Horror Thriller Serial Killer
Trivia Bizarrely, the UK cinema edit is the original uncut version, a full 2 minutes longer than the US release.
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15th Nov 04
Two strangers with seemingly no connection wake up on opposite sides of a strange room, chained by their ankles to some industrial piping with no memory of how they got their and only a micro-cassette in each of their pockets to show for all their troubles. In the middle of the room is a freshly dead corpse with a gun in one hand and a micro-cassette player in the other. And there are saws - two of them - not strong enough to cut through their chains but definitely strong enough to cut through their ankles. Dare you see Saw?
As a refreshing mix of 60s Hitchcock suspense and good ol' fashioned 70s splatter, Saw is something of a revelation. It totally bucks the safe-bet Hollywood teen-horror movie formula we've come to expect in this knowingly post-ironic age we live in (Scream still has a lot to answer for) and instead goes back to basics. There are no hockey masked killers with machetes chasing large breasted nubile blondes here, oh no, only seemingly ordinary people thrust against their will into life or death situations. You see, the Killer in Saw doesn't actually kill anyone with their bear hands - far from it - rather they devise scenarios whereby the unfortunate participants have to play some kind of game. If they loose, they die.
To talk you through the games the killer plays would actually ruin your enjoyment of the film, but I can give you a few clues. The killer tends to somehow kidnap his victims, drug them, and then move them to an undisclosed and quite contained industrial location. When they awaken they may be strapped to a chair, or they may be naked and doused with flammable liquid, or caged in a mesh of barbed wire - or whatever the killer has in mind. The rules of this game of death are then explained, personally, via videotape or by some other means, and then the clock starts and the game begins. And when your time is up, you die - probably.
In the case of the film's two leads, the undisclosed industrial location is some kind of large sealed disused toilet. When they awaken, they find themselves chained by their ankles to some industrial piping - like I said before - but this time the game is explained to them via the micro-cassettes they find in their respective pockets. It's simple - one guy must kill the other before six o'clock or his wife and child die.
Initially the film concentrates on these two leads, a Dr Gordon and a guy just known as Adam, and the conversation they have. But the more they talk, the more they deduce, and with deduction comes the flashbacks - essentially the meat of the film. Through the medium of flashback we find out all about the Killer's previous victims and the despicable scenarios they were placed in, and this is where most of the gore content comes from. The sequence where a girl hunts for a key in a living man's intestines is quite stomach churning, but it's just one example of this movie's unrelenting nastiness.
Also through the flashbacks are we introduced to the rest of the cast - namely Monica Potter as Dr Gordon's unhappy wife and Danny Glover and Ken Leung as homicide detectives chasing the Killer. They suitably complete the picture, filling in all the plot holes as necessary to keep the action back in that dungeon of a central location ticking over. In fact, having these various subplots jump into action on queue, play out, and then return back to that room is integral to making this picture work. It means the movie never sags, nothing is ever happening on the screen that isn't directly relevant to the what's going on with Adam and the Doctor, and as such is quite hypnotic to watch. It's high praise indeed to say that I've not seen a film made so effectively in this style since Reservoir Dogs, and that was over a decade ago.
If Saw borrows the story telling angle from Reservoir Dogs, it borrows it's cinematic style from Se7en. Se7en was grim, gritty and dirty, and pretty much every other scene had something in it that made you wince in disgust. Saw's the same - flashbacks of the Killer's victims desperately trying to work their way out of whatever wicked game has been devised for them are often painful to watch - there's always this hideous feeling of oppressive claustrophobia. First time director James Wan has turned the low budget to his advantage, shooting practically every scene in a cluttered, underlit room. And why not, horror is a genre which relies as much on stylistic direction as it does good acting and as such it's no wonder that this is the route some of the world's most accomplished directors took to get noticed in the industry.
In terms of acting, I suppose this is the movie's weakest point. Danny Glover is brilliant as the frustrated detective, but is massively underused, as are Potter and the little girl who plays her daughter. The two central roles of Adam and Dr Gordon are portrayed by Leigh Whannell and Cary Elwes respectively, and with varying degrees of success. Whannell is the weaker acting, but he half wrote the screenplay and this being a low budget movie he must have blagged one of the main roles early on, so you can't really blame him too much. Elwes however is more of a mystery. Famous for The Princess Bride, Men in Tights and then playing the stuck-up British bad guy in numerous vehicles for other actors, I was surprised to see him here. He plays the whole movie out a little too tongue-in-cheek for a would-be serious piece of terror, but he is fun to watch and he never detracts from the movie's overall misery, so I can't hold any grudges against him either.
I might be in a minority there though. If you head over to our online friends at imdb.com, you'll find an inordinate amount of reader reviews for this movie slatting Elwes' performance. It's funny - for every great review of Saw there, there's a bad one, and Elwes' name crops up again and again. Well, whether you agree after seeing this movie or not, I guarantee you one thing: Cary Elwes hasn't been on the lips of so many would-be film critics for his entire life, proving the age old adage that even bad publicity is still publicity.
So, in answer to the 'Dare you see Saw?' question, you'd be a fool not to.
Versions Only available on general release, currently.