"How much blood would you spill to stay alive?"
â The Jigsaw killer
This is a good time to be a horror movie fan. We've had quite
a few scary movies released this year, and there are more on
the way. I'd be happier about this if more of them were good.
Saw is in the same vein as Seven, in that it's
about a serial killer who is out to teach the world a lesson.
In Seven, that lesson was that sin has taken over society
and people shouldn't accept of it. In Saw, the killer
believes that if you're taking your life for granted, you should
be reminded how precious that life is â by, say, being
put in a deathtrap. He then carves out a jigsaw piece from the
skin of his victims, which prompts the police to call him the
The movie starts out with our two main characters, Adam (Leigh
"I wrote this!" Whannell) and Dr. Gordon (Cary "Dread
Pirate Westley" Elwes), waking up in a decrepit industrial
bathroom, chained to the rusty pipes by their ankles. Sharing
the room with them is a dead man who apparently blew his brains
out and is holding a pistol and tape player. As Adam and Dr.
Gordon try to figure out what's happening and how they got where
they are, they each find an audio tape in their pockets. The
tapes tell them that if Dr. Gordon doesn't kill Adam before
the next seven hours pass, the doctor's family will be killed.
The two men try to find a way out of their situation and figure
out why they were selected by the killer.
As in The Grudge, large portions of Saw are
told by way of flashbacks. These flashbacks show us the previous
deathtraps, their grisly results, and introduce us to the police
chasing Jigsaw, Detective Tapp (Danny "Too old for this
s***" Glover) and Detective Sing (Ken Leung).
We also have flashbacks of Adam and Dr. Gordon's lives, the
hunt for the killer by the police, and interludes with Dr. Gordon's
captive family. This is one of the first problems with the movie;
it jumps around way too much. Just as we start to get into the
vibe of a scene, we cut somewhere else. We are also shown some
scenes two, three, or four times, with each repeat only adding
one small detail. Seeing Dr. Gordon walking through a parking
garage five times gets a bit tedious.
The second problem is that for some scenes, to show the passage
of time and how frantic the situation is, the scene is done
in hyper fast-forward that makes the character's movements jerky
and spastic. I can understand what the director was attempting,
but it looks silly instead of building tension.
The third problem is the acting. In most cases, the performances
are pretty solid, but other times the actors go way over the
top from anguish into melodrama. Glover and Elwes are the main
perpetrators. I really can't blame Glover too much, as his character
is written as obsessed with the killer, but Elwes is almost
unforgivable. Yes, his character is in an extreme situation
and believes his family is in danger, but he just goes so overboard
into camp that the audience laughs at him instead of sympathizing
with him. And not the good "tension release" laugh,
either. The "oh boy is this bad" laugh. The one that
jerks you right out of the movie.
This isn't to say the movie is all bad. Leigh does a very good
job as Adam. The deathtraps are inventive, and the music is
top notch. Some scenes are very tense, able to make your skin
crawl or make you to grab the armrest until you're white-knuckled.
The basic concept is great and the ending is a masterstroke.
When the movie is on, it's gripping, which is what makes Saw
so frustrating, because when it's bad it kills the movie.
With some toned-down performances, better editing, and some
plot patching â focusing more on Dr. Gordon and Adam's
cat-and-mouse game with the killer â Saw could
have been a classic. Instead, it's just a passable thriller.
If you're only going to watch one horror movie for Halloween,
go see The Grudge and wait to see Saw on video.