"Torture porn" gore-fest is more grisly than scary.
  • Review Date: February 14, 2005
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Horror
  • Release Year: 2004
  • Running Time: 102 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Attempts to add a sense of destiny and philosophy to the victims; they've all committed some sort of wrong (lying, bigotry, cheating, etc.) and are now being shown the error of their ways. But the extreme gore involved in the punishment heavily outweighs the original crimes.

Positive role models

No admirable characters here.


This is a "torture porn" movie with exceptionally graphic/bloody and disturbing images. Constant peril, death by many grisly methods, life of a child threatened, reference to suicide, many characters die, references to molestation. Some shocking jump scenes.


Sexual innuendo. References to adultery. Flashback includes a cleavage shot. Crude references.


Frequent use of strong language, including "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "damn," "hell," "a--hoie," "goddamn," "oh my God," "crap," and more.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Smoking, references to drug addiction, talk of getting a beer.

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 Saw 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 it'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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the killer's motivation. 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 29, 2004
DVD release date:September 23, 2014
Cast:Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Leigh Whannell
Director:James Wan
Run time:102 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:strong grisly violence and language

This review of Saw was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Adult Written bydudeman123 November 3, 2010

One of the greatest horror flicks of all time

How can common sense actually give Saw 1 out of 5 stars.. terrible review. Common sense just tries to get people to think saw is a terrible movie because it is bloody. In reality, Saw is an excellent and well executed film. The entire movie is a thrill ride from the beginning to the very unexpected and shocking ending. Saw will leave you stunned, guessing, and ready for a sequel
What other families should know
Too much violence
Adult Written bytvgirl July 1, 2009

An Excellent Psychological Thriller!

This film is exactly what the posters and DVD covers convey: A violent horror movie not suitable for kids and pre-teens to see. What they don't convey is how the psychological thriller aspect of the movie is more prominat than the graphic and very realistic violence which can become disturbing to some squeemish viewers. Things to look out for are: The implication that a man is having an affair, two sex jokes, and a man runs through a room completely naked and is on screen for no more than 5 seconds. Violence is throughout. The aftermath of horrific torturous murders are seen several times. One realistic gunshot wound, several realistic hand-to-hand battles, and lastly a man cuts off his own foot (the action is off screen, we see him after the exploit is over with). Language is very frequent, mostly the "F" word is used but other cuss words are said was well. It is implied that a victim bought and sold illegal drugs and a main character is revealed to be a smoker. The entire film is unsettling and hard to rewatch, but the inital reaction to seeing the film for the first time will leave the viewer breathless. Bottom line: The film was originally NC-17 and cut down to an R-rating. Ages 16+. 5/5 stars. Enjoy.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Teen, 14 years old Written byHunterJumper13 December 21, 2010

Great for mature tweens-teens

I'm 13,and I thought this movie was terrific. I mean, I'm a horrer movie connesuer, I've been raised on Chucky, Jason X, etc etc. I found this movie to have an interesting plot though, and the acting was actualy pretty good. I'd say definantly go for it for 13:)


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