Bodies piling up in disturbingly creative ways. Cops looking for a mysterious killer with a slick code name to match his m.o. This initial description could fit nearly any slasher film ever made. We probably all know the twist by now though. Jigsaw doesn't kill anyone; he just gives people a chance to learn the value of their lives or die trying.
In Saw, Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Lawrence (Cary Elwes) wake up in a grimy bathroom, each chained to pipes at opposite walls. They're given a tape recording that asks that all important question, "Do you want to play a game?" As they try to unravel the mystery surrounding their predicament and attempt to weave a scenario that allows them both to make it out of that room alive and intact, Detective Tapp (Danny Glover) is working to find the answers behind the very same mystery, which has been haunting him for months.
"But wait!" you may be saying, "Torture porn. Sequels. Elaborate death traps. Box office staple." Yes, these are all elements that swirl around Saw, as a franchise, like so much poop sludge pooled in a grimy toilet holding potential tools of survival. The fact of the matter, however, is that there's actually not much of those elements here. For being considered the film that started the torture porn "movement," there is actually relatively little gore in Saw. The traps are also fairly simple (apart from the franchise emblem of the reverse beartrap headgear); unlike what we'd come to see later in the series, the traps here actually come across as things a person could realistically set up. As with most horror franchises, the elements that Saw became known for aren't actually very present here in the first entry. What is here is a fairly tense, low budget thriller with a decent amount of creativity and, yes, some moments of questionable acting. The focus is actually on the tension from the threat of pain and death, rather than on violence being acted out. Saw is actually more akin to a film like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than much of the "torture porn" that came after it. Elwes may be hamming it up to an extreme at moments, and there is some questionable logic behind the way that the final reveal happens, but Saw does actually offer up a good amount of substance for what it is.
If you haven't watched Saw because you're put off by the torture porn moniker or its relative popularity, give it a try anyway, even if you have to pretend the sequels don't exist. It's a lot more original and well thought out than many of the low budget horror offerings we've gotten over the years. And, if you are looking for extreme violence and gore, start here and watch the sequels (as it is, in my opinion, possibly the most consistent long running horror franchise).