The film's story revolves around two men who are chained in a dilapidated industrial bathroom and are each given instructions via a microcassette recorder on how to escape. One is told he must escape the bathroom, while the other is told to kill him before a certain time, or his family will die. Meanwhile, police detectives investigate and attempt to apprehend the mastermind behind the "game".
The film was first screened January 19, 2004, at the Sundance Film Festival to positive reviews.It was then screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 18, 2004, with theatrical releases on October 29, 2004, in the United States and December 2, 2004, in Australia. The film was originally rated NC-17 for strong graphic violence, though after being slightly re-edited, it was released with an R rating.
Critical responses were mixed. Some critics praised its stylish visuals and twist ending, while others denounced it as a cheap "snuff film".Saw was a financial box office success.
Lawrence tells Adam that their captor is the Jigsaw Killer, who places his victims in situations or traps, referred to as "games", in which they must be put through physical and/or psychological torture to survive and escape with a better appreciation for life. Flashbacks show that while Lawrence was talking with some students and an orderly named Zep Hindle (Michael Emerson) about the terminal brain cancer of a man named John Kramer (Tobin Bell), he was approached by Detectives David Tapp (Danny Glover) and Steven Sing (Ken Leung) about his penlight being found at the scene of a Jigsaw "game". He viewed the testimony of Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith), a heroin addict, who is the only known survivor of Jigsaw's games; she barely escaped from having her jaw ripped open during her game by a "Reverse Beartrap" and believes that her experience made her a better person. Other victims of Jigsaw's games included Paul (Mike Butters), who was trapped in a cage filled with razor wire, and Mark (Paul Gutrecht), who was trapped in a room with a flammable substance all over his body along with a candle to help him read the walls covered with numbers that hid the combination to a safe. One of the detectives revealed that Jigsaw frequently watched his victims die — he "liked to book himself front row seats to his own sick little games".
Meanwhile, Lawrence's wife and daughter, Alison (Monica Potter) and Diana (Makenzie Vega), are being held captive in their home by a man who is watching Adam and Lawrence through a camera behind the bathroom's mirror while tormenting Alison and Diana. Their house is simultaneously being watched by Tapp, who was discharged from the force. Flashbacks show that he became obsessed with the Jigsaw case after viewing Amanda's testimony, and that he and Sing illegally entered a warehouse they knew to be Jigsaw's lair and saved a man from being killed by drills aimed at his neck. Jigsaw managed to make a run for it after slashing Tapp's throat, and Sing was killed by a shotgun booby trap while pursuing him. After being discharged, Tapp began stalking Lawrence.
In the bathroom, Lawrence finds a cigarette, a lighter, and a mobile phone that can receive calls but not send them. He and Adam use the first two items to try to stage Adam's death, but an electric shock through Adam's ankle chain foils this plan. Following these events, Adam and Lawrence recall their abductions; they were both ambushed and knocked unconscious by a stranger wearing a gruesome pig mask. Lawrence receives a call from Alison, who warns him that Adam knows more than he is telling. Adam explains that he was paid to take pictures of Lawrence for the past few days by Tapp, and shows Lawrence a pile of pictures of him from the bag containing the hacksaws. Lawrence berates Adam for invading his privacy, while Adam shows Lawrence evidence that he was cheating on Alison. Adam then notices a picture of a man in Lawrence's house; Lawrence identifies the man as Zep Hindle, and the two deduce that Zep is their abductor. Adam then points out that it is six o'clock, the deadline. Zep moves to kill Alison, but she frees herself and manages to overpower Zep, gaining Tapp's attention in the process. He arrives in time to save Alison and Diana from Zep, allowing them to escape, and chases Zep to the sewers.
Lawrence, who is only aware of gunshots and screaming, is zapped by the ankle chain as well and loses reach of the phone; in desperation, he saws off his foot and shoots Adam with the corpse's revolver. Zep, who shot Tapp during the chase, enters the bathroom intent on killing Lawrence, only to be blindsided by Adam (whose shoulder wound had not been fatal) and beaten to death with a toilet tank cover. As Lawrence crawls away with the promise that he'll return with help, Adam searches Zep's body for a key and finds another microcassette recorder. He learns that Zep was another victim of the game, following rules to obtain an antidote for the slow poison within his body. In the film's iconic ending, the corpse in the middle of the room rises to its feet and reveals itself as John Kramer, the real Jigsaw Killer. He tells Adam that the chain's key is in the bathtub, which was drained when Adam accidentally kicked the plug out. Adam grabs Zep's pistol and tries to shoot Jigsaw but is electrically shocked by his hidden remote control before he can do so. Jigsaw then turns off the lights and seals the door to the bathroom, leaving Adam to die.
Critical responses were mixed. Rotten Tomatoes reports that 49% critics gave the film a positive review, based upon a sample of 158, with an average score of 5.4 out of 10. On Metacritic, the film has an average score of 46 out of 100, based on 32 reviews. Roger Ebert gave Saw two stars out of four, calling it "an efficiently made thriller" but "finally not quite worth the ordeal it puts us through." Carla Meyer of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that the film combined B-movie acting with a twisted mind-set and visual tricks designed to camouflage cheap effects" and that it was "terrifying at some moments and insinuatingly creepy at many others".
Despite mixed critical response, the movie has attracted a strong following and has spawned six sequels as of 2010. On Empire magazine's list of the 500 greatest films, it is ranked 499th. Bloody Disgusting ranked the film tenth in its list of the Top 20 Horror Films of the Decade, with the article calling Saw "perhaps the most influential horror film of the decade, which kick-started a franchise.... In light of its measly $1.2 million price tag the film's quality relative to bigger-budget horror films is striking. It also takes itself seriously, which came as a breath of fresh air following the trend of wimpy tongue-in-cheek horror that had dominated the multiplexes post-Scream. More than anything, this twisted morality tale is a film made by horror fans, for horror fans; it’s gory, it's depraved, and best of all it introduced a new horror icon in Jigsaw".
|Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film||Pegasus Audience Award||James Wan||Won|
|Fantasporto||International Fantasy Film Award- Best Film||James Wan||Nominated|
|Golden Trailer Awards||Best Horror||—||Nominated|
|Gérardmer Film Festival||Special Jury Prize||James Wan||Won|
|Youth Jury Grand Prize||James Wan||Won|
|MTV Movie Awards||Best Frightened Performance||Cary Elwes||Nominated|
|San Sebastián International Film Festival||Audience Award- Best Feature||James Wan||Won|
|Satellite Awards||Outstanding DVD Extras (Uncut Edition)||—||Nominated|
|Saturn Award||Best DVD Special Edition Release||—||Nominated|
|Best Horror Film||—||Nominated|
|Teen Choice Awards||Choice Movie Scream Scene||Leigh Whannell||Nominated|
|Choice Movie: Thriller||—||Nominated|