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Saw’s tiny, isolated world sports no cleanliness. The key location, a bathroom, hasn’t seen a cleaning product in years. Crime scenes exist in ugly basements. Parking garages beg for a power wash and paint. And homes, even when physically spotless, hide the ugly psychological muck within them.

If Saw succeeded (and continued) for any singular reason, it’s design. Horror films often set themselves in miserable spaces, like rusty farms or Gothic castles. Few though feel so contemptible as Saw, where the sheer level of uncaring puts victims against someone completely indifferent to their well being. At least Leatherface invited strangers to dinner.

Saw deserved the franchise it spawned

The darkness in Saw’s vision represented a change in genre. Silence of the Lambs and Seven delivered graphic terror, but to Saw, that violence is treated like a solution. Saw starts with empathy for Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Lawrence (Cary Elwes), the pair becoming the characters so often despised in slasher movies. Using that tactic, it’s a question of moral righteousness. Jigsaw’s victims capture a broad subset of people judged by society for their actions. Addicts, manic depressives, adulterers. Jigsaw acts on those thoughts, the mania that sets him apart, and sets those differences against one another.

TV Detective dramas entered a newfound popularity in the early ‘00s, and Saw uses its premise to upset those formulas. There’s a reality the CSIs on broadcast networks couldn’t – or even wouldn’t – show. Danny Glover plays a detective whose exposure and experience with this killer drove him insane. Imagine seeing that week-to-week, and the glossiness of David Caruso’s sunglasses seems ever more implausible amid the relentless cynicism.

For its creative choices and brilliant design, Saw is still a small, independent feature. Elwes is unusually bland, and Leigh Whannell acts out his script as if coming at the material from a camp perspective. He’s truly terrible, mortally wounding the script’s bright spots each time he speaks. Lucky then for Danny Glover, who even in a small role, adds credibility where the other main cast members cannot. In one sense, Saw deserved the franchise it spawned, because that’s how horror series’ begin – a fantastic concept, one decent marquee name, and credibility before becoming so tied up in its own lore, even the die-hard fans dissipate in number.

Video

Saw’s intent leans ugly, carrying a thick grain structure that leads to an unimpressive visual space. Sharpness lags. It’s difficult to believe this is a new 4K master, although the source makes it equally difficult to know. There is gain over the HD version, notably in compression. The 4K reveals no artifacting or noise. Saw looks like film.

Dolby Vision splashes intense brightness onto the screen, accentuating the light against the heavy shadows and overall bleakness. Sounds odd, but the restrictive palette allows for a denser contrast. The focus on messy white tile and cold blue color scheme give Saw infinite energy. Even in the green flashbacks, glossiness doesn’t recede.

Great shadows compliment this all, crushing only where intended. Drops to pure black happen organically (and often). Detail thrives into the densest areas, even if fidelity isn’t overall impressive.

Audio

Going bold, Lionsgate’s remixed Atmos aims at full volume. There’s no lacking range, the track intense throughout. The score blows up, slamming into the low-end, piercing the highs, and shocking anyone awake if they find the material dull.

Being smaller in budget and scope, surround activity doesn’t offer the same prominence, although where possible, directionality stands out. When Adam wakes up in a filled bathtub, the water rushes through the soundstage, height channels too. There’s no doubt the design updates from previous mixes.

Extras

The UHD offers a commentary shared by director James Wan, Leigh Whannell, and Cary Elwes. There’s a second track featuring the producing trio of Mark Burg, Greg Hoffman, and Oren Koules. A new hour long retrospective titled The Legacy of Saw brings back Wan and Whannell to discuss the project. The included Blu-ray is identical to the previous release, bonuses and all.

Saw
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

Unknowingly launching an extended franchise, Saw poses a clever mystery, undone only by its dismal performances.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 43 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: