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SAW (2004 - R)
“Saw” is the psychological thriller that tells of one deranged man’s quest to test the morally wayward by placing them in life and death situations that will force them to either kill themselves or another. As the film pans back and forth between the history of the “Jigsaw” murderers methods and his current “game” audiences watch his latest victims try to deduce a way to get out of their deadly entrapment before time runs out.
Written by: James Wan (story), Leigh Whannell (story and screenplay). Directed by: James Wan.
Genre: Horror, Crime, Mystery, Thriller.
Tagline: How much blood are you willing to shed to save your own life?
Rated: R for grisly violence and language.
This horror thriller commences by lighting up a decrepit bathroom cellar where two men have been chained to opposing walls of the room. In the middle there lay an unidentified dead man with a gun in his hand; the bullet allegedly lodged somewhere in the midst of the blood and brains of his split cranium.
As Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) soon come to discover, they have become the latest victims of the Jigsaw murderer’s deadly. With both men’s anxieties on an all-time high, skepticism works against the much needed unionizing of their efforts to solve the ‘puzzle’ of their game: Dr, Gordon has to find a way to kill Adam before 6 o’clock.
As the men work hard to remember how they got into the feces-infested cellar, random clues like photographs in the toilet tank, messages on hidden pictures, etc. will drop clues as to how and why the two were chosen to be the Jigsaws next alleged victims. One by one the ‘puzzle pieces’ come together as Dr. Gordon and Adam realize that they do in fact know each other, informally, and that their casual acquaintanceship is being used against them to psychologically manipulate their own instincts.
Allegedly, Dr. Gordon is a callous doctor who is so buried in his work and prospects of illicit affairs that he hasn’t the time or devotion to give to his isolated family: his lovely wife Alison (Monica Potter) and daughter Diana (Makenzie Vega). Chosen for his sexual illicitness, Dr. Gordon’s sins are to be purged by learning to appreciate life via killing Adam to save the life of his wife and daughter who have now been taken hostage by a ‘killer’. While Alison and Diana are left only to speak certain pleas of help from the phone, Dr. Gordon wracks his brain to crack the puzzle and determine how to preserve both his family, his own, and Adam’s lives.
Meanwhile the audience comes to learn that Adam was chosen to be a victim for his indifferent nonchalant approach to life. His care about-nothing, random yet pervasive anger at the world provokes the Jigsaw to rectify his wrongs by forcing him into a situation to make him appreciate life by making him a potential murder victim.
As Adam and Dr. Gordon’s stories become complexly intertwined, a second twist emerges as the film pans to Detective Tapp (Danny Glover). Assigned to the case, Det. Tapp had been tracking down Jigsaw for quite some time. At one point, his evidence led him to Dr. Gordon who became a primary suspect. Though Dr. Gordon’s affair served as a liberating alibi, it would eventually become the thing that later got him involved in the deadly Jigsaw games. Meanwhile Det. Tapp and his partner go in search of Jigsaw and eventually locate his pad. But when his partner is killed in the process of trying to catch Jigsaw, the discharged Tapp becomes determined to catch the twisted murderer once and for all.
As Tapp begins to work undercover and on his own time to crack the Jigsaw case, a third twist emerges: Jigsaw may not be the man keeping Dr. Gordon’s wife and daughter hostage. With Det. Tapp chasing down Dr. Gordon’s intern, Zep (Michael Emmerson), the alleged killer, he will find himself fatally chasing the wrong guy. Meanwhile the cabin-fever Dr. Gordon begins to have a mental breakdown that has him suddenly so desperate to save his family that he is willing to do anything… anything. But with Dr. Gordon now missing a foot, the wrong murderer allegedly off scott-free, Det. Tapp nowhere to be found, and Adam still chained to the pipe, alive, in a room with the dead man on the floor, things smack of bad tidings for all as the time closes in on what seems to be the Jigsaw’s next certain victims.
“Saw” is a suspenseful thriller that intricately interweaves several twists and turns into the plot so as to make this both a compelling and successful film. In fact, was it not for the many sudden surprises and changes in perspective it is arguable that perhaps this film would not have been successful at all, or at least not nearly as successful as it was. Though the film is remarkably similar to the famous horror classic “Seven”, with its focus on serial killings tagging the morally wayward in a twisted attempt to rectify their wrongs, the film is still in and of itself unique. The art direction, score, and scenarios are all different than it’s “predecessor” and this is fundamental in allowing “Saw” to gain its own merit.
That said the acting was, as usual, wanting. Cary Elwes, a man that one just can’t help but recognize as the hero in the comedic farce “The Princess Bride” just seems to stick out like a sore thumb in this odd role of a tortured wayward family man. That said, his performance is a bit over the top, almost stage dramatic, yet is still solid and far more convincing in the end (where the emotion no longer seems quite so contrived), than in the beginning. Newcomer and screenwriter Leigh Whannell does a remarkably impressive job, as far as acting in a horror film goes, immersing himself in his own creation of the character of Adam. Though it isn’t his film “debut”, he should be proud to note that his prominent role in both the creation of the script and film for “Saw” was both productive and successful. That said, it is still a horror movie and more often than not, horror movies will always leave more to want in the acting department with their over-the-top theatrics to contrive the sense of desperation and immediacy in the plot scenario.
However, the art direction and cinematography arguably undermines the sub par acting. With an uncanny take on flashbacks, chronological and temporal manipulation, as well as the manipulation of number and order of narratives, “Saw” operates as a very ‘modernist’ work of art, perhaps one of the few ‘good’ modernists horror films to date. In fact, at times it seems more palatable to admire the film for its complex construction as a piece of modernist art than it is to immerse yourself in the immediacy of the film’ plot; to admire the art work as art rather than what the art represents, in a sense. This is not to insult the film however, but rather to acknowledge that most modernists create art with an indifference to their audience. They know ahead of time that a select “few” will come to appreciate their vision. As one critic notes, “This movie was unapologetic and in your face. It seemed like while you were watching it, it didn't care if you thought it was over the top and didn't want to monitor itself. That's what I loved about it. The ending surprised me”. Thus the commentary seems to support the fact that the film is in and of itself a work of art made for the sake of itself…the audience can take it or leave it. With much critical success at the box office and ceremonies like Sundance, it seems audiences are “taking it” and with good reason. In short, “Saw” may just become one of the more memorable ‘cult horror’ films of our generation.
Leigh Whannell plays Adam, the purported victim-to-be.
Cary Elwes plays Dr. Lawrence Gordon, the purported murderer-to-be.
Danny Glover plays Det. David Tapp, head detective of the “Jigsaw” homicides.
Monica Potter plays Alison Gordon, Dr. Gordon’s victimized wife.
Makenzie Vega plays Diana Gordon, Dr. Gordon’s victimized daughter.
Michael Emmerson plays Zep, Dr. Gordon’s hospital intern and alleged murderer.