Starring Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Leigh Whannell, Michael Emerson, Tobin Bell, Ken Leung, Makenzie Vega, Shawnee Smith, Benito Martinez, Dina Meyer Paul Gutrecht, Ned Bellamy, Alexandra Chun, Avner Garbi and Mike Butters.
Screenplay by Leigh Whannell.
Directed by James Wan.
Distributed by Lionsgate Films. 102 minutes. Rated R.
The set up is terrific. Two men wake up in a scummy bathroom. They have no idea how they got there. They are chained to a wall. There is a corpse in between them. They are given saws which are not solid enough to cut through the chains, but which could go through flesh. One of the men is a doctor named Lawrence (played by Cary Elwes, a long way from his role as the hero in The Princess Bride), the other is a slacker photographer named Adam (played by screenwriter Leigh Whannell). Lawrence is told that his wife and daughter have been kidnapped. If he wants to save his own life and his family’s, he will have to kill Adam.
Right there you have the makings of a taut, thrilling short film. Of course, this is a feature, so we have to delve into the past and the motivations of the psycho behind the predicament. It is the work of a serial psychopath called the Jigsaw Killer, although, as one of the characters correctly points out, he hasn’t killed so much as forced other people to kill themselves and others. One man is forced to crawl through a razor-wire tunnel to get the antidote to a slow-working poison. A woman is placed in a contraption which could rip her face open and could only get the key to let herself loose by stabbing to death a drugged man who has been forced to swallow the key. A cop has to choose between saving a man from being drilled through both sides of his head and letting a serial murderer go free.
The makers of Saw have definitely seen Seven and taken notes, and to a degree they have captured the claustrophobic sense of doom of that film. We see the horror of people put into extreme circumstances trying to stay sane as their world goes crazy. We see a veteran homicide detective (Danny Glover) lose perspective (and possibly his sanity) as he obsessively tries to find the killer. We see red herrings and McGuffins pointing the blame in different directions with an admirable sleight of hand.
However, the film is at its tense best when at its most basic — peeping on the two men chained together in a hell that they don’t understand. As the terror of the situation dawns on them they go through all the stages of mourning, hope, denial, depression, distrust, anger and finally desperation.
In the end, though, we never really understand the killer’s motivation. Why is he creating these elaborate death traps to torture and destroy all these people? In Seven, all the disturbing and sadistic violence made a certain twisted sense in the grand scheme of the killer. Here it often seems a bit too random. The Jigsaw Killer’s often repeated mantra that so many people take life for granted just doesn’t really cut it. And why does he wear the dumb-looking clown mask and ride the tricycle, even when he is obviously alone? Therefore, when we finally find out who the psychopath is and what his connection is to the victims, it seems like a bit of a cheat.
Saw is a film that brings out mixed feelings in an audience. It is most certainly a very scary and disturbing movie. However, it also seems sometimes to be a little too enraptured in the sordid sadism it is showing. One scene where the kidnapper holds a stethoscope to the heart of a little girl while he points a gun at her mother’s head is supposed to show us how heartless and disturbed the man is, but it also makes you wonder a little about the mental stability of the screenwriter. Still, if you are looking for a horrifying look at the heart of darkness, Saw is very effective. (9/04)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 15, 2005.