Saw screenshot

Saw (2004)

three stars

A sadistic killer called Jigsaw forces his victims to solve twisted puzzles or die trying.


Saw is a cornucopia of horror cliches, drawing from a number of previous genre entries (most obviously Se7en). It's a simplistic but effective movie made with a low budget that, in theory, should have been quickly forgotten. Instead, the film paints a picture of a bigger world than what we see on the screen, establishing a solid foundation upon which an entire series has been built.

Two men wake up in a dingy room, their legs shackled, with a third body in the middle of the floor. They are the latest victims of Jigsaw, a serial killer who targets people that he feels are squandering their lives. They're put into situations where they must solve puzzles to escape, but the solution involves self-mutilation and failure results in death. These new victims are provided with hacksaws that won't cut through their chains, but will cut through their legs.

Saw screenshot

Saw is known for its graphic, disturbing violence and gore, of which there is shockingly little. There are fewer effects than it seems, and the gore is often explicitly described, but not actually shown. The film works around its budget with fast, jarring cuts, a style that was emulated by a number of later horror films both within and outside of the Saw series.

Overall, Saw's shortcomings are heavily outweighed by its enthralling story and effective use of its small budget. The shotgun blast method of trying to hit every possible horror movie cliche means there's something appealing for almost every type of horror fan. The gore, though not extreme, is enough to satisfy gore hounds. The puppet and pig mask are there for slasher icon fans who need action figures. Saw managed to scratch the itch for several horror movie fans who had been itching for a long time.

Saw is essentially Se7en made on a tighter budget and with less talent. However, you could also compare Friday the 13th to Halloween the same way, and the Friday series is an all-time top horror movie franchise. The Saw series would continue with strong annual releases for the next six straight years, solidifying itself as the dominant horror franchise of the 2000s while previous genre leaders struggled to stay relevant with reboots of varying quality and success.

Saw poster Saw title screen


  • James Wan


  • Cary Elwes as Dr. Lawrence Gordon
  • Danny Glover as Detective David Tapp
  • Leigh Whannell as Adam
  • Shawnee Smith as Amanda
  • Dina Meyer as Kerry
  • Michael Emerson as Zep Hindle
  • Tobin Bell as Jigsaw