Cary Elwes stars as Dr. Lawrence Gordon in SAW, a film directed by James Wan. Photo Credit: Greg Gayne. Image courtesy Lionsgate. All rights reserved.
- Twisted Pictures
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Also Known As: Saw: The 10th Anniversary
Opened: 10/31/2014 Wide
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Trailer: Click for trailer
Rated: R for strong grisly violence and language.
If it's Halloween, it must be SAW! This Halloween, Lionsgate will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the theatrical release of SAW, the film that kicked off the most successful horror franchise in history, by bringing it back to theaters nationwide for one week only.
About the Film
From the very first frame of Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures' terrifying franchise the audience is thrown into the unknown: two men wake up in a subterranean bathroom, both chained to the wall. They know only that one man must kill the other within eight hours or both will die. An intense, complex thrill ride with a puzzle-like plot and a surprise ending, Saw has a visceral, uniquely human perspective on horror.
"I think the film allows you to imagine yourself in the situation of these characters," says co-writer/director James Wan. "It constantly asks, 'If you were in their shoes, what would you do? Would you do the unthinkable to survive?'"
"It's the 'unknown' factor," adds co-writer/actor Leigh Whannell, who also stars in the film as Adam. "Not knowing where you are or what is going on, basically having no control, is terrifying. Saw is told from the victims' point of view, not the police, as we so often see in procedural thrillers. As the film progresses, the audience is piecing together the clues in real time along with the characters. It makes the scenario very easy to identify with."
Each victim in Saw is faced with a horrific choice on which his or her life rests. A man must escape from being buried alive by forcing himself through a web of flesh-cutting wires; a woman must kill another man to free herself from a steel head casing that is timed to tear off her jaw. It's these games, masterminded by a killer known only as Jigsaw, which elevate Saw beyond traditional serial killer fare, lending a shocking sense of the macabre to the pervading atmosphere of terror.
Whannell admits to trying to devise the most shocking murders possible. "I couldn't have Jigsaw challenging his victims to an all-night game of Twister!" he says laughing. "The games he devised had to be pretty hardcore. I found myself imagining all these sick little scenarios, as if I were a maniac myself."
For Wan, Saw was the perfect opportunity to meld the hard-edged scares of a horror film with the convoluted plot of a high-quality thriller. "For me, the horror genre is one genre that allows you to play outside the boundary of established conventions," says the director. "I've always approached the project like a whodunnit, a puzzle movie. I took a thriller storyline and told it with the stylistics of a horror film."
Wan cites filmmakers like David Lynch and Dario Argento as the primary sources of inspiration for the gritty, surreal look of Saw. "I wanted to take real people and put them into an alien, Lynchian universe inhabited by the ghostly freakishness of Argento," he says. "From the outset I wanted Saw to be a vicious film of ferocious intensity where none of the characters or situations are safe."
Wan and Whannell set about writing a script together with a simple premise of two men trapped in a bathroom one man having to kill the other. From this compellingly simple scenario, a story grew and broadened, encompassing flashbacks and a host of other characters. Once Whannell understood what the theme of the story was, he knew he could start writing. "I had some health problems before the writing of Saw, which, while not life-threatening in the end, really shook me up and made me think about the way I was living life," remembers Whannell. "It honestly changed me. I thought that would be an interesting theme to structure a thriller around."
"The script was designed in such a way that all the separate strands would eventually come together in the end," says Wan. "Like jigsaw puzzle pieces making up the whole picture."
When they finished the script, Wan and Whannell were urged by their manager to fly to Los Angeles to take meetings on the project. For the two broke, would-be filmmakers, however, the trip all the way to North America seemed like "an expensive handshake." Hoping to make the trip as productive as possible, they realized there was only one thing to do -- spend more money. Scraping together a few thousand dollars, the young filmmakers shot a brutally compelling scene from the script starring Whannell, hoping to use this short film to sell themselves as a capable director and star. They burned the film onto a DVD and submitted it to LA producers with their script.
Several thousand miles away in Los Angeles, producer Greg Hoffman [1963 -- 2005] was waiting for a meeting to start when an agent friend pulled him into an office and showed him Wan and Whannell's DVD. "About two or three minutes into it, my jaw hit the floor," says Hoffman. "I ran back to my office with the DVD and the script and showed it to my partners."
By the time Wan and Whannell had stepped off the plane onto Los Angeles soil, Hoffman and his partners had already made an offer to finance the movie with Wan directing and Whannell starring in the role of Adam. Of the DVD, Whannell simply says, "It was one of those few things in life that did exactly what it was meant to do." Three months later, Wan and Whannell were shooting Saw.
On the basis of the DVD and the script, Wan and his producers found they were able to attract considerable star power to the project. When Cary Elwes, who plays one of Jigsaw's unwitting captives, Dr. Gordon Lawrence, watched the DVD, he sent Hoffman an email with only one word: "Wow." He sat down to read the script and found he couldn't stop. "I read it in one sitting, which I never do," says Elwes. "I thought, 'Okay, I've got to do this. I've got to.' It was just wonderful writing, an incredibly taut suspense thriller. "
Monica Potter, who plays Dr. Gordon's wife, Alison, remembers watching the DVD for the first time. "I watched it, and then I had to watch it again. And it disturbed me because I wanted to do it. I wanted to be in this film and I was trying to figure out why. It got me a little worried."
For the role of Tapp, the police detective who becomes obsessed with stopping Jigsaw, Wan set his sights on Danny Glover. Glover smiles as he recalls how Wan came to choose him for the role. "James saw me in an infomercial in Australia," he says laughing. "He wasn't saying, 'I saw you in another film.' He saw me in an infomercial." Glover was "really impressed with Wan's vision," and signed on immediately, attracted to the multi-dimensional role of the detective.
Having already proven his acting skills in the short he and Wan made, Whannell packed away his "writer's hat" and threw himself into his first starring role in a feature film. Watching his vision come to life, however, proved to be more than a little surreal. "If something's in your head for so long, to be able to touch it is really amazing," says the actor/writer. "Like that bathroom, the main set. It was in my head for two years, and then all of sudden I could walk in it. I could touch the walls. That was incredible."
Whannell could often be seen on set with headphones on, listening to music before shooting a scene. "Sometimes it's difficult to muster up that primal level of anger or fear, especially while you're achieving your dream of making a film. I found music would take me to a particular emotional place in a short amount of time."
As the Saw series has continued, the films have tunneled further into Jigsaw's beliefs and worldview. Says Whannell, "Jigsaw's cancer has led him to think very hard about what it means to be alive and how close we are to death at any given time. But he's not someone who stops with a simple 'carpe diem' or a trip to Europe. The concept of life's value becomes a springboard to look at other personal moral choices, like forgiveness versus retribution. Jigsaw keeps digging into these issues, which become grist for his games. And as twisted as the games are, his intention is to ultimately help people. Between his philosophical bent and his sick take on altruism, I like to think Jigsaw is somewhat unique in the horror universe."
Danny Glover finds this one of the most interesting elements of Saw. "Even the antagonist, the guy who we most hate in this movie, is someone who philosophically has something to say about the way in which we respect life," he says.
"Jigsaw makes his victims appreciate how precious life is by threatening to take it away," says Cary Elwes. "He's saying, 'Don't take life for granted, and don't wait till it's too late."
Wan adds, smiling, "Jigsaw's intentions are good, but his methods are not."