A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Saw is the stuff of nightmares, even if a jaded horror aficionado might not find it scary. The images of torture and death are brutal and explicit, lingering in mind long after the movie ends. There are multiple on-screen deaths, a child's life is threatened, characters die, a father is forced to make terrible decisions to protect his family, and there are no scenes free of peril. There are also references to suicide, adultery, drug addiction, madness, and self-mutilation. There's strong language ("f--k," "s--t," and more), and characters smoke. Underlying the killer's motive is the notion that everyone deserves to be tortured and that there are no innocents.
What's the story?
In SAW, a serial killer named Jigsaw traps a doctor (Cary Elwes) and a voyeuristic photographer (Leigh Whannell) in a windowless room with a corpse. Together with the clues that they've been given -- including a mini-cassette player, photographs, and two small saws -- they seek to solve the riddle and escape.
Is it any good?
A thoroughly intriguing -- if ghoulish -- premise, some original nightmarish images, and a young director eager to show off his talents make this movie atmospheric and intense. But the whole thing gets caught in the razor wire of shoddy acting, a sociopath who makes you go "huh?", a lack of engaging characters, and a morass of internally inconsistent details. The bitter taste in your mouth when Saw's over won't be fear, but rather disappointment that what could have been a smart, original horror-fest turned into such an uneven wannabe.
Director James Wan and Whannell (who wrote the script with the director) clearly have been influenced by modern horror stalwarts like Seven, 28 Days Later, and The Ring, which results in a stilted form of brinksmanship where the end game is the most memorable gruesome image. Tying the scenes together, much less ending the movie with a tight little knot, is beyond their story-spinning ken this time. But they deserve recognition for aiming high and for providing an engaging if ultimately disappointing ride.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the killer's motivation in Saw. How would you describe it? Do you understand it? Are the deaths consistent with that motive? What might the characters have done differently?
How do the gory images in movies like this impact viewers, especially young ones? Why do you think there's been a trend toward these "torture porn" movies?
Discuss the resonance (or lack thereof) of movies where characters face death and re-evaluate their lives and priorities. Do Lawrence and Adam become more appealing characters as you get to know them better and as their fate looks bleaker? Do their choices become clearer as they reassess their priorities? What do you think the "right" life would be like so as not to attract the killer's attention?
For kids who love scares
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.