‘Saw’ Remains a Cut Above on Unrated 4K Release [Review]
The original 2004 Saw was released on 4K Ultra HD for the first time in May, fittingly just three days before the new Spiral: From the Book of Saw arrived in theaters, and revisiting the first film only reinforces its place as a modern classic.
Spawning one of the most successful horror franchises in history, James Wan’s (The Conjuring, Insidious, Aquaman) directorial debut is too often lumped in with “torture porn” horror films, and while the sequels may fall more squarely into that category, the original film has much more in common with David Fincher’s gritty Seven than Eli Roth’s torture-fueled Hostile.
It’s easy to forget what a phenomenal mystery lies (quite literally) at the center of Saw, and Jigsaw’s final reveal is chilling, legitimately shocking, and perfectly executed. If it had ended there, it would still be just as much an iconic moment in horror cinema. Other far more successful franchises arguably never had a twist this good to anchor everything that followed.
For seven straight years, a new Saw movie was released in theaters the weekend before Halloween, quickly growing to be an annual October tradition for millions, solidifying its central antagonist/protagonist John “Jigsaw” Kramer as an icon.
It’s quite interesting to consider that Saw is the rare (only?) slasher film in which no females are killed, just one of many ways what could have easily been a throwaway genre flick subverts expectations to deliver something that actually still feels pretty fresh when re-watched in 2021 on the newly released Unrated 4K Ultra HD edition.
The Unrated cut adds a few seconds of extra gore here and there, and most noticeably (and wisely) removes all of industrial band songs featured in the theatrical cut and restores composer Charlie Clouser’s original score throughout.
Cary Elwes of course stars as Dr. Lawrence Gordon, a successful family man who wakes up in a dirty locked bathroom chained to a wall, opposite a stranger named Adam, played by co-writer Leigh Whannell (The Invisible Man). Both lead performances are great, as the viewer is instantly engrossed, trapped in this room in this Twilight Zone-type scenario, and then they each find a cassette tape with a mysterious voice explaining the “game” they will have to play in order to survive.
In a feature length commentary track, James Wan explains that rather than use a prop body, Tobin Bell opted to actually lay on the floor in character as Kramer for all seven days of filming in the bathroom where the two strangers wake up. Re-watching the final scene when he finally rises to the completely devastating shock of Whannell’s Adam, it remains one of the best movie twists ever.
For a film regarded historically is being brutal in its violence, it is again interesting to look back and remember that most of the actual violence itself is done offscreen. The most torturous moment is when Jigsaw’s “accomplice” Zep (Michael Emerson) puts a gun in the faces of Dr. Gordon’s kidnapped wife (Monica Potter) and daughter (Makenzie Vega).
Danny Glover is the detective obsessed with finding the Jigsaw killer, and when he finally does, Bell’s delivery of the line “Sick of it all” just before slicing into some brief onscreen violence is chilling, and all the more perfect the more we learn about Jigsaw’s backstory.
My favorite part of the movie is the introduction of Amanda, the only victim to ever escape Jigsaw, played brilliantly by Shawnee Smith. The sequence not only introduces Amanda, a pivotal character for the franchise going forward, it also gives us one of Jigsaw’s greatest traps in the reverse bear trap, and it introduces the creepy and iconic Billy puppet for the first time. But what really makes this whole sequence mindbogglingly twisted, unforgettable, and absolutely integral to the foundation of the Saw franchise is Amanda’s final statement, “He… helped me.”
Bonus features included on the new 4K release include the wellrounded documentary Game Changer: The Legacy of Saw, the featurette “Hacking Away at Saw,” an alternate storyboard sequence for Jigsaw’s first encounter with the detectives, the original theatrical trailer, a feature length audio commentary with Wan, Whannell, and Elwes, and a second feature length audio commentary track with producers Mark Burg, Gregg Hoffman, and Oren Koules, all of which I believe was previously released on Blu-ray but packs in quite a bit more than my own personal earlier DVD copy of the film.
Wan and Whannel’s original Saw short film, an early version of the Amanda scene with Whannel in Smith’s role, is also included.
Whether you just watched the new Spiral: From the Book of Saw or you’re about to, there’s never been a better time to revisit the original classic that started it all and still stands tall.
Saw Unrated is out now on 4K Ultra HD, from Lionsgate, available via Amazon here.
You can see the new cover art below.
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