Why the Saw movies are perfect for middle managers.

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Oct. 26 2007 1:00 PM

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Torturers

Why the Saw movies are perfect for middle managers.

Saw IV. Click image to expand.
Saw IV

Recently, I went in to get some dental surgery. A root canal had shattered, and my dentist was convinced that he needed to root around in my gums with a metal pick and dig out the shards. He said that it would be very painful, but assured me that it was for my own good. Reclining in his chair before the procedure, I was more than a little nervous, and it got worse when he pulled down an overhead monitor that was playing the Saw movies. These films are about people, usually immobilized in chairs, forced to endure unbearable agony by a serial killer who assures them that it's for their own good. I asked my dentist if he was mocking me. "I'm using them as an anesthetic," he said. "Trust me, by the time the second Saw movie starts, you'll be numb from the neck up." He was right—by the half-hour mark I felt like my head was made of wood.

This weekend, dental technicians around the country will rejoice as Saw IV opens. At a mind-numbing 108 minutes, the movie will transform viewers into blockheads, allowing oral surgeons to perform even longer and more complicated procedures on them. The Saw films represent the flagship series in the "person tied to a chair and tortured" horror genre (see also: Hostel, Captivity, The Passion of the Christ). In each of the Saw movies, someone wakes up in a room with a clockwork deathtrap a) strapped to their face, b) strapped to their neck, c) stuck through their flesh with hooks. An overachieving handyman named Jigsaw informs them that they have a limited amount of time to find a hidden key before the deathtrap is sprung. The key is usually hidden somewhere inaccessible, like at the bottom of a jar of flesh-eating acid, deep inside a pit of dirty hypodermic needles, or in someone else's stomach. The goal is to make these poor saps appreciate their lives by forcing them to do something completely gross and painful. Think of it as Dr. Phil meets Fear Factor.

Advertisement

The first Saw film, made for less than $2 million, was picked up by Lionsgate Entertainment in 2004 and became the company's fifth highest grossing movie of all time, hoovering up $55 million at the U.S. box office alone. The following Halloween, Lionsgate released Saw II, which grossed $87 million; and in 2006 they released Saw III, which raked in $80 million. Lionsgate is the studio responsible for such highbrow hits as Hotel Rwanda, Crash, and Fahrenheit 9/11, but the Saw franchise and Tyler Perry movies, such as Diary of a Mad Black Woman, are the lowbrow moneymakers that fuel their furnaces with piles of cash.

The first Saw movie kicks off with Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) and one of the film's writers, Leigh Whannell, waking up to find themselves chained to the walls of a locked room. Jigsaw gives them six hours to free themselves, either by killing one another or by sawing through their own feet. Larded with flashbacks and requiring massive suspensions of disbelief (given six hours to kill or be killed would you really pull out your wallet and show your cellmate photos of your daughter?), it's a neat idea for a short film inexcusably stretched to feature length. Now with four installments under its belt (and parts five and six already in the pipeline), the Saw conceit has been stretched even thinner, padded with useless back story and so many recurring characters and dark secrets that the entire enterprise resembles a soap opera for young men.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 3:53 PM Smash and Grab Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 5:39 PM Whole Foods Desperately Wants Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 5:03 PM Marcel the Shell Is Back and as Endearing as Ever
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.