Saw was made on a micro budget, raked in millions at the box office, and is doing the same in DVD sales. The movie’s success can partly be credited to a rise in horror movie popularity as well as a clever publicity campaign. The enigmatic and ubiquitous posters for this movie made many people take notice, including me. Does Saw deserve all the attention it’s getting? Eh, sort of.
Saw begins with an intriguing premise: two disheveled men wake up in what looks like a seedy bathroom in an abandoned building. One is Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes), and the other is an ordinary shmoe named Adam (Leigh Whannell). Both are chained by the leg to pipes in opposite corners of the room, and in the middle lies a corpse with a gunshot wound to the head. In one of the corpse’s hands lies a pistol, in the other a small tape recorder. Both men get to talking, and both discover they have tapes in their pockets. Once they manage to retrieve the tape recorder, they discover that the doctor has until a fixed time to free himself and kill the other man, or else he as well as his wife and daughter will die. The rest of the plot concerns the doctor recalling information about the serial killer the two men are at the mercy of, as well as how the two men try to free themselves.
Saw belongs in that subgenre of horror movies known as “twisted genius as serial killer” – inspired by Hannibal Lecter and expanded on by John Doe in Se7en. I could argue that these types of characters are more interesting than the unstoppable killing machines of the late 70’s-80’s horror movies like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, but with Saw the Twisted Genius trope is getting just as ludicrous. Nobody seems to kidnap and terrorize their victims the conventional way anymore. Nowadays they enjoy making elaborate (to the point of being baroque) plans that would make Blofeld envious when he’s scheming of ways to off James Bond.
The movie starts out well as an atmospheric thriller that evokes a sense of dread as we learn what type of hell the killer puts his victims through. As the movie moves on however it is padded with Detective Tapp’s (Danny Glover) obsession with the killer, his suspicion of the good doctor, and a completely pointless bit where we discover that Adam hasn’t been completely truthful to the doc. That’s no spoiler, what Adam knows adds nothing to where the story is going. And back to the cop: he (and other characters) makes egregious errors for the sake of the plot. These errors, along with gaping plot holes, kept me from truly being involved during the climax of this movie. Cary Elwes, who starts out in this movie just fine, develops a case of hamorexia nervosa by the end and his overacting gave me a fit of giggles instead of inducing any empathy I should have had for his character’s plight.
The DVD has a less-than-average rating because of its lack of footage that was removed for its R rating. The MPAA had the moviemakers remove some scenes because of gore as well as some scenes because of “mood”. Normally the exclusion of scenes that were intended to be part of the movie wouldn’t irritate me, but I just know we’re getting set up for an “extended edition”, especially since DVD sales of Saw have been strong. What gore that was uncut is slightly less disturbing than your average episode of “C.S.I.”, by the way.
Considering the budget (a little over a million dollars) the film looks and sounds surprisingly good. I was impressed with the cinematography – not necessarily the music video inspired effects, but with the overall tone the picture suggested. It is quite creepy and the transfer does it justice. Sometimes I had a tough time making out the dialog while other parts of the movie are deafening but for the most part the sound helps intensify what is happening on screen.
The extras are standard: a very short ‘making-of’ which has little information on how the movie was made, a boring music video – make that two boring music videos, as well as a ‘making of’ how the boring music video was made. The disc also contains a good selection of the movie’s original trailers and TV spots, and I’m glad I never saw these in a theater because I think they give too much of the plot away. The extras also include some of the infamous posters from the publicity campaign and I think they are a good addition. The best of the extras is commentary by the director James Wann, and actor/writer Leigh Whannell. Both are young and enthusiastic about their creation, and it comes across here with their commentary. They do a little narration, but they also relate interesting anecdotes about the cast and filming. The best commentaries always seem to come with movies that are independently made or had a rough history of making it onto the screen.
Looking back over this review, I have to conclude that I have trashed it harder than I intended to. Gaping plot holes, hammy actors, and stupid cops have never prevented me from liking a movie before. Also, considering its miniscule budget and short shooting schedule, many worse movies have been made with far more resources available. I was entertained, even when I was laughing at the movie’s shortcomings. The people who made this film have potential. I hope the next script they work on they do better to make the story at least more internally plausible, although considering that Saw 2 (Saw Harder?) is being made, my guess is they won’t mess with their formula too much. Oh, well - here's hoping.