Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Wan|
|Produced by||Gregg Hoffman
|Screenplay by||Leigh Whannell|
|Story by||James Wan
|Music by||Charlie Clouser|
|Cinematography||David A. Armstrong|
|Editing by||Kevin Greutert|
|Running time||103 minutes|
Saw is a 2004 American[note 1] independent horror film directed by James Wan. The screenplay, written by Leigh Whannell, is based on a story by Wan and Whannell. The film stars Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, and Whannell. It is the debut of Wan and Whannell and the first installment of the seven-part Saw franchise.
The film's story revolves around Adam (Whannell) and Lawrence (Elwes), two men who are chained in a dilapidated subterranean bathroom and are each given instructions via a microcassette recorder explaining how to escape. Adam is told he must escape the bathroom, while Lawrence is told to kill Adam before a certain time, or Lawrence's family will die. Meanwhile, police detectives investigate and attempt to find the victims' location and apprehend the mastermind behind this "game" and several other similar incidents.
The screenplay was written in 2001, but after failed attempts to get the script produced in Wan and Whannell's home country, Australia, they were urged to travel to Los Angeles. In order to help attract producers they shot a low-budget short film of the same name from a scene out of the script. This proved successful in 2003 as producers from Evolution Entertainment were immediately attached and also formed a horror genre production label Twisted Pictures. The film was given a small budget and shot on a short schedule of 18 days.
Saw was first screened on January 19, 2004. Lionsgate picked up the rights and released the film in the United States and Canada on October 29, 2004. Critical responses were generally mixed and divided, but the film gained a cult following. Compared to its low budget, Saw performed very well at the box office, grossing more than $100 million worldwide and becoming, at the time, one of the most profitable horror films since 1996's Scream. The success of the film prompted a green-light of a sequel soon after Saw's opening weekend, which was released the following October.
Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell), a photographer, awakens in a water-filled bathtub in an industrial bathroom. Across the room from him is Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), an oncologist. Both men are chained at the ankle to pipes, and a corpse is lying face-down in a pool of blood between them, holding a microcassette recorder and a revolver. They find tapes in their pockets, and Adam is able to retrieve the recorder. Adam's tape instructs him to escape, while Lawrence's tape instructs him to kill Adam before six o'clock, or Alison and Diana (Monica Potter and Makenzie Vega), his wife and daughter, will be killed and he will be left to die. Using a clue at the end of the message, Adam finds a bag in the toilet tank containing two hacksaws, which they use to try cutting through the chains. Adam breaks his, and throws it at the mirror in frustration. Lawrence realizes that the saws are actually meant for their feet. He tells Adam that they were captured by the Jigsaw Killer, who Lawrence is aware of because he was once a suspect.
Flashbacks depict that five months before, while Lawrence was talking to some students and an orderly named Zep Hindle (Michael Emerson) about a patient named John Kramer, who suffers from an inoperable frontal lobe tumor, Lawrence was approached by Detectives Steven Sing (Ken Leung) and David Tapp (Danny Glover), who found Lawrence's penlight at the scene of a Jigsaw "game". An alibi clears him, but he agrees to view the testimony of Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith), a heroin addict and the only known survivor of a game. Though Amanda is clearly affected by the experience, during which she killed a man to save herself, she genuinely believes that Jigsaw helped her. Other victims include Paul (Mike Butters), who had to get through a caged-in razor-wire maze, and Mark (Paul Gutrecht), who was nude and smeared with a flammable substance and had to obtain an antidote for the poison in his body from a safe by locating the combination on the room's walls, while having to walk across broken glass barefoot and having only a candle for light.
Meanwhile, Alison and Diana are being held captive in their home by a man who is watching Adam and Lawrence through a camera hidden behind the two-way bathroom mirror, which Adam discovers while examining a chipped-off piece. The house is simultaneously being watched by Tapp, who was discharged from the force. Flashbacks reveal that Tapp and Sing found Jigsaw's lair using the videotape from Amanda's game. They saved a man who was bound and had drills set to pierce his neck, but Jigsaw fled after slashing Tapp's throat with a concealed blade, and Sing was killed by a shotgun booby trap while pursuing him. Tapp was then discharged from the police for breaking into Jigsaw's lair without a warrant. In the bathroom, Lawrence follows a clue and finds a box containing a lighter, two cigarettes, and a one-way cellphone. They attempt to use a cigarette to stage Adam's death, but this is foiled when Adam's ankle chain suddenly gives him an electric shock.
Adam then recalls returning home to develop photos and finding a puppet in his apartment. While searching for an intruder using camera flashes as light, he was attacked by a pig-masked figure. The abduction was similar to Lawrence's, who was in a parking garage when the pig-masked figure abducted him. Lawrence then receives a call from Alison, who tells him not to trust Adam. At Lawrence's prompting, Adam admits he was being paid to take photos of Lawrence, showing him photos from the bag that contained the hacksaws. This starts an argument, during which it is revealed that Lawrence was having an affair with one of his medical students, therefore revealing why Jigsaw chose Lawrence. It is also revealed that the man paying Adam was Tapp, who became obsessed with the Jigsaw case after Sing's death and began stalking Lawrence, convinced that he was Jigsaw. Adam points out a photo that wasn't taken by him, of a man staring out a window of Lawrence's house. Lawrence recognizes him as Zep, who is revealed to be the man holding Alison and Diana captive. The clock strikes six as he realizes this.
Alison, who managed to untie herself, attacks Zep as he holds the phone to her ear, and they fight for control of the gun after Alison is distracted by Diana. The struggle gains Tapp's attention and he arrives in time to save Alison and Diana. He then chases Zep, who flees to the sewers, and catches up only to be shot after a brief struggle. Lawrence, who only heard gunshots and screaming, is shocked and loses reach of the phone. Out of sheer desperation, he saws his foot off and shoots Adam with the corpse's revolver. Zep enters the bathroom intent on killing Lawrence, and is blindsided and beaten to death with a toilet tank cover by Adam, who suffered only a flesh wound. As Lawrence crawls away to find help, Adam searches Zep's body for a key and finds another recorder, which reveals that Zep was another victim: he was instructed to hold Lawrence's family captive in order to obtain an antidote for a slow-acting poison in his body. As the tape ends, the unidentified corpse rises to its feet and reveals itself as John Kramer, the real Jigsaw Killer. He tells Adam that the key to the shackle is in the bathtub, which he drained when he first awoke. Adam attempts to shoot John, who shocks Adam and causes him to lose reach of Zep's gun. John then turns off the lights and seals the bathroom door, leaving Adam to die.
- Leigh Whannell as Adam Stanheight
- Cary Elwes as Dr. Lawrence Gordon
- Tobin Bell as John Kramer
- Danny Glover as Detective David Tapp
- Monica Potter as Alison Gordon
- Michael Emerson as Zep Hindle
- Ken Leung as Detective Steven Sing
- Makenzie Vega as Diana Gordon
- Shawnee Smith as Amanda Young
- Dina Meyer as Detective Allison Kerry
- Mike Butters as Paul Stallberg
- Paul Gutrecht as Mark Wilson
- Ned Bellamy as Jeff Ridenhour
- Benito Martinez as Brett
- Alexandra Bokyun Chun as Carla
- Oren Koules as Donnie Greco
Development and writing
After finishing film school, Australian director James Wan and Australian writer Leigh Whannell wanted to write and fund a film. The inspiration that they needed came after watching the low-budget independent film, The Blair Witch Project. Another film that inspired them to finance the film themselves was Darren Aronofsky's Pi. The two thought the cheapest script to shoot would involve two actors in one room. Whannell said, "So I actually think the restrictions we had on our bank accounts at the time, the fact that we wanted to keep the film contained, helped us come up with the ideas in the film." One idea was to have the entire film set with two actors stuck in an elevator and being shot in the point of view of security cameras.
Wan pitched the idea to Whannell of two men chained to opposite sides of a bathroom with a dead body in the middle of the floor and they are trying to figure out why and how they are there. By the end of the film they realize the person lying on the floor is not dead and he is the reason they are locked in the room. Whannell initially did not give Wan the reaction he was looking for. He said, "I'll never forget that day. I remember hanging up the phone and started just going over it in my head, and without any sort of long period of pondering, I opened my diary that I had at the time and wrote the word 'Saw'." Before instantaneously writing the word "Saw" in a blood-red, dripping font, the two had not come up with a title. "It was one of those moments that made me aware that some things just really are meant to be. Some things are just waiting there to be discovered," Whannell said.
The character of Jigsaw did not come until months later, when Whannell was working at a job he was unhappy with and began having migraines. Convinced it was a brain tumor, he went to a neurologists to have an MRI and while sitting nervously in the waiting room he thought, "What if you were given the news that you had a tumor and you were going to die soon? How would you react to that?" He imagined the character Jigsaw having been given one or two years to live and combined that with the idea of Jigsaw putting others in a literal version of the situation, but only giving them a few minutes to choose their fate.
Wan did not intend to make a "torture porn" film as the script only had one short segment of "torture." He said the film "played out like a mystery thriller." It was not until the sequels that the plot focused more on torture scenes.
Whannell and Wan initially had $30,000 to spend on the film, but as the script developed it was clear that more funds would be needed. The script was optioned by a producer in Sydney for a year but the deal eventually fell through. After other failed attempts to get the script produced in Australia from 2001 to 2002, literary agent Ken Greenblat read the script and suggested they travel to Los Angeles, where their chances of finding an interested studio were greater. Wan and Whannell initially refused, due to lack of traveling funds but the pair's agent, Stacey Testro, convinced them to go. In order to help studios take interest in the script, Whannell provided A$5,000 (US$5,000) to make a seven-minute short film based on the script's jaw trap scene, which they thought would prove most effective. Whannell played David, the man wearing the Reverse Bear Trap. Working at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Whannell and Wan knew cameramen who were willing to provide technical assistance for the short.
Wan shot the short with a 16mm camera in over two days and transferred the footage to DVDs to ship along with the script. Whannell wanted to play the lead character in the feature film. The short helped show that Wan and Whannell was a "director-actor team" rather than just wanting to sell the script. Wan said, "Leigh and I just loved the project so much and we wanted a career in filmmaking so we stuck to our guns and said, 'Look, guys, if you want this project, we're coming on board - Leigh has to act in it and I have to direct it."
In early 2003, while in Los Angeles and before they met with producer Gregg Hoffman, Hoffman's friend pulled him into his office and showed him the short. Hoffman said, "About two or three minutes into it, my jaw hit the floor." He quickly showed the short and script to his partners Mark Burg and Oren Koules of Evolution Entertainment. They later formed Twisted Pictures as a horror genre production label. The producers read the screenplay that night and two days later offered Wan and Whannell creative control and 25% of the net profits. Even though Wan and Whannell received "better offers" from studios like DreamWorks and Gold Circle Films, they were not willing to chance Wan's directing and Whannell acting in the lead role. In order to finance the film, Hoffman Burg, Koules put up a second mortgage on their Highland Avenue headquarters. Saw was given a production budget of between $1 million and $1.2 million.[note 2]
Elwes was sent the short film on DVD and immediately became interested in the film. He read the script in one sitting and was drawn in by the "uniqueness and originality" of the story. To prepare for his role as an oncologist, he met with a doctor at UCLA's Department of Neurosurgery.
Shawnee Smith, who is not a horror fan, initially refused the role, calling the script "horrific." However, after watching the short, she agreed to the role, which was the part that Whannell portrayed in the short.
On taking the role of Jigsaw, Tobin Bell said - "I did Saw because I thought it was a fascinating location for a film to be made. These guys locked in a room, to me, was fresh. I did not anticipate the ending when I read the script, so I was quite caught by surprise and it was clear to me that if the filmmakers shot the scene well, the audience would be caught by surprise as well. The film was worth doing for that moment alone."
Filming and post-production
With a shooting budget of $700,000, Saw began principal photography on September 22, 2003 at Lacy Street Production Facility in Los Angeles for 18 days. The bathroom was the only set that had to be built. Danny Glover completed his scenes in two days. Due to the tight shooting schedule, Wan could not afford to shoot more than a couple of takes per actor. "It was a really tough struggle for me. Every day, it was me fighting to get the shots I did not get. I had high aspirations, but there’s only so much you can do. I wanted to make it in a very Hitchcockian style of filmmaking, but that style of filmmaking takes time to set up and so on," Wan said about the very short shooting schedule. He said the style instead ended up being "more gritty and rough around the edges due to the lack of time and money that we had to shoot the movie with" and it ultimately became the aesthetic of the film.
In post-production, Wan found he did not have enough shots or takes to work with as he was basically shooting rehearsals. Having a lot of missing gaps in the final product, he and editor Kevin Greutert created shots to mend together during editing; such as making a shot look like a surveillance camera feed and using still photographs. "We did a lot of things to fill in gaps throughout the film. Whatever we cut to newspaper clippings and stuff like that, or we cut to surveillance cameras, or we cut to still photography within the film, which now people say, 'Wow, that's such a cool experimental style of filmmaking', we really did that out of necessity to fill in gaps we did not get during the filming," he explained.
|Saw: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|Soundtrack album by Various Artists|
|Released||October 5, 2004|
|Genre||Alternative rock, electro-industrial|
|Various Artists chronology|
The soundtrack was mainly composed by Charlie Clouser, which took six weeks to complete. Other songs were performed by Front Line Assembly, Fear Factory, Enemy, Pitbull Daycare and Psycho Pumps. Megadeth's song "Die Dead Enough" was originally set to be featured in the film, but was not used for undisclosed reasons.
The soundtrack was released on October 5, 2004 by Koch Records. Johnny Loftus of Allmusic gave it three out of five stars. He said that Clouser "really nails it with his creaky, clammy score" and that he "understands that Saw's horror only works with a heady amount of camp, and he draws from industrial music in the same way." He particularly liked, "Cigarette"; "Hello, Adam"; and "F**k This S*!t," commenting that they "blend chilling sounds with harsh percussion and deep-wound keyboard stabs."
|Saw Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|Front Line Assembly||6:07|
|2.||"Hello, Adam"||Charlie Clouser||Clouser||3:57|
|3.||"Bite the Hand That Bleeds"||Burton C. Bell
|4.||"Last I Heard..."||Clouser||Clouser||4:40|
Troy Van Leeuwen
|7.||"You Make Me Feel So Dead"||Stephen Ladd Bishop
Charles Todd Conally
Don Van Stavern
|8.||"X Marks the Spot"||Clouser||Clouser||4:34|
|9.||"Wonderful World"||Flemming Norre Larsen
|11.||"We're Out of Time"||Clouser||Clouser||3:48|
|12.||"F**k This S*!t"||Clouser||Clouser||4:09|
Lionsgate picked up Saw's worldwide distribution rights at the Sundance Film Festival days before the film premiered on January 19, 2004. There it played to a packed theater for three nights to a very positive reaction. It was the closing film at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 18, 2004. Lionsgate initially planned to release the film direct-to-video, but due to the positive reaction at Sundance, they chose to release it theatrically by Halloween. It was released on October 1, 2004 in the United Kingdom, October 29, 2004 in the United States and December 2, 2004 in Australia. The film was originally rated NC-17 (No children under 17 permitted) by the Motion Picture Association of America for strong graphic violence, though after being re-edited, it was released with an R rating. Lionsgate held the first annual "Give Til It Hurts" blood drive for the Red Cross and collected 4,249 pints of blood.
The theatrical version of the film was released on VHS and DVD on February 15, 2005 in the United States. After its first week it made $9.4 million in DVD rentals and $1.7 million in VHS rentals, making it the top rental of the week. For the second week it remained as the number one DVD rental with $6.8 million, for a $16.27 million two-week total. It dropped to third place in VHS rentals with $1.09 million, for a $2.83 million two-week total. The film went on to sell more than $70 million worth of video and DVDs. A two-disc "Uncut Edition" was released on October 18, 2005 to tie in with the release of Saw II. The short film, also entitled Saw, was included on the DVD.
Saw opened at #3 on Halloween weekend 2004 in 2,315 theaters and grossed $18.2 million, behind Ray ($20 million) and The Grudge ($21.8 million). According to Lionsgate's exit poll, 60% of the mostly male audience was under 25 years of age. Saw had also become Lionsgate's second best opening, after Fahrenheit 9/11's $23.9 million (2004). On its second weekend an additional 152 theaters were added, bringing the theater count to 2,467. It dropped to number four making $11 million, a 39% drop from the opening weekend.
Saw opened in the United Kingdom to $2.2 million in 301 theaters, grossing a $12.3 million total in seven weeks. In Australia, it opened in 161 theaters with $1.2 million and totaled out to $3.1 million in six weeks. In Italy, the film opened on January 14, 2005 in 267 theaters to $1.7 million and grossed $6.4 million in six weeks. Saw opened to $1.5 million 187 theaters in France on March 16, 2005 and made $3.1 million by the end of its four-week run. Saw came to gross $55.1 million in the United States and Canada and $47.9 million in other markets for a worldwide total of $103 million. It is the second lowest grossing film in the series after Saw VI. At the time, it became the most profitable horror film after Scream (1996).
|Box office revenue|
|United States/Canada||Other markets||Worldwide|
|October 29, 2004||$1,200,000||$55,185,045||$47,911,300||$103,096,345|
The film received mixed reviews; review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 48% of 162 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.4 out of 10. Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 46 based on 32 reviews.
Dennis Harvey of Variety gave the film a negative review after its Sundance premiere. He called it a "crude concoction sewn together from the severed parts of prior horror/serial killer pics." He called the screenplay "convoluted," criticizing the use of "flashbacks within flashbacks" and red herrings. He described the film as being "too hyperbolic to be genuinely disturbing." Carla Meyer of the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film a positive review saying the film "combined B-movie acting with a twisted mind-set and visual tricks designed to camouflage cheap effects" and that it was "terrifying at some moments and insinuatingly creepy at many others." She called the killing scenes "amazingly evocative for such a low-budget movie."
Empire's Kim Newman gave the film four out of five stars. He said Saw is styled like early David Fincher films and "boasts an intricate structure - complex flashbacks-within-flashbacks explain how the characters have come to this crisis - and a satisfying mystery to go with its ghastly claustrophobia." He ended his review saying, "As good an all-out, non-camp horror movie as we've had lately." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B minus, calling it "derivative and messy and too nonsensical for its own good." He described Jigsaw's intent as "to show you the serial killer lurking inside yourself." Gleiberman criticized Elwes' performance by saying, "[Elwes] ought to be featured in a seminar on the perils of overacting." Daniel M. Kimmel of the Telegram & Gazette called it "one of the most loathsome films this critic has seen in more than 20 years on the job."
The New York Times's Stephen Holden gave a mixed review saying the film "does a better-than-average job of conveying the panic and helplessness of men terrorized by a sadist in a degrading environment, but it is still not especially scary. What sets its demon apart from run-of-the-mill movie serial killers is his impulse to humiliate and torture his victims and justify it with some twisted morality." He said the film is "seriously undermined by the half-baked, formulaic detective story in which the horror is framed." Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times also gave the film a mixed review saying, "Saw is so full of twists it ends up getting snarled. For all of his flashy engineering and inventive torture scenarios, the Jigsaw Killer comes across as an amateur. Hannibal Lecter would have him for lunch." She said the film "carelessly underscores its own shaky narrative at every turn with its mid-budget hokiness." She also noted that Elwes and Whannell had trouble keeping an American accent. Another mixed review came from Roger Ebert, who gave the film 2 out of 4 stars and lamented the gimmicks and plot contrivances but nonetheless described Saw as "well made and acted, and does what it does about as well as it could be expected to."
Comparisons to Seven (1995)
When asked if the 1995 thriller film Seven was an inspiration to Saw, Whannell said "For me as the writer, definitely. I mean, Seven is just a very well constructed film, and if you're writing a thriller, it can't hurt to study it. In terms of the story though, James and I never really felt Seven was that close to our film. I guess if you stand back, you have two detectives chasing a psychopath, who uses vile methods to teach people lessons, and those points echo Seven. What we always liked about Saw, though, was the fact that the story is told from the point of view of two of the psychopath's victims, instead of the police chasing after him, as you so often see." Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman compared the plot to Seven saying, "In a blatant imitation of Seven, Saw features a lunatic sadist whose ghoulish crimes are meant, in each case, to mirror the sins of his victims. The twist here is that the psycho doesn't do the killing." Richard J. Leskosky of Champaign-Urbana's The News-Gazette said "Saw wants to be taken as another Seven. Though it features perverse gross-out scenes and a villain with a superficially pedantic motive behind his crimes (his victims, if they survive, have learned to appreciate life more), it lacks the finesse and polish of the David Fincher film."
On Empire magazine's list of the 500 greatest films, Saw ranked 499th. Bloody Disgusting ranked the film tenth in its list of the Top 20 Horror Films of the Decade, with the article calling Saw "perhaps the most influential horror film of the decade, which kick-started a franchise.... In light of its measly $1.2 million price tag the film's quality relative to bigger-budget horror films is striking. It also takes itself seriously, which came as a breath of fresh air following the trend of wimpy tongue-in-cheek horror that had dominated the multiplexes post-Scream. More than anything, this twisted morality tale is a film made by horror fans, for horror fans; it’s gory, it's depraved, and best of all it introduced a new horror icon in Jigsaw." The Daily Telegraph listed the film number 14 on their Top 100 list that defined the 2000s.
|Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film||Pegasus Audience Award||James Wan||Won|
|Fantasporto||International Fantasy Film Award- Best Film||James Wan||Won|
|Golden Trailer Awards||Best Horror||—||Won|
|Gérardmer Film Festival||Special Jury Prize||James Wan||Won|
|Youth Jury Grand Prize||James Wan||Won|
|MTV Movie Awards||Best Frightened Performance||Cary Elwes||Won|
|San Sebastián International Film Festival||Audience Award- Best Feature||James Wan||Won|
|Satellite Awards||Outstanding DVD Extras (Uncut Edition)||—||Won|
|Saturn Award||Best DVD Special Edition Release||—||Won|
|Best Horror Film||—||Won|
|Teen Choice Awards||Choice Movie Scream Scene||Leigh Whannell||Won|
|Choice Movie: Thriller||—||Won|
- The film was funded by American dollars and is registered under the U.S. Copyright Office. Wan also said: "Initially the script was going to be made in Australia so it had a lot of Australian themes to it, but it became an American film."
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