Now here is one grisly item. Saw is the perfect retaliation to the recent onslaught of PG-13 fluff horror flicks, and will probably amount to being the most sick and disturbing film of the year.
The premise is simple, but effective. Two strangers, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Elwes) and Adam (Whannell), awaken in a dank bathroom in the middle of nowhere. They are chained to opposite walls of the room, and lying between them is one very dead guy who has clearly shot himself in the head.
The two men each find an audio cassette tape in their pocket, and it is soon revealed that Gordon must kill Adam in a given amount of time in order to save his family from the maniacal Jigsaw Killer. But is the Jigsaw Killer really a killer? After all, he just sets up the demented situations and lets his victims kill themselves.
That’s all of the plot that I will reveal. Much of the film is told in flashbacks, with each one topping the last in sickness and overall disgust. A scene involving one of the Jigsaw’s victims who has a “reverse bear trap” contraption attached to her head will have you squirming in your seat. It only gets worse from there, and the ending is shocking. One must commend Director James Wan and Screenwriter/Actor Leigh Wannell for concocting such a twisted story premise, but I also found myself wondering about their mental health!
From this reviewer’s standpoint, Saw is one of the most shocking films of the year, and one of the best serial killer films in years (probably since Se7en, which this film is indebted to). The simple setup ropes us in immediately and never lets up, and some of the imagery will stick with even the most hardened viewer for days. Wan and Wannell are constantly going for the jugular of the twisted, and more often than not they succeed. I can only imagine what was in the NC-17 cut of this film prior to its final edit.
Saw is also an exercise in atmosphere and claustrophobia. The set design for this film, especially considering it was made for less than a million dollars, is phenomenal in every respect. Talk about gloom and doom.
The performances are solid, although sometimes amateurish. Cary Elwes is effective as Gordon, who slowly unwinds throughout the film. Screenwriter Wannell is also good as Adam, but Monica Potter as Gordon’s wife is a bit underused, and Danny Glover as an obsessed cop on the trailer of the Jigsaw Killer is a bit over-the-top. Plot holes abound, but nothing noteworthy enough to heavily detract from the story. The MTV-style techno camera work also gets a bit annoying at times.
Quibbles aside, Saw is a very effective and disturbing thriller. Those who like their films dark and violent will be very relieved that movies like this are still released in mainstream theaters. I give major props to Lions Gate for picking up this flick, which made quite the impression at Sundance in January. Saw arrives just in time for Halloween, and it could not be more appropriate.
Studio: Lions Gate Films
Length: 100 Minutes
Rating: R for strong grisly violence and language (edited for re-rating; originally NC-17).
Theatrical Release: January 19, 2004 (Sundance Film Festival) & October 29, 2004
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Leigh Whannell. Based upon the story by James Wan and Leigh Wannell.
Cast: Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer, Mike Butters