Saw was made by James Wan and Leigh Whannell, two friends from Melbourne, Australia, both aged 27. The two met on a filmmaking course at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Subsequent to graduating, Leigh Whannell had worked as a journalist on tv entertainment shows and had a small acting part in The Matrix Reloaded (2003), while James Wan was working in advertising and trying to get a job directing. After trying to obtain funding for Saw in Australia, both decided to throw all they had ($5000 Australian) into making an 8 minute short film, which consisted of the climactic scene. This proved sufficient for them to get funding from the US to expand the film to feature-length and employ several name stars, as well have Saw granted a major theatrical release.
It is always an amazing experience when you discover new talent flowering Saw is one such occasion. It is an utterly gripping film that has one sitting bolt upright captivated from the opening scene where the lights are turned on and Leigh Whannell (who also plays the role of the photographer Adam) finds himself chained up in the basement. Wan and Whannell keep the majority of the film contained in this single location but keep feeding us twists and surprises the discovery of the notes and then the saws, the revelation that these are not there to saw through the cuffs but sever their feet, the escalating twists concerning the photo in the wallet, the hidden X and so on. There is an extraordinary ingenuity to some of the traps the victim in a cage of razor wire that they must claw their way through to get to safety; a girl coming around to find a booby-trapped headpiece placed on her and to realise that she must cut open the stomach of a semi-conscious victim to obtain the key before the headpiece detonates; the man locked in a basement covered with a flammable grease and told that the combination to the safe that will free him is one of hundreds written on the walls but he only given a candle to read the numbers with.
Most of all, Saw is filled with a genuinely suspenseful dread in not knowing at any point what way it is going to turn or where it is going to end up. It is a film that goes all the way in terms of conceiving the inconceivable in its preparedness to kill off the good guys, in allowing us to wonder whether Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannells characters will cut off their feet or whether Elwes will kill Whannell and with Wan and Whannell daring us to see whether they will let this happen or not. The marshalling of twists and surprises is orchestrated with an extraordinarily dexterity. Wan and Whannell arrange the flashbacks and the amount of information that is given to us in an ambiguous way to make it seem that what we think is going on is something different altogether or leave us with hints that the killer might be Elwes, Whannell or Danny Glovers detective. The climactic scenes where all of these things come to a head at once and where the various other elements involving Danny Glover and in particular what Cary Elwes is thinking he is hearing going on on the other end of the phone with his wife and daughter all start to go disastrously wrong not to mention the beautifully nasty series of final surprises are utterly gripping.
In an industry that values moneymaking and commercial givens over talent and originality, full kudos must go out to the producers behind Saw for banking their money on two complete unknowns. It has paid off in aces. James Wan next went on within genre material to direct the vigilante film Death Sentence (2007), the ventriloquists dummy horror Dead Silence (2007), the haunting film Insidious (2010), the supposedly true-life haunting and possession The Conjuring (2013), Insidious Chapter 2 (2013) and The Conjuring 2 (2016). Wan has also produced Annabelle (2014), Demonic (2015), Insidious Chapter 3 (2015) and Lights Out (2016). Leigh Whannell wrote the screenplays for Dead Silence and the Insidious films, while also playing the role of a paranormal investigator in the latter two, as well as wrote Cooties (2014) and The Mule (2014), and then made his debut as director with Insidious Chapter 3 (2015).
The success of Saw was spun out into a series of sequels, Saw II (2005), Saw III (2006), Saw IV (2007), Saw V (2008), Saw VI (2009) and Saw 3D (2010), none of which contained the superb tension of the original. Instead, these push the sadism and torture scenes to a gore-drenched extreme for the genre. Saw was also parodied in Scary Movie 4 (2006).