Radar Replay: ‘Saw’ offers compelling storytelling in the slasher film genre with a realistically jaded villain

Courtesy of Lionsgate Films

“Saw” stands out above all other horror films for one simple reason alone: Jigsaw. Unlike most horror movie villains, he has no elements of science fiction or fantasy. He cannot die again and again at the end of every sequel and magically make himself reappear. Just like his unassuming victims, he is bound by the laws of nature. He cannot snap his fingers, deus ex machina, to summon unestablished superpowers. He is bound by the laws of natural science and his actions and his murderous exploits have to make logistical sense as his abilities are bound by the plain of a mortal existence. 

 

This fact, that our character is based in some assemblance of reality, is important for one reason. Stories are about characters. Most stories, wrapped up in action and adventure and keeping everything moving at 99 miles an hour, leave no room for the most important element in any story worth telling — characters. Unlike most horror or slasher films, Jigsaw is a compelling character. Just like Thanos, Jigsaw has a well structured philosophy which, to him, justifies a series of malevolent actions for the purpose of serving the greater good. Jigsaw wants to clean up the world from crime and sin, like Light Yagami in “Death Note.” But unlike Thanos or Yagami, Jigsaw takes it one step further. Targeting, not only criminals but also those who lack an appreciation for life, like the average joes who do not appreciate their wives and stock brokers who have not found happiness in an endless pool of Benjamin Franklins. By bringing man to the verge of death, Jigsaw believes that he gives people what they lack most, an appreciation for life.    

 

In 2004’s “Saw,” which first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and the first of a franchise that would spawn seven sequels, two men wake up only to find themselves chained up in a bathroom with a dead body. With only a limited amount of time, they must play a twisted serial killer’s torture game if they want to make it out alive. As a series of police investigations find themselves underway, Jigsaw must avoid the authorities while putting into motion a series of torture traps that will test people’s will to live or die. 

 

This simple premise, two men chained up in a bathroom for 103 minutes, spawned a franchise of seven sequels and a ninth installment starring Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson scheduled for later this year. On a shooting budget of $700,000, “Saw” went on to gross a $103.9 million box office return. The film franchise spawned two video games, a television series, a roller coaster in the U.K. and box office grossings of $976 million. 

 

The film delves into the mythology of the Jigsaw Killer explaining his complex justifications and motivations thus turning Jigsaw into more than your run-of-the-mill black and white villain. He doesn’t simply embody a standard definition of evil. A compelling villain on the other hand, seeks to question your moral framework and make one reconsider concepts like good and evil in order to see the gray. Jigsaw does not show any pleasure from killing. He does not laugh hysterically or even smile. Jigsaw is a hyperbolized version of Tyler Durden from “Fight Club.” He inspires someone to live their best life through idle murder threats, the only difference is Jigsaw keeps his promises.   

 

Jigsaw believes he can cure and redeem through his trials of survival. Whether or not he is right or wrong is irrelevant, the truth is that everyone is the hero of their own story. The more society antagonizes your efforts, the more you begin to see yourself as a revolutionary and a reformer.  Nobody sees themselves as the bad guy. Even the bad apples think it is the tree that has a problem. Jigsaw, a cancer victim, just wants people to be grateful for the lives they have been blessed with. He does not want to see people squander their lives the way he feels he has. In a way, he feels that it has become his responsibility to teach people to cherish and value their existence.   

 

As said earlier, at the heart of every good story are compelling characters. These characters do not necessarily need to be likable, just interesting. In nowhere else but the horror subgenre of slasher is this more well proven. The slasher genre is full of iconic characters: Freddy Frueger, Chucky, Michael Myers, Leatherface, Jason Voorhees, Leprechaun, the list goes on. The Jigsaw Killer stands among this immortalized cast of characters.    

 

Unlike some of the villains on this list, Jigsaw refuses to be a one-dimensional villain. He won’t fit a cliche villain paradigm. He doesn’t want to destroy the world. He does not want to take it over or rule it either. He is a crossbreed between The Punisher and Batman. He absorbs all the philosophies of vigilantism, dipped in a Hannibal Lecter-esque persona. Some villains see themselves as a necessary evil to do what must be done and they see themselves as the only ones who are willing to get their hands dirty. But Jigsaw does not even see himself as a villain, and those are often the best villains of all. 

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