Saw is a movie I can say truly scarred me and scared me. How about you?
Where were you when the first Saw movie trailer dropped? I was in high school seeing a movie I cannot remember. What I do remember is the spooky laugh, the doll, Danny Glover—and I had my eyes closed for the rest of it.
I finally saw it when I was on a date... and I think I was in her lap all night. And not in a good way.
Saw was the first movie that legitimately scared me. It was terrifying, claustrophobic, gruesome, and shocking. It also was an incredibly successful screenplay. It turned James Wan and Leigh Whannel into household names, and it jump-started Hollywood's horror revolution.
So today, I wanted us writers to learn some lessons from the Saw screenplay (all while trying to keep our limbs attached).
Light Saw spoilers to come...
5 Lessons from the Saw screenplay!
1. Start off scary
Movie openings are so important. We've talked about how opening scenes can set the stage for what is to come, and this story is no different.
This one sets up the genre right away and gets us excited to keep reading. We know the stakes are life and death, and we understand that this is going to be a horrifying movie.
2. Give us a memorable villain
Jigsaw is the thing that goes bump in the night. This mysterious figure in the robe was something that audiences had not seen before. We were used to villains whose faces we saw, but he was a guy who hid in the shadows.
When you write your script, make sure there's a villain who grips us and surprises us as well.
3. What makes you different?
Saw was unlike other movies.
Sure, it was a horror movie with twists and turns and gore, but what really set it apart was Jigsaw's machines. They were Rube Goldberg methods of death. They showed us a smart villain who was giving characters a chance at life if they were willing to undergo extreme pain.
This was amazingly unique and original. Horror has always been famous for killing off characters creatively, but this really put a new spin on how it could happen.
4. Commit to the bit
One thing I hate in horror is when people refuse to take the scene seriously.
Bad horror movies have characters who either feel too smart for their own good, or too stupid. They refuse to call the cops or they hide in stupid spots. What Saw gets right is all of its characters are committed to the bit. They're chained up, and they're going to cut their legs off to get free.
This kind of dedication starts on the page, crafting a tone where we believe these actions.
But it's what made this movie so shocking and why we have a whole franchise instead of just one film.
5. Twists are too fun
Saw became a franchise because the ending was so jaw-dropping and awesome that people demanded more.
It made the movie a box office hit and then made the franchise part of the cultural lexicon. When the guy you thought was dead rises up at the end and turns out to be Jigsaw himself, it's an amazing moment. I remember letting out a gasp.
If you want to write a horror movie, think about a twist ending.
Not only can that set up a sequel, but it can also make the audience experience something so visceral that they'll do anything to get more.