Revisiting Saw, and the Torture Porn Genre

Making a return after its supposed Final ChapterJigsaw has once again come under fire for championing guts for glory. Yet for all the bad rep it gets, the flak may not be entirely justified. As criticism continues to spew from every end, there is no better time than now to revisit the much-maligned ‘torture porn’ genre, and the movie that started it all.

Released in 2003, Saw may be well known for its creative display of gore. But it was the plotting and characterisation that proved the most intriguing. Such as is rarely done in horror, the film builds up a strong case for its fascinating villain, whose impetus goes far beyond an ostensible murder intent.

Before his big plans, John Kramer had been stricken with cancer. When he attempted suicide out of desperation, he survived. It is only with his proximity to death, did he begin to appreciate life, and it is this belief that inspired his becoming.

Photo: Lionsgate / Greg Gayne

As Jigsaw, Kramer began building complex contraptions, forcing his victims to confront their last moments. The traps seem assuredly fatal at first. But each came with a possibility of escape, so long as one chooses to confess and sacrifice, changing their lives from that point on. The simple game at the very beginning epitomises his philosophy.

Chained in a grimy bathroom with nothing but a saw, Adam Faulkner and Lawrence Gordon are ordered by a taped voice to kill the other to save themselves. What happens with the saw makes an impression. But it is where John Kramer as Jigsaw espouses his steadfast doctrine, that the story gets truly riveting.

Never committing a kill with his own hand, he does not see himself as a killer and in fact, despises murderers. His intention is not to murder. Rather, he wants his ‘players’ to survive. He believes that his deathtraps are lessons to help fix the broken, by giving them a reason to believe.

“Most people have the luxury of not knowing when that clock’s going to go off. And the irony of it is that that keeps them from really living their life. It keeps them drinking that glass of water but never really tasting it.”

– Jigsaw

As in Saw, the violence in ‘torture porn’ is not always gratuitous. Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs for instance, have more to say in its depicted brutality that served as a route to spiritual transcendence. Similarly, treading the line between pleasure and pain, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser delves into the motivations of hedonistic pleasures in sadomasochism.

Sometimes, the atrocities probes human behaviour and survival instincts. With Cabin Fever, Eli Roth shines a light on the terror of those driven to the edge that far exceeds extrinsic, uncontrollable threats. Again, Hostel shows the darkest side of seemingly ordinary people, whose hidden lust for release easily emerge when given a mask.

Photo: Lionsgate / Greg Gayne

Likewise, John Kramer’s game is purposeful in its bloodshed. Each conversation with his victims reveals his compelling, if perverse, beliefs. Parallel to religious impositions, his world is one where sins beget retribution. He believes himself to be the Devil, who can help those with one foot in Hell. He is the Messiah, who can deliver mankind from evil and bestow sinners a second chance at life – if they survive.

His methods may be twisted, yet his mind is arguably rational. There is a marked understanding of the difference between pure lunacy and his calculated crimes. When Amanda takes over his legacy, her designs were importantly contrasting with Kramer’s. What she had created were not experiments or lessons as Jigsaw believed his to be, but deathtraps for the sole sake of cruelty.

“You didn’t test anyone’s will to live. Instead you took away their only chance. Your games were unwinnable, your subjects merely victims.”

– Jigsaw (to Amanda)

Controversy over the violence overshadowed how Saw had not only been one of the most interesting films in years, but had reinvigorated the horror genre during its decade of stagnancy. Its soundtrack (Charlie Clouser’s Hello Zepp) and character design (Jigsaw, Billy) made their respective halls of fame, where new entries have been rare in recent years. Its success also inspired a barrage of murder gameplay films like The Collector and 13 Sins.

While Saw has since veered from its initial essay on punishment and sins, the increasingly provocative carnage does not negate the depth of its original story. What James Wan and Leigh Whannell once created 13 years ago, would prove the specious accusations of its critics wrong, and justify the longevity of a franchise that has no doubt left an indelible impact on the genre.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Revisiting Saw, and the Torture Porn Genre

  1. Terrific post! As you know the Saw movies for me are a bit of a guilty pleasure. This first one though will always be the best. Yes there is a little bit of graphic violence on display here. But it never comes close to the later movies. I always thought of tbis first film as a thriller instead of a full on horrormovie. A very good one though.😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. I think SAW is actually one of the best low-budget films ever made and subsequent films from Wan and Whannell have confirmed their quality writing and directing skills, especially in the horror genre. I think “Torture Porn” is a harsh label for what is an excellent horror film. Perhaps other films and the subsequent sequels of SAW deserve such a label, which is really just a journo-catchpenny-name to replace previous incarnations such as: “Grindhouse” “exploitation” or “video-nasties!”

    Like

  3. Yup – great post. The whole ‘torture porn’ label is an interesting one, huh? Something new was required, as it didn’t play by the long established horror rules.

    I thought Saw was a great flick, but as the franchise wore on it began to get a bit weary (to the point where I have no interest in this recent effort).

    Like

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s