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SAW (director/writer: James Wan; screenwriters: Leigh Whannell/based on a story by Mr. Wan and Mr. Whannell; cinematographer: David A. Armstrong; editor: Kevin Greutert; music: Charlie Clouser; cast: Cary Elwes (Dr. Lawrence Gordon), Danny Glover (Detective David Tapp), Monica Potter (Alison Gordon), Makenzie Vega (Diana Gordon), Leigh Whannell (Adam); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Gregg Hoffman/Oren Koules/Marc Burg; Lions Gate Films; 2004)
“Blood splatter antics take over and make it a tough watch for the queasy and those who still consider themselves sane.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Saw is influenced by David Fincher’s Seven, the outlandish thrillers of Dario Argento, and the weird horror curios by Takashi Miike. It weaves together under James Wan’s uneven direction, in his debut, a convoluted psychological thriller tale with a grisly horror one. It’s intellectually sound, at least for a long stretch, which is enticing for such a pulpish flick; but its sickening Halloween-like blood splatter antics take over and make it a tough watch for the queasy and those who still consider themselves sane. In my case, the revolting beat out the intriguing nature of the story by a mile after a close race to the finish. The improbable twist ending also made me rethink my earlier higher opinion.

Two strangers, shady surgeon Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and a regular guy photographer down on his luck named Adam (Leigh Whannell, cowriter), wake up in a filthy underground tiled bathroom and find themselves chained to rusty pipes on opposite ends of the room with a dead man who committed suicide with a gun that is nearby. The dead man is lying in the middle of the room in a pool of blood. Neither captive has a clue of what’s going down and why they are there, but receive a micro cassette message that orders Dr. Gordon to kill Adam within eight hours. If he does not comply, then both men will die; furthermore Dr. Gordon’s wife, Alison (Monica Potter), and his pre-school daughter, Diana (Makenzie Vega), will also be killed. It’s soon thought that they might be the victims of the still on the loose Jigsaw Killer, a madman known for devising cruel ways for his vics to check out of the world. The torturer videotapes his captors and while tormenting them drops clues on how they might escape while leaving them two handsaws. The saws can’t cut through the pipe but would cut through their shackled legs. For the viewer who enjoys such gore and exploitation of violence, be cheered that one of the captives will exercise his option to self-amputate and the camera will not be turned off.

The use of flashback takes away at times from the claustrophobic torture room. In these flashbacks we observe Detective David Tapp (Danny Glover), the homicide cop investigating the Jigsaw case, who has become so obsessed trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together that he’s lost track of the big picture and even becomes a suspect. Through the cop’s eyes we follow some of the Jigsaw Killer’s other cleverly devised murders, where he gets off on not only torturing but humiliating his vics and going moral on them.

It suggests Abu Ghraib and a possibility for a new reality television show where contestants would try to escape a torture chamber for prize money. The tale becomes increasingly irretrievable as far as worth and ends up as pointless entertainment for those certain viewers who can’t get enough misery in the world and crave pushing the envelope in the hopes this will lead to eventual real-life snuff films in their local mall multi-plex. The important message seems to be to keep the violence ratcheted up; it’s good box office.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”