With Saw (2004), James Wan produces an original concept piece for the horror genre; in it, he introduces a killer, who, instead of simply murdering his victims, puts them in a situation where their life depends on the strength of their will power and the degree to which they desire to live. Technically, he doesn’t kill his victims, he merely facilitates the means for them to kill themselves.
John Kramer, the jigsaw killer (Tobin Bell), named both for his game-like inventiveness and his practice of carving a jigsaw puzzle piece into the flesh of those that do not survive their test, chooses people whose lives he deems need saving. By placing them in life or death situations where their life depends solely on their will to survive, he attempts to enlighten his victims of their survival instincts so as to inspire them to appreciate living. For example, one of Jigsaw’s victims is a man who apparently cut his wrists; to test whether the man truly wants to die, Jigsaw traps him in a room surrounded with barbed wire and tells him that if he wants to die he need only stay put. The man, however, dies of massive blood loss after boldly attempting to cross the barbed wire; thus proving his remarkably strong desire to live, and showing that he is ironically more willing to cut himself to live than to die.
Moreover, the ordeals which Jigsaw establishes for his victims are, to some extent, done out of a perverted sense of amusement. It is made abundantly clear that Jigsaw voyeuristically observes the torture and suffering he indirectly afflicts his victims with, whether through a peep hole, a video camera, or, even, by being in the same room.
Since the creative games Jigsaw manufactures are rather fascinating, this sense of amusement is roughly translated into the viewers experience.
For its original concept and creativity, Saw is certainly distinguishable from the run of the mill horror film. It is for this reason, I believe, that Saw has developed into the cult classic, and franchise worthy blockbuster, that it is today.