Directed by James Wan, “Saw” is a 2004 horror survival fare that established a benchmark for other movies of similar genre to follow – starring Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Tobin Bell, and more.  The film follows the exploits of a sinister serial killer, the Jigsaw Killer. The story starts with an eerie awakening as two strangers, Dr. Lawrence Gordon and Adam, find themselves in a filthy and foreboding bathroom. Their predicament takes a terrifying twist when they realize they are shackled to grimy pipes, sharing the bleak space with a corpse. Their fate rests in the lifeless hand of the deceased, holding a loaded revolver and a tape recorder. It swiftly dawns on our hapless duo that they have been unwillingly thrust into a nasty game orchestrated by the cunning Jigsaw Killer.

As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that Jigsaw’s signature method involves placing people on a knife’s edge between life and death, driving them to make harrowing decisions to pursue survival. “Saw” injected a novel and bone-chilling dimension into the landscape of horror cinema, steering clear of conventional frights and delving into psychological trauma, moral quandaries, and macabre contraptions. Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell masterfully portray their central roles, lending gripping originality to the characters trapped within that grim bathroom. Meanwhile, Tobin Bell’s portrayal of the Jigsaw Killer carves an unforgettable presence, forging a character that seeps into the marrow of your memory with his haunting and outstanding performance.

Saw (2004) Plot Summary & Synopsis:

The movie starts in a dimly lit bathroom, and we see two men, Adam and Dr. Lawrence, chained to opposite ends of the wall. Between them lies a lifeless body, its hand clutching a handgun and a tape recorder. Adam (Leigh Whannell) struggles with the chains, desperate to free himself, but Lawrence (Cary Elwes) advises him to save his energy, implying he’s been in this grim situation for a while. Together, Adam and Lawrence devise a plan to escape their chains. They search their pockets and discover a small cassette and a note instructing them to play it. Adam retrieves the tape recorder and presses play.

The voice on the tape reveals to Lawrence that they are in a death room, and the only way to survive is to kill Adam before the clock strikes 6. The voice chillingly threatens Lawrence that his family will suffer if he fails to end Adam’s life by six. However, the voice believes in the game’s fairness and hints that he has hidden several tools in the room that can help them escape. After searching for a while, Adam and Lawrence find a hacksaw hidden in the flush tank. Lawrence soon realizes their kidnapper wants them to use the hacksaw to cut through their feet. Furthermore, the sadistic traps remind Lawrence of the killer’s identity.

Going Back to the Past

Lawrence reveals a dark chapter from his past, recounting his involvement in an investigation years ago. The police were in pursuit of a ingenious serial killer known for dispatching victims through meticulously crafted traps. This killer’s signature was to provide a voice recording, offering victims a slim chance of escape. However, the path to freedom was often excruciatingly painful, even more so than their death. One of these diabolical traps was the “Flammable Jelly Trap,” in which the killer places a person coated in flammable jelly inside a room.

The only means of escape lay within a safe, its combination hidden within the wall. To survive, the victim must use a candle in the room to uncover the combination on the wall. The killer designed each of his traps to test his victims’ guilt and gauge their willingness to confront the consequences of their actions. This unique and sadistic method of execution earned the killer a chilling moniker: “The Jigsaw Killer.”

Lawrence was put in a tight spot when the police discovered his penlight at one of the murder scenes, implicating him. Fortunately, he managed to clear his name as his alibi for the night in question held up under investigation. During the investigation, Detective Tapp (Danny Glover) and Sing (Ken Leung) request Lawrence to listen to Amanda’s testimony, the only known survivor of the Jigsaw Killer. Amanda (Shawnee Smith) was kidnapped by the Jigsaw Killer and was subjected to a nightmarish ordeal involving the “Reverse Bear Trap.”

This gruesome device was designed to be worn on the head and featured metal jaws resembling a bear trap but in reverse. Amanda’s survival was contingent upon locating a key hidden inside the stomach of another captive who had been rendered unconscious. To escape the impending doom of the trap, Amanda had no choice but to dig through the belly of a living man. She ultimately survived, but the trauma scarred her for life.

After going through the tapes, Detective Tapp and Sing figured out the location where Amanda was kept. Digging further, they narrowed it down to one single building. The duo entered the building and found the Jigsaw Killer. However, the killer escapes after slitting Tapp’s throat. Detective Sing followed the killer but was eventually taken out by one of his traps. Tapp somehow survived and swore to deliver justice to Jigsaw Killer.

The Struggle to Survive

A still from Saw (2004).
A still from Saw (2004).

In the present, Adam and Lawrence struggle with their predicament, desperately searching for any means of escape from the chains. The Jigsaw Killer had already warned Lawrence of the consequences if he failed to kill Adam in time. On the other hand, Lawrence is aware of the same but wants to exhaust all his options before deciding to take another man’s life. Regretting for not spending enough time with his family, Lawrence offers Adam his wallet, containing the pictures of his wife and daughter. Unbeknownst to Lawrence, the killer has cruelly replaced one of these family photos with an image of his loved ones being kidnapped. Fearing that this revelation might push Lawrence to the brink and provoke an attack, Adam hides the disturbing picture.

The hostages resume their search for the hidden tools, scouring every corner for a glimmer of hope. On Adam’s suggestions, Lawrence turns off the lights. In doing so, he discovers an “X” marked on the wall, concealing a hidden box. Inside the box, they find a cell phone, a cigarette, and a note addressed to Lawrence. The note cryptically informs him that he doesn’t need a gun to end Adam’s life. Lawrence attempts to use the cell phone to contact the police and secure their rescue, only to be frustrated as the cell phone proves to be no help in their desperate situation.

Tension escalates when Adam reveals the picture he had hidden earlier, exposing that Zep (Michael Emerson) has kidnapped Lawrence’s family. The chilling reality sinks in that the only way to save his loved ones is to take Adam’s life. Lawrence still doesn’t want to take another human’s life despite the dire situation. Instead, he devises a cunning plan to deceive the Jigsaw Killer. However, the killer proves to be astute and sees through their charade. The Jigsaw Killer electrocutes Adam, revealing that he isn’t actually dead.

Saw (2004) Movie Ending, Explained:

Did Lawrence Kill Adam to Save his Family?

To force Lawrence to kill Adam, the killer connects him with his wife and daughter, who informs them that someone has taken them hostage and will kill them when the clock strikes 6. Lawrence’s wife, Diana, also exposes Adam, saying he knew about him before today. In reality, Adam is a photographer and has been tailing Lawrence for days to click pictures of him with other women.

Adam continues that he was working for a man named Bob, who pays him 200 bucks a night to shadow Lawrence. Lawrence believes that the killer has hired Adam’s services, but in reality, it is Detective Tapp. After Sing’s death, Tapp was discharged from the force. Tapp made it his life’s mission to catch the Jigsaw Killer and was convinced that Lawrence was somehow involved with the murders. Thus, he pays Adam to tail Lawrence to see if he himself is the Jigsaw Killer or a helper.

The deadline exceeds, and seeing Lawrence has not yet killed Adam, Zep moves to murder Lawrence’s family. Dianne breaks free from her restraints and attacks Zep. Detective Tapp steps in, allowing Dianne and her daughter to escape. Unfortunately, Zep manages to kill Tapp. On the other hand, the Jigsaw Killer electrocutes Lawrence, causing him to drop the cell phone. Once more, the phone rings, and its chime fills Lawrence with hope that his family is still alive.

He strains every fiber of his being to reach the cell phone, but the cruel reality of their situation prevails. As desperation tightens its grip, Lawrence finds himself with no alternative. In a gut-wrenching decision, he contemplates the unthinkable. He decides to sever his leg with a hacksaw to reach the phone. Adam pleads fervently on the other side of the room, urging Lawrence not to go through with the plan. But Lawrence, seeing no other recourse, begins cutting through his limb.

In a desperate move, Adam crawls to the dead body, loads a bullet into the handgun, and shoots Lawrence in the shoulder. Zep enters the room, intending to kill Lawrence, but before he can pull the trigger, Adam regains consciousness and kills Zep. Despite his injuries, Lawrence manages to drag himself out of the room, promising to get help. Left alone, Adam discovers a tape recorder through Zep’s pockets. The tape reveals that Zep is not the mastermind but a victim like them.

The Jigsaw Killer had poisoned him, and Zep was just following the killer’s instructions to obtain the antidote. The movie takes a dramatic turn and unveils its biggest twist. The lifeless body in the room comes to life, revealing itself as John Kramer (Tobin Bell), the Jigsaw killer. John informs Adam that he hid the key in the bathtub, which was inadvertently flushed down the drain when Adam woke up. Realizing his grim fate, Adam picks up the gun and attempts to shoot John, but John electrocutes him instead. After delivering a chilling monologue about the value of life, John exits the room, leaving Adam to face an uncertain and horrifying fate.

Who’s John Kramer, and Why He Become the Jigsaw Killer?

John Kramer’s transformation into the Jigsaw Killer began when he faced a devastating personal loss. He was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor that caused excruciating physical agony and left him utterly hopeless. This ordeal, coupled with a botched suicide effort in which he drove his vehicle off a precipice but miraculously survived, fundamentally altered his outlook on life. This near-death experience motivated him to inspire others to value their lives and avoid squandering them.

Kramer developed a love affair with the idea of putting people’s hunger to survive to the test. He felt that many people were wasting their lives by carrying out harmful and illicit actions without suffering any repercussions. Kramer considers himself a moral crusader, aiming to force his victims to face their transgressions and make decisions that would either result in their salvation or destruction. John Kramer eventually took on the moniker of “Jigsaw” because he thought he was offering his victims an opportunity to grow and learn to love life.

Even though his tasks were incredibly cruel and vicious, he weighed them as a sort of recovery. For example, Amanda was a person with substance abuse disorder and was resigned to wasting her life. Kramer took her captive, subjecting her to his reverse-bear trap and compelling her to retrieve a key from the stomach of a living person. Astonishingly, Amanda managed to survive this harrowing ordeal. Even though she endured enduring psychological trauma, she realized that her life held far too much value to be squandered for drugs.

Read More: All 9 ‘Saw’ Movies, Ranked from Worst to Best

Saw (2004) Movie Trailer

Saw (2004) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd
Saw (2004) Movie Cast: Tobin Bell, Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, Ken Leung
Where to watch Saw

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