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The killer who never was: complex storytelling, the Saw saga, and the shifting moral alignment of puzzle film horror

Freeman, M (2015) 'The killer who never was: complex storytelling, the Saw saga, and the shifting moral alignment of puzzle film horror.' In: Clayton, W, ed. Style and form in the Hollywood slasher film. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke. ISBN 9781137496461

Abstract

The Saw series (2004-2010) is officially the most commercially successful horror movie series of all time – grossing over $873 million at the international box office. Despite its prominence in contemporary horror cinema, few scholarly works have ventured into the world of Saw and its unique stylistic and structural identity – the films remaining largely bereft of substantial critical attention. This chapter aims to address this gap, examining the Saw films on their own terms by exploring the relationship between the series’ use of what Warren Buckland describes as ‘complex storytelling’ and its shaping of a unique emotional resonance. Consisting of seven films, each released consecutively every Halloween between 2004 and 2010, the Saw series was designed to unfold one long story spanning multiple films. The plot is made decidedly complex by incorporating narratological devices of the puzzle film, such as ellipses, multiple time-lines, non-linearity, and disguised temporal reversals – each designed to mislead the viewer whilst establishing a structure that arcs and interweaves across seven films. No popular horror movie series has ever developed and examined its own history in quite the same way. But what can this tell us about the series’ own emotional resonance within the context of the horror movie? Despite the Saw series often seen as the epitome of ‘torture-horror,’ the films themselves are morally grounded, focusing on a “killer” who believes his torturous acts will transform sinful “victims” into better people. The idea of moral horror permeates throughout the slasher movie, with the most socially devious characters regularly killed, thus standing apart from Carol Clover’s conception of the morally innocent Final Girl archetype. I will examine how the Saw series reinterprets this notion of moral horror through the use of the aforementioned strategies of complex storytelling, revealing how the Saw series’ application of puzzle plot techniques allows for a story that continuously revisits its own past in order to distort the established horror movie dichotomy between that of the villain and the victim. Such distortion is argued to articulate a complex puzzle out of both its own narrative form and the moral nature of horror itself.

Item Type: Book Chapter or Section
Keywords: Film and Television, Film History, Theory and Criticism, Direction and Production
Divisions: College of Liberal Arts
Date Deposited: 22 Jul 2015 09:47
Last Modified: 29 Apr 2016 13:27
URI: http://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/6294
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