
Directed by: James Wan
Genre: Crime, Horror, and Mystery

What started out as a low-budget horror film went onto become a franchise that made almost one billion dollars at the global box office. "Saw" is the first installment of a seven-part series, with potentially more films to follow in the years to come. The film's plot centers on the fortunes of two men, one who has been told he is to escape and the other who has been ordered to kill that man. This film is the directorial debut of James Wan, and it is also the first screenplay written by Leigh Whannell.

A screenplay for the film was loosely drawn up in 2001 in a joint collaboration between Wan and Whannell. As the pair was just out of film school, they did not have access to a large production budget. The film was originally totally funded by Wan and Whannell, both of whom used their personal savings to invest $30,000 into production of the film. Because of these budget constraints, the original idea was to have two actors in a room for the entire movie.

However, as the script developed and more characters were introduced into it, the producers understood that additional funding would be required. After the script failed to be accepted by film studios in Wan's home country of Australia, it was suggested that the pair take their screenplay to the United States. In order to capture the attention of Hollywood film executives, a seven-minute film was shot and distributed to all the major studios. The plan worked, as many film studios came forward to offer the pair a production deal. Even though more famous film companies such as DreamWorks were interested, Wan and Whannell opted for Evolution Entertainment, which later formed a separate entity called Twisted Pictures that would focus solely on horror films. A production budget was established of around one million dollars.

Production began in earnest in September of 2003, with Danny Glover, Tobin Bell, and Michael Emerson signing on for support roles. Whannell was given the role of Adam, while Cary Elwes played Adam's fellow prisoner, Lawrence. Due to the relatively low budget that director Wan had to work with, he was reluctant to do more than a couple of takes per scene. During postproduction, Wan had to piece some shots together so that there were no gaps between any scenes.

In the film, Adam and Lawrence are chained to pipes while locked together in a dark room. In each of their pockets are some tapes that explain what each has to do in order to survive; Lawrence must kill Adam because otherwise his family will not be spared, while Adam is told to get away from Lawrence as quickly as possible. The wife and daughter of Lawrence are being held captive in their own home by a man who can watch Lawrence and Adam through a hidden camera.

Lawrence comes up with a plan to fake Adam's death, but all that happens is that Adam is shocked through his ankle chain. Lawrence's wife, Alison, manages to escape, but the husband doesn't know that. After a time, he becomes so desperate that he cuts of his own foot with a saw so that he can get free. Lawrence then shoots Adam. Almost simultaneously, the man who put Lawrence and Adam together in the room, Zep, bursts in attempts to kill Lawrence. It turns out that Adam did not die of his wounds because he gets up and beats Zep to death.

After this, Lawrence leaves to go find help, while Adam searches Zep for a key that can set him free. However, Zep's corpse, which turns out to be the real Jigsaw Killer, comes to life and shocks Adam. As the Jigsaw leaves the room, he turns out the lights and leaves Adam to die all alone.

After premiering at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and then subsequently at the Toronto International Film Festival, "Saw" was released to a general audience in October of 2004. The film opened at number three at the box office, but it ended up with more than one hundred million dollars in worldwide revenue. At the time, it was the second most profitable horror film of all time after "Scream."

After the success of "Saw," a number of sequels were ordered. For the following six years, a film from the series was released the Friday before Halloween. Although Wan and Whannell were not directly involved with any of the sequels, they were made executive producers. The final film of the series, "Saw 3D," came out in 2010. Since then, no more movies have been produced, but Wan and Whannell are interested in reviving the franchise if enough suitable material is found.

Rating 3 out of 5