If you have not seen this movie, then in all honestly where have you been? The movie franchise which has spawn countless sequels and attracted more, profit fuelling controversy, began with this movie, which in its own right is not a great deal like its sequels, and for risk of some heavy flak, I would say it was a bit of a fluky score.
Now I'm going to assume at this stage you at least know what the franchise is about, a serial killer named 'JigSaw' places people he feels have committed an ethical wrong in a variety of traps in which they must perform some sort of task, normally some self mutilation, to survive. In the sequels this amounts to a pretty full 90 minutes of exploitation as we watch terrified victims desperately try to escape, most meeting a gratuitously grisly end. However, and this is where I will attempt to consolidate my opening statement, this movie is in no way pitched at the same splatter/gore niche into which it fell; we have the media to thank for that.
'Saw' is actually played out more as a psychological thriller, much akin to that of 'Seven' rather than gore movies such as 'Hostel' with which it was likened to. To this end, the plot of the first movie is a little more complex than the above synopsis which in all honesty would fit any of the sequels.
The story begins as two men wake up at opposite sides of a dirty, disused bathroom, chained by their ankles to pipes. Between them lies a dead man loosely clutching a hand-held tape player and a handgun. Each finds a tape in their back pocket. They play the tapes. One is threatened, the other isn't. But they have a task: One must kill the other by 6:00, or his wife and daughter will die. Now granted, using this plot alone wouldn't realistically cover much run time, and so, as the two men describe their back stories to one another we get to see a larger story unfold, shown through flashbacks, in which the police have been desperately trying to catch the serial killer who put them there and their connections to the investigation.
The plot itself is told quite erratically, the flashback sequences are not always in chronological order, some things happen a little to fast where as others are irritatingly slow. At times the whole affair seems a little self indulging, and whilst I wouldn't go as far as saying that the whole elaborate network of clues didn't make much sense, there are some elements of the movie in which the creators of the movie obviously thought they were more clever than they were. The acting too was a little inconsistent, especially the doctor (one of the two guys held captive in the bathroom), he was awful where as Danny Glover who plays and obsessive cop, plays a blinder, although his role is relatively small.
So with this aside how did the movie stand up so well with the public. The gore of course...
Released at just the right time, with all the goings on about torture porn and the such like, Saw's main focus of 'how far will you go to save your life' was right on the mark. And its success is justified too. No matter what my opinion on the plot, clearly added as an afterthought to take the movie into a more mainstream market, you cannot fault the franchises morbid fascination with self mutilation and mechanical dismemberment. The traps shown throughout the movie are a highlight. Some you see, most you don't, but even with insinuation they are an excellent portrayal of someone's deliciously sick imagination. Heads exploding, disembowelling from razor wire, self dismemberment, the list goes on, and judging by the traps forming the main focus of all the sequels which are much less story driven, it is the aspect of 'Saw' which the creators wanted to emphasise.
That they do! Whilst this movie is not all that gory, most of the controversy was clearly from concerns of the subject matter, it still manages to make an impact. The blood is convincing, and whilst most of the traps simply end with some hideous squelchy noise and blood splatter on a wall or something, there are some squishy guts scenes and none leave you feeling sold short.
Overall, whilst the plot of movie clearly strived to be on par with the likes of 'Seven', there are far to many plot holes and pretentious ethical conflicts throughout. As a result, rather than emphasising the intelligence of the criminal mastermind, everyone else seemed to be a little stupid. That aside there are some great ideas found throughout the movie in terms of the traps, and whilst the violence in first movie is by no means anywhere close to that shown in the sequels it still makes and impact. Genuinely, if you have not seen any of the franchise then naturally begin here, but for all intents and purposes it breaks the 'sequel versus original movie' mould, as it is not the best of the series.