“Saw” is one of the more divisive horror franchises out there. It has its detractors, but it has also garnered a fairly loyal fanbase. Said fanbase was enough to keep the series going for over a half a dozen movies. One of the more common criticisms leveled against the original film (and the franchise as a whole) is that it is what they call “torture porn”.
You, the viewer, are essentially watching these people suffer and die in terrible and gruesome ways. No detail is left unshown and the result is discomfort on the viewer’s end. Many point out that this isn’t “horror” as it isn’t scary, it just causes you to become repulsed.
I, myself, haven’t seen any of the films. I’ve heard enough people cite it as torture porn that I really have no desire to watch it. As such, I can not comment either way. Don’t worry, this won’t devolve into complaining about a movie that I haven’t seen, but it needs to be addressed in order to get to the point.
Here’s the thing, the more I think about it, the more I realize that the movie (and subsequently, the entire franchise) could have been much more than it was. The premise has promise; it’s just a shame that no one ever tried to tap into it.
For one thing, you actually do have an original concept for a slasher villain. This isn’t just some silent stalker in a mask who won’t die because he’s constantly resurrected by the power of box office ticket sales. Jigsaw is clever and, rather than simply stab his victims with something pointy, he puts them into situations where they have to defy their morality and do the killing for him.
There’s a lot you can do with that to build tension without having to resort to gorn. You have a nice internal conflict as the captives have to contend with the temptation to give into Jigsaw’s demands, but there’s a nice external conflict as well. There’s the obvious one with Jigsaw, but the two captives would end up butting heads with each other as well. As the ticking clock starts to wind down, they would become more panicked and desperate. Not only that, but they would, most likely, start becoming paranoid as they’d know that the other person is starting to question whether or not going through with the deed is worth it if it ensures their own survival.
So, while common sense would dictate that the two should work together to find another way out, both parties would constantly second guess each other because time is a luxury that neither of them has. It would work as great psychological horror which, while not as visceral, is just as (if not more) effective.
This concept has tons of room to work with and the fact that it had to settle for high budget snuff film is almost tragic. Had the script been handled by a different writer, we could have had a genuinely suspenseful film, a plot that builds genuine tension and draws the viewers to the edge of their seats, and a villain who could contend with the old school slasher icons. Instead, we got what we got.