Saw (2004)

11 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

There’s a new unique serial killer in the horror movie genre these days and he’s labeled only as the Jigsaw Killer. Jigsaw is known as a mysterious person who kidnaps people and brings them to his deadly traps that they can get out of by doing inhumane (mostly gruesome) deeds. The victims are people he sees as being wasteful of their lives and his games are their ways of redemption, if they make it out alive. Jigsaw never kills any of his victims—he sets it up so that they can either live or die by these tests. Do they have the will to survive, is his key question.

He cuts a jigsaw puzzle piece into the flesh of his unsuccessful subjects, hence the nickname Jigsaw Killer. Nobody knows his true identity—his only distinguished manners are his deep, raspy voice and his demonic-looking clown puppet doll that “speaks” for him on video. As if that wasn’t creepy enough, he’s rigged to ride a tricycle to “congratulate” his survivors.

The Jigsaw Killer is one of the more distinctive villains in horror movie history—ranking with Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lector and the killer from “Seven.” He makes himself known in the film “Saw,” a slick, suitably gruesome, tense thriller that is both psychological and gory. There’s blood and gore, but there’s also emotional tension and stress that keeps this from being a freak show.

Two men—Adam (Leigh Whannell, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director James Wan) and Lawrence (Cary Elwes)—awaken to find themselves chained by their ankles to pipes in a long-forgotten bathroom. Trapped, with a dead body lying in the middle of the floor, the two try to figure out why this happened and what they should do. They have instructions from their captor, as it’s all part of a game. If they don’t play it by Jigsaw’s rules, one or both of them will die.

Riddles and tools have also been left for Adam and Lawrence, including a gun, a tape recorder, and two hacksaws. What are the hacksaws for? “He doesn’t want us to cut through our chains,” Lawrence declares somberly. “He wants us to cut through our feet.”

The danger grows beyond the bathroom for Lawrence, as he learns his wife (Monica Potter) and daughter have been captured as well. Lawrence’s clear instruction is to kill Adam, or they’ll die. Meanwhile, the killer is being tracked by Detective Tapp (Danny Glover), looking to avenge his late ex-partner Sing (Ken Jeung) who fell victim to the killer. And we also get flashbacks to other bizarre occurrences set up by Jigsaw, including a drug addict (Shawnee Smith) who survived her “game” and claims that it actually helped her to see the finer things in life. And there’s a creep named Zep (Michael Emerson) who works as the hospital, where Lawrence is a surgeon, who may or may not be the killer.

A lot of these elements being thrown at us make “Saw” an overstuffed picture. Actually, I could have done without the subplot involving the detectives and the many twists that continue on. And I hated the rough editing that occurs whenever we flash back to a victim—the frantic fast-motion editing does nothing for me in those scenes. But the real tension comes from the two men in that bathroom and how they’re going to find ways to save themselves. “Saw” does a great job at keeping the suspense alive during these scenes. Also, the scenes of the drug addict getting over her near-death experience are effectively done. This sets the status for this intelligent psychopath who chooses his victims by what they do and how they act, and he puts them into these games as a bizarre act of irony and as a way of possibly surviving by doing horrible things that they could do if they had the willpower.

Really think about it—if you were given the choice to die or cut off your chained foot, what would you choose?

“Saw” is not only psychological; it’s also very gory. Those with weak stomachs should stay away from this film, because there are many disturbing images displayed in “Saw.” Enough to keep an R rating, but others that are a mere inch from an NC-17—in particular, the drug addict is forced to retrieve something from her dead fellow captive’s stomach with a knife, and we actually see the intestines as she pulls them out. Tell me that’s not NC-17 material.

The ending is unforgivable albeit effective. It’s a shocking development that reminded me of what I’ve endured and that the film did indeed work for me. “Saw” is a well-crafted thriller that introduces a new memorable killer to the cinema and terrifies in doing so.

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