DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is my first rewatch since its release almost 10 years ago and I actually upped my rating. I did completely have to block out most of the awful sequels though.
What makes this film so great is that it does something new within the genre. I'm not talking about the, mostly, gratuitous violence and the torture pornesque qualities, but I'm talking about the reasoning and motivation of its villain, the wonderfully conceived Jigsaw.
He is basically a healer, a messed up Dr. Phil. He asks his victims how far they are willing to go to save themselves from their own built prisons and if their problems are really worth dying for. It's about sacrificing parts of yourself to make a better whole. Essentially, that is a very strong conceit for any thriller or horror film, one that distinguishes it from its generic counterparts and follow-ups.
Wan covers his film in gritty sleeze, perhaps borrowing a bit too much from the Se7en aesthetics, but still giving it a very distinguishable style and feel. What struck me in this rewatch is its pacing and interweaving of the investigation and the trapped victims. It's actually really well done, always keeping you interested and carefully sidestepping most genre tropes, all leading to one fantastic ending.
It is also surprisingly less grotesque than I remembered. Sure it has enough gore, but it's more the look of the film that feels disgusting than anything else. What did still annoy me was the acting. Cary Elwes is very poor here and does a very poor job of convincing me of the dire situation he is in and Danny Glover just doesn't do gritty really well. Most of it is saved by the excellent Tobin Bell, whose voice and intonation betray a methodical intelligence, making Jigsaw a truly menacing and frightening villain.
I think this film suffers from its poor sequels and should be judged on its own merits and after having done that I can only conclude it is a very well made and original outing in the genre.