Having not watched this movie since it was originally released back in 2004 it’s quite a surprise how strong this movie is, especially when compared to the sequels it spawned which got worse and worse with every release. The original still stands firm on its feet and I was surprised how not-gory it was. And I watched the unrated version. This is one of those movies that is probably more gory in everybody’s memory, than it is in reality. Something that is not the case with the sequels that increasingly relied on gore over a good plot.
Even though Saw is about two separate story-lines that come together most people only remember one: two guys chained to a pipe in a really dirty bathroom and where one has to kill the other in order to save his wife and chil. The other is the story of the police investigation of the Jigsaw murders led by Detective David Tapp, played by Danny Glover who instantly boosts the movie’s credibility). This story is told in flashback and serves as a way to show us more Jigsaw traps from the past as well as an extra layer to the character of Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), one of the guys currently locked up in the bathroom.
The fact that the movie mostly concentrates on two people makes it one where characters are explored better than in later installments in which most people just died in gruesome visceral ways without we ever getting to know them. Dr. Gordon and Adam (Leigh Wannell) are names that still ring a bell, yet characters from later movies are a dime a dozen.
As I mentioned earlier the gruesomeness is rather tame. We get to see Amanda handle some guts to get a key and some guy stuck in barb wire but other than that it’s all pretty tame. The infamous amputation of a foot with a saw all happens off-screen. Maybe the grunge-look of the movie helped it make it more notorious in one’s memory than it was in reality.
Saw is not perfect though. The interaction between Adam and Dr. Gordon did not feel entirely realistic and Dr. Gordon’s descent into madness came a bit out of nowhere. The heavy electric guitars which accompany rapid montages are a tad too much. Jigsaw is more of a background character here and not really given any depth. The movie is more concerned about building up to the revealing of his identity than it is with his motivations although they’re mentioned here and there. But this is the strongest film of the series and to be honest: Jigsaw does become less interesting over the course of the series so his motives being shadowy is probably a good thing.