Strip away all the torture devices and wash away all the blood-soaked, gore-infested mayhem that the franchise has become synonymous for and some of you maybe questioning what’s left? But with James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s original film that kick-started the whole Jigsaw frenzy the audience were treated to an exercise in constrained drama, flickered with tense, psychological elements that quite rightly projected the writer and director partnership into the Hollywood limelight as a result.
Part of Saw’s brilliance comes from the low-budget constraints that were placed on the making of the movie. Once the creative duo realised that the cheapest way to shoot a movie would be to have two actors in one room, this germ of an idea developed into the final product and the birth of Jigsaw and his twisted vision of justice.
Apparently the Jigsaw character began when Whannell feared that he had a brain tumour and pondered the notion of what he would do or need to do if he were only to have a year or two to live. This was the leaping point into the dark recesses of Jigsaws’ mind.
It’s this tightly shot, well structured movie that allowed Wan to develop his technique for manipulating lights and shadow to trick and deceive the audiences’ eye. He would harness this skill further with his sophomore film Dead Silence before working on his masterpiece, The Conjuring.
It wasn’t that easy getting budget for the movie though. With no luck gaining interest from their homeland in Australia, Wan and Whannell tried to taut their project in Los Angeles, but even then had to shoot a short feature to provide a proof of concept before getting any decent interest.
You have to applaud their bravado to. So intent were they in getting their vision made, they insisted on having both directing and acting duties respectively. In the end it took newly formed production outfit, Twisted Pictures to give them their desires and have been behind every Saw movie since.
So with one half of the acting team already cast in Whannell as the photographer with a complex past, the team needed a decent actor opposite him as Dr. Lawrence Gordon, a Doctor with an equally dubious past. In steps Cary Elwes, normally associated with his comical roles but proved worthwhile in this serious performance, more than holding his own and providing gravitas to the scenario.
The masterstroke comes with the casting of Tobin Bell as Jigsaw aka John Kramer, who simply owns his role and has propelled himself into horror movie history with his performance as the disturbed yet brilliant mind behind the various traps and tortuous devices throughout all the Saw movies.
So with the narrative played out with Adam and Dr. Lawrence wake up in a bathroom, chained to the floor with nothing but a corpse, a revolver, and a tape recorder to guide them on a journey that will test their metal and push them to the very limits of their intellect and perception.
Saw would be released in front of a Sundance audience for its initial premiere where Lionsgate picked up the distribution rights and the rest is history.
Since then, Wan has established a firm career in the director’s chair to the point hat he has been given the chance to give DC movies some decent crowd with Aquaman, and Whannell more recently carved his own success with Upgrade.
So for those who may have been apprehensive about checking out the origins of Jigsaw, before the bloodbath began, I’d recommend going back to the original source as you maybe pleasantly surprised by this outing with a clever, psychological thriller that is an example of how to shoot a low-budget movie with a lot of smarts and a decent narrative to keep the audience hooked.
It still stands strong 15 years on and my bet is that this will still be the case in another 15 years.