***1/2 (out of 5)
October 29, 2004
Cary Elwes as DR. LAWRENCE GORDON
Leigh Whannell as ADAM
Danny Glover as DETECTIVE DAVID TAPP
Ken Leung as DETECTIVE STEVEN SING
Dina Meyer as KERRY
Shawnee Smith as AMANDA
Monica Potter as ALISON GORDON
Directed by: James Wan
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Over the years, I have seen literally dozens of serial killer movies. There are the classics, like “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” “Saw” tries to be a new classic and attempts to hit the audience on the visceral level that “Chain Saw” did thirty years ago. It doesn’t achieve this high level of regard, but I have to admit it kept my interest.
The production company behind this film is rightfully called Twisted Pictures. And the name says it all. “Saw” is twisted. It’s freaky. It’s creepy. It felt like the screenwriter sat down at his computer and decided to make the most disturbing movie since “Se7en.” Did he pull it off? Not completely, but he did a pretty good job.
“Saw” drops the audience in the middle of a serial killer hunt. The Jigsaw Killer likes to kidnap his victims and put them in precarious situations where they have to mutilate themselves – or kill themselves – to try and survive. These ideas come from a twisted mind, to be sure. For example, one man must crawl naked through a web of barbed wire to get out of a door on a time lock. Another man is painted with a flammable paste and must carry around a candle to read combinations off a wall.
“Saw” opens with two men stuck in a room together – Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Lawrence (Cary Elwes). Both know the reason they were imprisoned by the Jigsaw Killer, but they aren’t quick to share this information. It’s clear that Jigsaw has put them together in this room, chained to standpipes, to eventually pit them against each other. To make matters worse, Lawrence’s family has been kidnapped by Jigsaw, and he must try to escape to save them.
I was lucky enough to see this film at an all-night horror marathon. “Saw” opened the marathon, and the crowd of screaming horror fans loved it. It’s not something to take a first date to (unless you met in a Goth bar), and it’s definitely not for the feint of heart. But I didn’t find myself bored in it.
The worst thing that may come out of this movie is a string of sequels if “Saw” performs well. And I’ll admit, it’s definitely set up to do more. Unfortunately in the hands of the wrong people, “Saw II” and its ilk could be really, really bad. But why should that stop Hollywood?
And while the premise is decent, the cast is only so-so, and much of this criticism falls on star Cary Elwes. One undeniable fact of life is that Elwes ain’t that great of an actor. Sure, he was good in “The Princess Bride,” but that role called for a bit of cheekiness. He’s tried his hand with some more serious stuff, but usually comes across really poorly. Has anyone seen “The Crush” lately? And god forbid that he’s cast in a role that calls for a tongue-in-cheek performance, like this year’s “Ella Enchanted.” Ouch!
To his credit, he does a competent job as Lawrence, one of the storytelling prisoners in “Saw.” The real problem with his performance is really the fault of the director. No one should ever give Cary Elwes that much screen time. He overacts to a point that makes William Shatner look like Stephen Wright. When Elwes launches into his hyper-emotional climax, it’s actually laughable.
For a film about two men stuck in a room together, it actually had a respectable number of twists, turns and plot points. There’s an interesting side story featuring Danny Glover as a police detective trying to track Jigsaw down. Also in the cast are two of the almost-a-star actresses, Dina Meyers and Monica Potter. It’s good to see these girls are still getting work.
Ultimately, there are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. “Saw” dances close to the edge of cliche, but doesn’t fall into the pit too often. It sets up some excellent red herrings, and I was satisfied with the ending. Sure, there could have been a little more substance of explanation about Jigsaw and his motivations, but for what it was, “Saw” works.