Newest Review: ... to go too much into the plot, because it will really ruin this film, but suffice to say this film's plot is something of a rollercoast... more
Member Name: SWSt
Advantages: Interesting & original concept, well-structured, great ending
Disadvantages: Some unnecessary flashbacks, over-flashy visuals put effect before atmosphere
Believe the hype, and you'll believe anything. Believe the evidence of your eyes, on the other hand and you'll see is an interesting, competent, original, but over-hyped film.
The concept is very simple and instantly grabs your attention. Two men wake up in a grubby bathroom, chained to a radiator, a dead body between them. Their captor - the infamous Jigsaw Killer - tells them that all they have to do is kill the other man and they will be free; refuse and their family dies... raising the interesting question of how far you would be willing to go to save your life. It's a cut above your average horror film. Rather than just seeing how many bodies they can slice and dice, Saw brings a novel and new approach to the genre. Obviously, it's never going to be awarded membership of MENSA, but at least there's an attempt to bring a level of intelligence to the film.
For all its reputation for being bloody and violent, Saw is actually quite a slow burning film. The plot unfolds in a relatively leisurely way, gradually revealing more about the characters and how they came to be there. Stripping away their lies and carefully constructed personalities, we eventually get to see the uglier side which hides behind the mask. It's a clever bit of writing. Our initial reaction is sympathy - the characters have been imprisoned against their will. Then, we find out a little more and start to discover they are not, perhaps, as nice as they first seem. As the script weaves to and fro, so do our sympathies, first hoping one character survives, then switching allegiance to the other, as a new revelation is made. This gives the film a more interesting angle than usual - things are not black and white. In fact, sometimes you even find yourself rooting for the Jigsaw Killer.
Clever though it undoubtedly is, there are times when the script tries to be a little bit too hard for its own good. Although the flashbacks are an essential part of the narrative and a vital means of getting the audience up to speed, sometimes they can be a little confusing and disorientating. At times, they are also clumsily handled and introduced. It's as if the scriptwriters can't quite work out how to introduce a flashback, so they simply have one of the characters say "Hey, I've just remembered something!" and then cut to it. However you look at it, this is lazy, unimaginative writing.
The other problem with the flashbacks is that they drain the film of its atmosphere. Part of the success of Saw comes from the hugely claustrophobic atmosphere of being stuck in a single room with two men and a dead body. Each time the film cuts away to show events elsewhere, all of that tension is leached out of the film. In fact, it actually has the opposite effect to the one intended. Each reveal is meant to notch up the tension, to show how (despite appearances) the men's situation can get worse, but each time we go away from the bathroom, it reminds us of the "normal" world outside and actually diffuses it. Of course, it would have taken a very special piece of writing to set an entire 100 minute film in just a single location, but you can't help wishing the writers had found a way to do just that.
The camerawork also detracts from the atmosphere at times. We all know that it's trendy to have flashy, whizzy visuals, but they're totally inappropriate here. The traps dreamed up by Jigsaw should induce a sense of slow rising panic and fear. However, they are mostly shown using speeded up footage. They're over almost before you've realised what's going on and there's little sense of panic at all. It is perhaps, the sign of an inexperienced director confusing stylishness with effectiveness.
Curiously, for all its reputation, Saw is a strangely bloodless affair. There is very little in the way of violence or gruesome action. The writers and directors are almost coy - implying the violence, rather than showing it graphically; cutting the camera away at crucial moments to avoid showing certain actions. Whether this was deliberate or something imposed by budgetary constraints, I don't know. Neither is it necessarily a criticism - implied and psychological horror is often more effective than outright bloodshed, although I have to say that I found Saw neither disturbing nor scary.
Where Saw really pays off is in the final 20 minutes or so, where you suddenly realise how carefully the whole thing has been constructed. Whilst not in the same league as The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects, there is that same kind of "light bulb moment" when everything falls into place. If I'm honest, up until this point, I was pretty ambivalent about the film. Once I'd seen the ending, it did go up just a couple of notches in my estimation. It's the ending in my eyes that saves the film and gets it a crucial extra star.
Having said that, though, there's a something strange happens. At the pretty much the same point at which the ending is showing that freshness and originality, it also becomes far more derivative. There are certain horror staples (never go into a dark room on your own, the killer is never dead until shot through the head... etc.) which crop up time and time again. For the most part, Saw avoids these, but it fumbles the ball right at the end by allowing a couple to creep in. True, some of these (well, OK, one) are vital to the plot and add to the "lightbulb moment", but most are just for narrative convenience to get the story to where it needs to be.
Finally, the acting in Saw is not great. Cary Elwes comes across as more wooden and emotionless than some of the props, whilst Danny Glover sleepwalks his way though yet another "grizzled cop" role. Leigh Whannell is slightly better as Adam, if only because he does actually show a few different emotions. Other than that, forget it.
So, is civilization as we know it in danger of collapse as a result of the Saw series? Of course not. Is the hype justified? Not in a million years. Saw brings an interesting, new spin to the horror genre, and is watchable enough, the slow-burning tension and gradual reveal offering something very different to what I actually expected when I stuck the DVD in the player. Frankly, though, how it has spawned (to date) 3 sequels is a puzzle in its own right.
Director: James Wan
Running time: approx. 103 minutes
© Copyright SWSt 2008
Summary: Good enough, but way overhyped.