|Saw is a 2004 Australian-American horror film directed by James Wan and starring Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Michael Emerson and Ken Leung. The plot of the film was conceived of by James Wan, while Leigh Whannell wrote the screenplay. It is the first installment of the Saw film series.
The film’s story revolves around two men who are chained in a dilapidated industrial bathroom and are each given instructions via a microcassette recorder on how to escape. One is told he must escape the bathroom, while the other is told to kill him before a certain time, or his family will die. Meanwhile, police detectives investigate and attempt to apprehend the mastermind behind the “game”.
The film was first screened January 19, 2004, at the Sundance Film Festival to positive reviews. It was then screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 18, 2004, with theatrical releases on October 29, 2004, in the United States and December 2, 2004, in Australia. The film was originally rated NC-17 for strong, graphic violence, though after being slightly re-edited, it was released with an R rating.
Critical responses were mixed. Some critics praised its stylish visuals and twist ending, while others denounced it as a cheap “snuff film”. Saw was a financial box office success.
Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell), a photographer, and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), an oncologist, awaken at opposite ends of a disused bathroom, Adam in a water-filled bathtub. Both men are chained at the ankle to the pipes. Lying between them is a corpse in a small pool of blood holding a revolver and a microcassette recorder. Adam and Lawrence discover tapes in their pockets; the men learn from both tapes that Adam must escape the bathroom, while Lawrence must kill Adam before six o’clock, or he’ll lose his wife and daughter and be left to die. They find a bag containing two hacksaws, though neither is able to cut through the chains. Adam breaks his saw and throws it at a mirror in frustration; Lawrence realizes that the saws are meant to be used on their feet.
Lawrence tells Adam that their captor is the Jigsaw Killer, who places his victims in situations or traps, referred to as “games”, in which they must be put through physical and/or psychological torture to survive and escape with a better appreciation for life. Flashbacks show that while Lawrence was talking with some students and an orderly named Zep Hindle (Michael Emerson) about the terminal brain cancer of a man named John Kramer (Tobin Bell), he was approached by Detectives David Tapp (Danny Glover) and Steven Sing (Ken Leung) about his penlight being found at the scene of a Jigsaw “game”. He viewed the testimony of Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith), a heroin addict, who is the only known survivor of Jigsaw’s games; she barely escaped from having her jaw ripped open during her game by a “Reverse Beartrap” and believes that her experience made her a better person. Other victims of Jigsaw’s games included Paul (Mike Butters), who was trapped in a cage filled with razor wire, and Mark (Paul Gutrecht), who was trapped in a room with a flammable substance all over his body along with a candle to help him read the walls covered with numbers that hid the combination to a safe. One of the detectives revealed that Jigsaw frequently watched his victims die — he “liked to book himself front row seats to his own sick little games”.
Meanwhile, Lawrence’s wife and daughter, Alison (Monica Potter) and Diana (Makenzie Vega), are being held captive in their home by a man who is watching Adam and Lawrence through a camera behind the bathroom’s mirror while tormenting Alison and Diana. Their house is simultaneously being watched by Tapp, who was discharged from the force. Flashbacks show that he became obsessed with the Jigsaw case after viewing Amanda’s testimony, and that he and Sing illegally entered a warehouse they knew to be Jigsaw’s lair and saved a man from being killed by drills aimed at his neck. Jigsaw managed to make a run for it after slashing Tapp’s throat, and Sing was killed by a shotgun booby trap while pursuing him. After being discharged, Tapp began stalking Lawrence.
In the bathroom, Lawrence finds a cigarette, a lighter, and a mobile phone that can receive calls but not make them. He and Adam use the first two items to try to stage Adam’s death, but an electric shock through Adam’s ankle chain foils this plan. Following these events, Adam and Lawrence recall their abductions; they were both ambushed and knocked unconscious by a stranger wearing a gruesome pig mask. Lawrence receives a call from Alison, who warns him that Adam knows more than he is telling. Adam explains that he was paid to take pictures of Lawrence for the past few days by Tapp, and shows Lawrence a pile of pictures of him from the bag containing the hacksaws. Lawrence berates Adam for invading his privacy, while Adam shows Lawrence evidence that he was cheating on Alison. Adam then notices a picture of a man in Lawrence’s house; Lawrence identifies the man as Zep Hindle, and the two deduce that Zep is their abductor. Adam then points out that it is six o’clock, the deadline. Zep moves to kill Alison, but she frees herself and manages to overpower Zep, gaining Tapp’s attention in the process. He arrives in time to save Alison and Diana from Zep, allowing them to escape, and chases Zep to the sewers.
Lawrence, who is only aware of gunshots and screaming, is zapped by the ankle chain as well and loses reach of the phone; in desperation, he saws off his foot and shoots Adam with the corpse’s revolver. Zep, who shot Tapp during the chase, enters the bathroom intent on killing Lawrence, only to be blindsided by Adam (whose shoulder wound had not been fatal) and beaten to death with a toilet tank cover. As Lawrence crawls away with the promise that he’ll return with help, Adam searches Zep’s body for a key and finds another microcassette recorder. He learns that Zep was another victim of the game, following rules to obtain an antidote for the slow poison within his body. In the film’s iconic ending, the corpse in the middle of the room rises to its feet and reveals itself as John Kramer, the real Jigsaw Killer. He tells Adam that the chain’s key is in the bathtub, which was drained when Adam accidentally kicked the plug out. Adam grabs Zep’s pistol and tries to shoot Jigsaw but is electrically shocked by his hidden remote control before he can do so. Jigsaw then turns off the lights and seals the door to the bathroom, leaving Adam to die.