Okay, it’s more than one movie, and the installments are of varying quality, but overall the Saw series gets nowhere near the respect it deserves. I’ve already written about why the end of Saw II is one of my favorite underrated twists, and now it’s about time I stood up for this Halloween-shaping horror epic as a whole.
First, a word on “torture porn,” the common, derogatory term for the subgenre of horror Saw popularized, the one it suffers the Prometheus Syndrome backlash for.
It’s hard to dispute its technical accuracy. Saw just isn’t quite Saw without its signature trap sequences of graphic, creative mutilation. Those are the parts that define the series and what people come to see.
Okay, yes, sometimes there’s a cartoonish element of “look at our amazing trauma makeup!” or “bet you’ve never seen someone die like this!” And that is a part of Saw, but it’s also nothing new.
It’s that unsettling question, combined with the long, detailed, visceral scenes characters spend demonstrating their differing answers, that makes Saw so differently powerful and horrifying. And what’s the point of innovation in horror if not to ask unsettling questions and probe deep, dark, frightening parts of the mind?
Sometimes this can be done most effectively by showing less, sometimes by showing more. Saw openly goes with the more approach and succeeds spectacularly.
****First movie spoiler alert****
Unlike so many horror franchises that only keep a concept and maybe a villain signature and plug in an entirely new disposable cast for every entry, Saw is about the original Jigsaw, John Kramer, a terminal cancer patient with a deeply flawed, hypocritical, yet often understandable vendetta against people who waste life, and about the people who fight and follow him.
It’s about his falling out with his wife, his confused feelings about the struggling patients at her methadone clinic, his cat and mouse game with the cops, and the relationships between him and the other members of the slowly growing Jigsaw cult, mostly surviving victims who embrace and sometimes reinterpret his perspective.
Saw demands a strong stomach, no question, but if you’ve got one, and if you’ve ever been intrigued by a blurb that included a phrase like “these twisted souls and the secrets that bind them together,” check out the original Saw theatrical trailer and think about giving the series a chance.