This picture invites you in for a skillful and pseudo-realistic game of
horror without the zombies. As an exercise in lethal dementia it derives its
kicks from a clever play on life and death choices and a relentless
exploitation of push-come-to-shove human motivation. In other words, if it's
a matter of my death or yours, I'll do what it takes to survive. The rules?
They're set by a psychotic genius.
To get the game started, we find two men in a room. In the dark, we first
see Adam (Leigh Whannell) as he awakens from a drugged sleep to find himself
underwater in a tub. When he jumps out, he finds himself chained to a sturdy
pipe. He hears a sound and realizes he's not alone. He demands that whoever
is in the room turn on the lights. When they come on with blinding
brightness, we discover Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), a surgeon, chained
to pipes in an identical fashion at the opposite corner of the room,
seemingly a tiled toilet in an industrial building. Between them lies a man
in a pool of blood, face down, a silver .38 in one hand, a microcassette
player in the other.
After raging hysterically, the men calm down and try to understand their
predicament and what put them in it. Each has clues in their pocket awaiting
discovery, which tells them that Dr. Gordon has to find a way to kill Adam by 6
PM in order to save himself and, if he doesn't, both of them will die, along
with Gordon's wife Alison (Monica Potter) and his young daughter.
Once the men start to cooperate, they follow another clue and discover hack
saws hidden in the old, disgusting toilet. But they are no match for the
heavy chains that bind them and so, in the conventions of game rules, must be
intended for a different purpose. Gordon, the surgeon, realizes what that
may be. He can free himself as soon as he's ready to cut off his foot.
In another moment of calm, Gordon recalls his involvement in a case of
similar game playing and realizes why he was chosen for this one. In that
one, police detective Tapp (Danny Glover) suspected him of being the genius
behind the game in which a desperate young woman survived by cutting into her
drugged but alive boyfriend's stomach in order to retrieve the key to her
freedom. The killer, pathologically motivated to make sport of bringing
people to kill through the instinct of self-preservation has earned the
Detective Tapp nearly captures the maniac, loses his partner and becomes so
obsessed with finding the elusive madman again that he is taken off the
police force for not being able to think about anything else. But, in
retirement, he continues to pursue the lethal lunatic.
Time ticks away... which becomes so short as 6 PM nears and terror mounts.
This is a gruesome route to movie-making attention, all the more for the
skills involved to pull it off. Actor Leigh Whannel collaborated with
director James Wan in writing the intricate tale. A certain awkwardness
enters the film from time to time which seems to stem mostly from staging and
a fairly complex task of editing.
The horror scares vary from effectively shocking to nice try. Visual
excellence is led by the controlled moodiness and textures of light by
Director of Photography David A. Armstrong and the grit of atmosphere and
setting by Production Designer Julie Berghoff well conveys the twisted
mind(s) that dreamt it up.
The major challenge of editing the timeline flashbacks and realtime
intricacies went to Kevin Greutert who acquited himself as well as all else
who participated. My only disappointment after the gut wrenching fascination
here is in the final resolution, but I'm not going to be so aberrated as to
tell you what it is.
This little trip into puzzle-making homicide is certainly not for everyone,
but I'd count teenage boys and everyone who sat through Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" among
those who will not let immersion in blood hinder their good time with
[Revenue report: With a production cost of $1.2 million, "Saw" has grossed
more than $55 million in theatres. (Re: Variety, 2/11/05)]
~~ Jules Brenner