Insert own Saw-related quip here. I'm too lazy to come up with a tagline.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Since when did a studio picture have the balls to follow through on a pitch-black premise and deliver a deadly denouement? Not since David Fincher told New Line it was his way or the highway with Se7en? Well there you go then. But wait...what's this? It...it can't be! I don't believe it! It's...it's...aieeeeeee! Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the multiplex, finally someone has delivered unto those of us who cherish the horror genre something of a holy grail; killer premise, intelligent narrative, something resembling decent production value and above all an ending that doesn't bitch out in favour of bunny rabbits drinking strawberry milkshakes or some such shit. Which is not to say that Saw (say-saw?) is perfect; far from it. It's just that, for the first time since that effort of David "Moses" Fincher's parted the sea of studio bureaucracy, someone has mustered the sheer cohones to challenge the notion that audiences won't swallow anything other than a happy ending. And my how Saw challenges it.
Talk about high concept. Saw is one of those affairs where simplicity is key and you wonder why nobody (unless I'm mistaken) has considered the idea before now. Two strangers, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Carey Elwes) and Adam (Leigh Whannell), awake in a fluorescent-flooded abandoned men's washroom to discover they are the latest victims of psychotic serial killer "jigsaw"; so called because he leaves a puzzle piece at each of his crime scenes. Only, as the men soon find out, our Jiggy isn't technically a serial killer, preferring to ensnare his victims in elaborate traps where freedom comes with the risk of a painful, self-inflicted death. To this end Lawrence and Adam discover they have been chained at the ankles to immovable fixtures. Good news is they have access to a hacksaw. Bad news is it won't cut through the chains, though we are pretty sure it'll get through bone...
And so we find ourselves on a breakfast-threatening journey of terror (why will nobody use our quotes on video covers?) as Jigsaw cheerfully informs Lawrence that unless he performs some DIY dismemberment and kills Adam his own family will be put to gruesome death. Simplicity itself. Juxtaposed with these scenes of toilet terror are the efforts of rugged cop David Tapp (Danny Glover still gettin' too old for this shit...) and his partner Steven Sing (Ken Leung) to track down Jigsaw, affording we the viewer plenty of opportunity to review some of his past glories while building up tension for things to come. By which I mean fat blokes forced to pull themselves through lethal razor wire and one particularly nasty incident with an inverted bear trap clamped to someone's head and a key hidden in a paralysed chap's stomach. Shudder. One wonders what exactly goes on in Whannell's head, for as well as portraying Adam it is he who is also responsible for Saw's gleefully malevolent screenplay. I blame the parents
It's the very fact that Whannell and director James Wan are so obviously revelling in their duty of fucking with your head as much as your stomach that proves to be Saw's most valuable asset. It's wise not to get us here at theOneliner started on the subject of cheap horror movie shock tactics, of which we've grown increasing tired over the last couple of years, because we're likely to go off on an explosive rant (do I hear the oil-needy wheels of the Vitriol Cannon squeaking into life?). Saw delivers us to evil in much-needed style with it's willingness to rely more on the implication of horror, which is infinitely more effective, rather than merely throwing buckets of blood at the screen, and is all the more willingly accepted into our fold for it.
Of course like the blade of it's titular tool, this is still a movie that feels rough at the edges. Chiefly I have difficulty in swallowing Jigsaw's motives, which are unwisely left for a final reel rush-through that perhaps in recognition of this weakness attempts to sweep them quickly under the carpet before the viewer has much time to think about them. Had they been introduced earlier they might have served to fill one or two of the movie's more lethargic moments, on which note I present my second point; for a movie of 100 minutes runtime, Saw begins to struggle in stretching it's central conceit to fit. Much wiser might have been the choice to chop ten or twenty extraneous minutes of exposition, quite possibly resulting in a pace more suitably mirroring the frantic actions of it's panicked protagonists. Finally, performance-wise there's little to complain about other than some dodgy thesping on Elwes' part, but very little to shout about either. Still, this is a movie that rests on ideas rather than character, so perhaps I'm being a little harsh.
I've taken Saw very much to my heart of late, not only because it's that rarest of quality horror movies but also because it's such a damn brave little fellow. The atmosphere it evokes is so accomplished that moments which might have seemed silly in the hands of other so-called horror directors, such as a freakily-masked ventriloquist's dummy on a tricycle (!?), somehow manage to be genuinely unsettling and occasionally terrifying. Oh, and against all odds it also contains several genuinely disturbing "jump" moments that don't simply rely on an entire orchestra having a simultaneous sneezing fit into their instruments. So there you have it; the immediacy of shock value coupled with a demented desire to mess with the viewer's mind. Note to Uwe Boll; before you fuck off and die please watch this film. And bring a notepad you c**t.
Being the omnipotent God of all righteousness, I have declared this "motion picture presentation" worthy of 4 out of 5 Root Toot Toot's.
Cary Elwes (Dr. Lawrence Gordon)
Danny "getting too old for this shit" Glover (Detective David Tapp)