There are many, many things more fun than watching the Saw movies. Like eating acid-coated glass shards. Or starring in Japanese vomit porn. Or dating a novelist. All of these rank infinitely higher on the enjoyment scale than actually sitting through the unholy torture-fetish buffet that is Saw. And yet it’s the most popular horror franchise in history. Seriously, it is-at this point James Wan could slice open his tongue, lick blood on a page, Lionsgate would produce it, and it’d do $60 million in domestic box office alone.
The first Saw was entertaining for one reason only: “Is Wesley from Princess Bride SERIOUSLY gonna saw his own foot off?” And then he does, and you go “Well that was interesting.” After that? The films attain a color and clarity of shit so high that it could be mined by Liberian warlords. Forehead-slappable acting, plots with less substance than an edible G-string, and grisly, awful torture scenes. I mean really viscerally unpleasant stuff. When you find yourself differentiating between the sequels by saying “It’s the one where the chick gets tossed into the vat of dirty hypodermic needles” or “It’s the one where the drunk driver has his arms and legs twisted off in that giant machine” you know something is wrong. There’s no scare here. There’s no psychological dread or built-up suspense. There’s just the human body, and all of the sick disgusting things that can be done to it.
Oh and then there’s Jigsaw, the most pompous serial killer in history. “Once you’re in Hell, only the devil can help you out”-who SAYS shit like that?? Granted, he has his whole punishment-doling “What would you do to survive?” ideology. Murderers with ideologies are always more interesting-Idi Amin, Charles Manson, Carl Spackler. Plus Jigsaw’s got that whole “dying of a terminal illness” thing, which is a nice twist. But why does he have to look like Rutger Hauer crossed with Sinead O’ Connor’s fetus? Plus who’s funding all these large-scale torture operations? Booby-trapped houses and deadly nerve gas and rooms full of razor wire don’t just purchase themselves. Is there some VC firm doling out cash for early-stage, potential-high-growth torture sprees?
But the REAL question is: Why the hell are these chunks of cinematic shite so popular? The answer is simple: American guilt. We’re all thrashing around in a culture built on Me-ism-I want mine, I’ll do whatever it takes to get it, and fuck everybody else. And deep down in places we don’t talk about at parties, we KNOW we’re steeped in a moral wasteland, and that we’re little better than most criminals for spending our time worrying about how many panda-skin Jimmy Choos we can buy while a single mother of four works three jobs and still can’t afford to have a fucking cavity filled.
The beauty of these movies is that they’re blank slates to assuage our guilt-the scenarios are so ambiguous (random people plucked from ordinary assholery) and the characters so bland, they allow every one of us to imagine we’re the guilty douche in the torture chamber/poisoned house/corpse-sprinkled public bathroom. And they let us feel better, by presenting someone worse than us (drug dealers, wife beaters), and creating some sort of internal justice system. “Sure, I wrote a few misogynistic blog comments and scowled at a homeless man, but THAT guy killed a kid with his car! He’s worse than me! He deserves to have his extremities slowly twisted off by a giant Medieval crucifix!”
Bottom line: We’re headed for a cultural revolution in this country-one hopes!-and it’ll come down to the Me-ists versus those who believe in humanity’s inherent social responsibility. The Saw movies are a perfect tool to prepare for this-they’re creating an organic sense of order. So when Rome burns and the Hieronymus Bosch shit starts in earnest, we’ll have a system of punishment all worked out. If you’re a “Why should I pay higher taxes so the poor can have healthcare-I work hard for my money!” then it’s the Iron Maiden for you. “Why should I give a shit if overseas military contractor women are getting raped-they joined up! They asked for it!” You get thumbscrews. “Why should I pay for content on the Internet-I should have everything I want for little to no cost! I’m an American, dammit!” Twisting Crucifix, with a side of nerve gas.
Oh, and yeah, Saw VI opens today. Go see it and stuff.
Melissa Lafsky really likes horror movies.