Movie Review: Saw

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Director: James Wan
Starring: Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Michael Emerson
IMDB | Official Site

Two men, strangers to each other, wake up to find themselves trapped in a filthy, abandoned bathroom, both chained by the leg to pipes and with the dead body, a man who has seemingly shot himself in the head, lying in a poll of blood in between them.

So goes the opening of Saw, the new horror/mystery which has been drawing rave reviews from fans and has been dubbed an American Giallo by some commentators.

The two men, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Elwes) and Adam (Whannell, who also co-wrote the film with director Wan), must figure out what’s happened to them, why they are where they are, and how they’ll escape with their lives – if they’re able to trust each other.

Into this scenario are sent teases and trinkets from the man who has put them there – the Jigsaw killer. The Jigsaw kidnaps people and places them in elaborate scenarios in which they will have to make a hard choice between their gut instincts and their survival, all in the name of making each one more appreciate what they have.

Soon, Adam and Lawrence are finding notes from the Jigsaw, riddles and clues, tools and traps, hidden throughout the bathroom. Though whether these items are placed to help them escape, or to help them kill each other, is unclear to them.

The movie cuts back and forth between the two of them as they struggle to free themselves and escape with their lives and into both of their pasts, including Lawrence’s previous brush with the Jigsaw when he was briefly considered a suspect in the crimes by police.

Saw is taut and squirm-inducing. The techniques and contraptions the Jigsaw employs to torture his victims are elaborate. But the film is ultimately undercut by its a-smart-teenager-wrote-this dialogue, its music video editing, and its draconian morality (more on this in an upcoming essay).

Like so many modern horror movies, Saw is too full of snappy comebacks, “amusing” profanity, and poor characterization. People trapped in a chamber of horrors don’t seem the most likely candidates to be trading Kevin Smith-style repartee.

The acting isn’t great either. Though it has its moments, newcomer Whannell is whiney and stiff, the actress playing Elwes’ wife amusing complains of Elwes’ character lacking passion in one of the most passionless moments in recent major filmmaking. Scenes which should induce, at least, fear, elicit laughter.

The plot has its holes, too. For instance, when the detectives chasing the Jigsaw (played by Glover and Leung) think they’re found him, they go after him on this own. Remember, this is a serial killer with a number of gruesome kills under his belt who has eluded police for months and instead of calling in back up (to say, oh I don’t know, cover all exits so they guy can’t escape?), they charge into his lair alone. To make matters more stupid, they willfully ignore obtaining a search warrant, potentially making any evidence or suspects they find inadmissible in court. Worse still, when they finally corner the Jigsaw, they let him speak and speak and speak and finally nearly kill another victim, before they try to apprehend him or shoot him.

No wonder the cops can’t catch the guy. They’re idiots.

Granted, the film is tense and disturbing in parts, but it’s never really scary and it goes on a bit too long. The twist at the end is smart, and pulls away perhaps the only thing the audience feels it knows about the movie for sure, but that’s not enough to save Saw.

The bad dialogue and acting, combined with stupid characters and medieval morality (more on that in coming days, I promise) add up to make Saw an interesting, but ultimately disappointing exercise in horror.

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