‘Saw’ – the horror franchise begins on Hulu

Saw (2004) opens with two men (Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannel) manacled in a dark, derelict restroom with a dead man laying out of reach between them, micro-cassette recordings in their pockets, and a pair of hacksaws too flimsy to cut their chains.

To live, says the hollow voice of their phantom jailer, one has to kill the other, or they will both be left to rot. As they attempt to find another way out, fragmented flashbacks tell the story of “the Jigsaw Killer,” a demented genius who “finds ways for his victims to kill themselves,” and the obsessed police detective (Danny Glover) who slips over the edge of reason.

The impressive debut of director James Wan and screenwriter/star Leigh Whannel was, in its day, the most extreme entry yet in the bleak and dusky splinter of American thrillers about psychopathic geniuses with messianic egos and sadistic torments. Wan and Whannel don’t stint on the sadism, physical, emotional, or mental. While the killer talks a good story about instilling his sad-sack victims with the will to live, his “tests” are engineered to instill blind panic and deliver barbarously prolonged torments and painful deaths.

You could call it the bastard child of Seven and The Usual Suspects, a shadow world of fog and gloom inhabited by an almost uniformly “guilty” cast. The filmmakers piece it together with almost clockwork perfection and deliver it with masterful misdirection, creating an ingenious, eccentric, and brazenly jaundiced psycho-thriller, made with such bleary cynicism that it may be too bleak for even the most jaded viewer.

Two decades later the franchise is still racking up a body count in sequels of varying degrees of ingenuity and imagination and sadistic spectacle. Director Wan, meanwhile, went on to launch the Conjuring horror franchise and then graduated to big-budget Fast and Furious and Aquaman movies.

Monica Potter, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer, Shawnee Smith, Michael Emerson, and Tobin Bell costar.

Rated R

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Saw [Blu-ray]
Saw: 8-Film Collection [Blu-ray]
Saw [4K + Blu-ray]
Saw [DVD]
Saw: 8-Film Collection [DVD]

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The Blu-ray and DVD releases feature commentary by director James Wan and screenwriter/star Leigh Whannel, a featurette, music videos, and a “making of” of the music video.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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