The horror/thriller genres are such unique beasts. Unique in the sense that they are, arguably, the genres that have the most Ã¢â‚¬Ëœdiamond in the roug’ films that are thrown in with a heap of sub par rubbish. Most horror and thriller films are bland, by the numbers, I-can-see-the-ending-from-a-mile-away types, which actually become a joke. It is very disappointing for fans of either genre. Thankfully, Saw quickly squashes any fears right off the bat, and twenty minutes in, you know you’re in for a real treat. Well, until most of the second half anyway.
Saw begins with two strangers who wake up in a strange, run down bathroom. Adam (Leigh Whannell) pulls himself out of a bathtub and quickly realizes he is chained to a pipe on the wall. After screaming for help to no avail, he realizes that another man, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), is chained on the other side of the room. In between the two men is the body of a dead man, who apparently shot and killed himself.
After tense introductions, both men find small cassette tapes in their pockets and use the dead man’s tape player to listen to them. The voice on the tapes tells the men they will play a game, and they will eventually either walk free again, or die in their new prison. Gordon soon realizes that all of this is the work of the Jigsaw Killer, a deranged sociopath the cops have been chasing for some time. The rules of his game, you ask? Simple: The good doctor must decide to either kill Adam, or let him live. Simple, minus one catch. Jigsaw has Gordon’s family, and if he does not kill Adam, they will die. As for Adam, he can be a co-conspirator to murder or a victim of it. They have until six that night to decide their fate.
One of the great things about this movie is that the Jigsaw Killer isn’t technically a killer. Instead, he finds ingenious and downright nasty ways for his victims to kill themselves. Detective David Tapp (Danny Glover) is obsessively hunting down Jigsaw. The actual plot of the film is developed both in the present and the past, as the film cuts between the men in the room and the story of Detective Tapp’s pursuit, and these mesh well when they eventually come together. This method of storytelling also provides for background and characterization on the major players in the film, and it is almost flawless in its execution (i.e. it is not very confusing).
The main three characters in this movie are mostly fantastic. Gordon and Adam play off each other well in the beginning, and Adam is the perfect street smartass to all of Dr. Gordon’s medical education. Both also sell the seriousness and dread of their situation, and they do a great job of keeping it real and showcasing their growing inner fears. Danny Glover, however, totally steals this movie, as he is a perfect fit for the obsessive detective role, and nails it hands down. He’s vulnerable and he’s weak. Don’t expect any Lethal Weapon-ness here. The range and depth of character he portrays is just amazing, and the movie is that much better with him in it.
To call this film intense would be an understatement. Jigsaw is one messed up pup, and we see his previous work not once, not twice, but three different times (at least). Early on, we see one particularly unlucky soul literally sliced to death trying to escape a sickening trap Jigsaw has placed him in. The rest of these horrifying scenarios should be seen and not read, as it really reduces the effect of the visuals and spoils some of the fun (or non fun for some) of the film. There is a method to Jigsaw’s madness and learning of it as you go along is what the film is all about.
Saw is an intense ride, and a movie definitely not for weak stomachs. Gore abounds here, and it is not pretty. Just when you think you can sit back and relax a little, you’re thrown for another loop. Just when you think you have the story figured out, another big and unexpected plot twist comes along and stumps you. You will think you know who the Jigsaw Killer is. And you will be wrong. No character in this movie is exactly what he or she seems, and plenty of juicy secrets abound. There were a handful of really sweet “Holy Sh*t!” moments in the theater, including the surprise twist ending, which is easily the best, least expected, and almost perfect ending for a mind bending thriller in some time.
Unfortunately, even with all the film does well, it does some things pretty poorly. A decent amount of the acting in this movie is pretty dreadful, and at times is downright laughable. More then one scene had the crowd laughing at the actors, and not just chuckling, but laughing hard. Near the end, some briefly forgot that it was a horror movie and needed to be reminded that comedy was not intended. Whannell and Elwes do a commendable job up until just after the midpoint of the film, and then they just seem to lose their chemistry together (And, in Elwes’ case, his American accent as well. Weird). The film also suffers from some very quick cuts during key scenes, accompanied by a hard rock score. Instead of building up the dread and horror of a scene, this detracts from it. It totally destroys the atmosphere created and has the opposite affect of what the filmmakers were trying for. Thankfully, there weren’t too many of these scenes to detract heavily from the movie.
Then there are the logic gaps. This is the type of movie you walk away blissfully happy from, then drive home and realize, “Hey, wait, that and that and that makes no sense!” Again, Saw is so brutal and fast paced that one doesn’t get much of a chance to digest what just happened before something major happens again. There are also plot holes, and certain things that should have been elaborated on, but instead were totally glossed over (Mostly character related). These are all fairly noticeable flaws, but they are not nearly enough to ruin the movie or make it “bad” in any sense of the word.