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Reviewed by Gary Mitchell, © 2004

Format: Movie
By:   James Wan (director) and Leigh Whannell
Genre:   Horror
Released:   Released October 29, 2004
Review Date:   October 31, 2004
Audience Rating:   Rated R
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

"How much blood would you spill to stay alive?" — 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 — 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 Jigsaw killer.

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 — focusing more on Dr. Gordon and Adam's cat-and-mouse game with the killer — 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.

How on earth is RevolutionSF Spankmuppet Gary Mitchel going to finish his review . . . with only one hand?!

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