Born in 1977 and raised in Melbourne, Aussie screenwriter, producer, and occasional actor Leigh Whannell alternated between work as a reporter and assignments as a TV-based movie critic on his native continent prior to his decision to attend film school in the early 2000s. As a production student, Whannell met aspiring director James Wan; the two forged a tight creative bond and quickly devised the premise for a new slasher franchise, Saw, co-authoring the screenplay of the premier installment.
The by-now infamous story of Saw concerns the plight of two successful men who black out, regain consciousness, and find themselves chained to rusty pipes in a subterranean bathroom. They are then tortured in unspeakable manners by an evasive predator in clown makeup, known alternately as The Jigsaw Killer and simply Jigsaw. To sell this genre effort, Whannell and Wan followed a marketing strategy identical to the one that Joel and Ethan Coen used to sell their debut, Blood Simple, 20 years prior: the budding filmmakers shot a "trailer" that showcased the film's atmosphere of relentless tension and high-wire suspense to secure a production deal. The gamble paid off; Lionsgate green-lit the project and sent it into production between 2003 and 2004.
Meanwhile, Whannell embarked on an acting career; he joined the ensemble cast of 2003's Wachowski Bros. sequel The Matrix Reloaded (as Axel) and assumed the lead role of Adam in Saw.
With Wan in the director's chair and Stacey Testro, Peter Block, and Jason Constantine as executive producers, Saw became a massive runaway hit and -- as predicted -- yielded two successful sequels in 2005 and 2006 that further detail the exploits of Jigsaw. The boys scripted the second and third installments, though Wan declined the offer to direct either. Saw II, which debuted in late 2005, has eight people -- instead of the original two -- locked up by the diabolical Jigsaw in a dungeon and attempting to escape. In Saw III, Jigsaw -- now on his deathbed -- instructs his protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith), in the ways of evil, ordering her to kidnap and torture a physician and another victim, Jeff (Angus MacFadyen). Mirroring the innumerable A-budget horror franchises that preceded Saw, the first sequel did astonishing box office but was eviscerated by critics, and Saw III echoed this response on both critical and commercial fronts.
Meanwhile, instead, of directing Saw II or Saw III, Wan and Whannell set to work on a Saw follow-up, 2007's Dead Silence (aka Shhhh...). The suspenser stars Donnie Wahlberg and supermodel Amber Valletta (Hitch), and concerns a recently widowed young man who returns to his hometown to unearth the shadowy details surrounding his beloved's demise. Universal Pictures slated the release for January 2007.
~ Nathan Southern, All Movie Guide