Followed by: Saw II (2005)
Most horror films base their existence on having you jump in your seats a few times and then tie up the knots for an (at least fairly) happy ending. Saw doesn't follow that path. It wants you to squirm and dodge as it unveils a story that is far more fascinating that you'd expect it to be (or even want it to be). It is a completely unpleasant experience. And it is damn good.
The filmmakers are two young Australians: James Wan in the director's seat and Leigh Whannell with the pen and one of the leads. The story is co-written by the two, both fresh out of film school. And the talent conveyed here is apparent from the word go. Wan directs with a delightful simplicity and realizes that creating good horror isn't about making as many things as possible unexplainable, but rather to leave them unexplained. There is a major difference.
As Saw sets off, you get the feeling that if this material is handled well, you could be in for a treat. The premise is clever and simple: We meet two sympathetic characters trapped in an abandoned restroom, chained to the walls with a dead body between them. Their challenge is primarily to get out of there and secondarily to find out why they were put there. It is clear that what we're dealing with is a criminal mind who likes to play puzzles, but what are his motives? Who is he? Where are our protagonists at? And how are they going to get out of this predicament?
Wan tells his story semi-chronologically – we simultaneously follow our two men's situations in their cell as the two think back on previous events in their lives in order to figure out the mystery. In style and form, Saw is somewhat like Memento, and Wan doesn't lack neither Christopher Nolan's grace nor cleverness. Throughout, the filmmakers avoid being tempted into making this into a simple splatter, a messy twister or just the down right silly horror you see in nine out of ten films in the genre. Whannell's script is creative and well-crafted and Wan keeps it interesting throughout. The horror is to a certain degree explicit, and Saw has its share of graphic images, but the real horror here is the gruesome and brutal nature of the story. It is offensive much in the same way as Pet Sematary was. And it doesn't change its nature to suit the viewer. A thoroughly autonomous, harrowing and artistically fulfilled piece of film.