So I have been thinking about Saw some more, specifically the difference between it and the splat films from my youth.
The iconic Friday the 13th films were downright Grimmian in their simplicity. “The world works a certain way. If you break certain rules, you will die.” As easy as it was to see the conservative elements of society railing against these movies, there was a lot of overlap between the world views of both… it’s just that the movies enjoyed exploring the gory details of both before and after and did so to, let’s face it, a degree where a reasonable person *MIGHT* say that it appeals to the prurient interest.
Saw, on the other hand, does not inhabit a universe where the world works a certain way… with rules. This is one of the things that makes Jigsaw so terrifying. He looks at the universe and sees no rules at all and, as such, tries to bend (twist?) the world into something that has rules. Of course, the thumb of the author is always on the scale and so Jigsaw’s intuitions are always right and his insights are always trenchant and his psych profile is always full of right-handed complaints. In an empty universe, Jigsaw is trying to turn a bunch of people who don’t appreciate the empty universe into Moral Agents (and, as far as I can tell from wikipedia, a handful of them into moral agents like him). It is the thumb of the author on the scale that may make folks say, in dark of night, “you know… he kinda has a point.”
And when we get back into broad daylight, the very idea that we could think such a thing for even a moment is where some (most?) of the horror comes from.
The horror from Friday the 13th is the horror that comes from living in a universe with hard consequences for one’s actions. The horror from Saw is the horror that comes from living in a universe without any.