The unkindest cut
First-time director hits more than misses in brutal Saw
In the industrial section of an unnamed city, a pair of detectives pursue a passive-aggressive serial killer dubbed The Jigsaw Killer—although technically he’s not a killer, in that he places his victims in lethal situations in which they will essentially die by their own hands. Only one has survived (her head rigged with a reverse bear trap booby-trapped with a timer, she has one minute to retrieve a key from the belly of her incapacitated cellmate, or her jaw will hit the floor—literally).
In a way it is a game, with his current contestants facing each other from across the tiled floor of an abandoned factory bathroom. Each is manacled by ankle to pipes and equipped with clues, a deadline … and a hacksaw. Suffice to say, the blades are not sturdy enough to saw through steel in the time given. Eep.
Saw is at its weakest as characters natter on and on, giving the viewer time to unravel plot weaknesses and absurdities. One doesn’t expect Oscar-quality acting in a horror film, but here the actors emote as if they were culled from an under-rehearsed community theater production. It also doesn’t help that they are saddled with (at times) howlingly bad dialogue. (As a couple of cops close in on their suspect, one of them notes ponderously, “At least we’ll have the cover of darkness.” It doesn’t look that bad on paper, but on the screen it’s a hoot.)
For all its flaws, this entry by first-time filmmaker James Wan and scribe Leigh Whannell (who also plays one of the shackled men) is surprisingly effective, one of the most brutal horror flicks to hit the multiplex screens in quite a while. While almost too contrived for its own good, the script is still fairly clever, as expectations are circumvented and conventions are tweaked. With a tone evocative of the early films of Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven applied to the dark mystery ethos of Se7en, when Saw hits its stride it is a pummeling experience. Trimmed to secure an R-rating, Saw is still some pretty gruesome stuff.