I understand and appreciate why most people don't recognise the Saw franchise as anything beyond a schlocky series of slasher movies that up the absurdity with every grizzly instalment.
That being said, 2004's Saw, directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannel, is the first film that made me fall in love with the medium. I was floored by the film’s ambitious scope, compelled by the mystery, and stunned by the idiosyncrasy of the technical aspects, such as the hyperactive editing and the spine-chilling score.
In Saw, two strangers awaken in a derelict bathroom, their feet in chains, and slowly come to realise that they are but pawns in a gargantuan puzzle orchestrated by a notorious serial killer. As the mystery unfolds, and the strangers become aware of their shared history, they decide that, in order to avoid a dreadful fate, they will have to play a game.
When attempting to acquire funding, Wan and Whannel shot a seven-minute short film, in which the latter played a man named David, who recounts his experience as a survivor of the Jigsaw Killer. The short features all of the hallmarks of the ensuing feature film; the dirty, grimy aesthetic, the unrelenting use of montage, and a first appearance by Billy the Puppet. The short established Wan and Whannel as a “director-actor team”, and would result in them retaining creative control of a production with more than a $1 million budget.
Saw would gross more than $100 million worldwide, making it one of the most profitable horror films of all time. Whilst the stakes would be heightened with the sequels that followed every Halloween for multiple years, the film that kicked off the franchise remains an inventive mystery/thriller with inventive - albeit gruesome - horror sequences, founded on a tight screenplay with numerous twists and turns that sinks its teeth into the viewer and refuses to let them go until coming to an unforgettable conclusion.
Watching Saw for the first time broadened my understanding of what was possible in both screenwriting and filmmaking as a craft. I realised that you could write a story that mostly took place in a single location featuring two complicated characters who clashed with each other, and that genre tropes could be woven into the script without feeling trite or redundant. Wan and Whannel’s ability not only to breathe new life into the horror genre, but to also create an exciting new world of their own - so exciting, in fact, that it would spawn six sequels and two reboots - was a source of inspiration to someone like me who, until then, viewed film and filmmaking as an industry that was impenetrable.
Wan and Whannel realised that Hollywood was ripe for the taking, and so they went out and made the movie that they wanted to see.
So, when approaching your next project, try not to be too intimidated by whatever budgetary constraints you may be facing. Get your team together, make your movie, and ask yourself...
...Do you want to play a game?