Dir. James Wan (2004)
Two men trapped in a bathroom with a dead man and a gun must solve a twisted puzzle to escape with their lives.
Many lament the early 2000's (and post 9/11) trend in which horror moved swiftly in the direction of Torture Porn Land, and the heavy-handed and extreme films that resulted were often quite terrible. Those people, however, are missing the truly great films that came out of that period, perhaps none so impressive as James Wan and Leigh Whannell's Saw. Saw absolutely blew my mind when it was first released, and it's the only movie I've ever seen in theaters where I left my seat and immediately went into the lobby to buy another ticket to watch it again.
I won't talk too much about the plot of the film, because if you haven't seen Saw by now or at least know what it's about, boy is there a lot you need to catch up on after being stuck under that rock for 20 years (and quite a lot of it sucks). The mysterious Jigsaw Killer has trapped various people in various dangerous traps, intending for them to either learn a lesson directly related to their lives or die trying. The two men that open the film trapped in a bathroom, played by writer Leigh Whannell and the captivating Cary Elwes, are on the receiving end of Jigsaw's latest experiment, and they must rely on their wits (and Danny Glover) in an attempt to make it out alive.
Both Jigsaw and his terrifying Billy the bike-riding clown doll have become icons of horror, and the film's premise of creating increasingly elaborate traps has resulted in nine (and soon ten!) incredibly watchable movies. While the films are of varying standards, which we will be getting into as we discuss the entire franchise, the original stands out as a relatively tame but unquestionably well-done mystery thriller that is at once terrifying and enthralling. Whannell and Elwes both do a phenomenal job as the trapped pair, portraying remarkably deep characters despite their scenic snare, and Tobin Bell has become just as recognizable as Robert Englund.
Saw is a masterpiece, one of the rare films that truly deserves every last bit of acclaim that it has received. In my not-so humble opinion, anyone who doesn't like Saw has either never seen it because they thought it was going to be torture porn and don't have the stomach for it or have categorized it in their minds as such and refuse to enjoy it on principle. James Wan delivers perhaps his best film as his first, immediately planting his flag as a hitmaker. Saw is stylish and stygian, smart and brutal, twisty and innovative, a gorgeously shot and devastatingly chilling original horror entry that more recent movies try desperately to match. Very few meet the mark, because Saw is an instant classic.
Who this movie is for: Mystery thriller enthusiasts, Modern horror fans, Crossword puzzle lovers
Bottom line: Saw is just a great movie. It's every bit as much detective noir as it is brutal horror, and its a brilliant thriller with one of the twistiest endings in movie history. It's iconic at this point, a film that is referenced and copied in hundreds of movies since. The acting, directing, cinematography, score... there's nothing that doesn't fit perfectly with this one. If you haven't seen it, even if you're not a horror fan, you need to.