dir: James Wan
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The day before I had the honour of watching Blade: Trinity. Today I watched Saw. Tomorrow I should try to find something equally knife related to watch just to get a hat trick of some variety: Knife in the Water? The Night of Long Knives, Mack the Knife, er, something with 'spoon' in the title? Anything to maintain the metallic imagery.
Okay well maybe I won't be doing that. What I would also like to do (but won't, not yet) is watch this film again and see if it's as enjoyable the second time around. I have to say I was surprised, very surprised. Pleasantly surprised, not like after a night of heavy drinking, putting your hand in your pocket looking for your keys and finding that your fingers are missing. As are your pockets and keys.
Saw is one of those success stories where two young hopefuls put a script together and shop it around like all the other hopefuls. Except their script actually gets somewhere, they get funding (miniscule comparatively, a 1 million dollar budget), they get the press and the promotion and the film turns out to be a roaring success. Of course the flick itself is sick, twisted B movie horror trash, but it's decent B movie horror trash. But you have to admire the way in which these guys, James Wan and Leigh Whannell got this done.
Also, as I rarely find, you've got to admire a film that succeeds despite bad acting performances, continual continuity errors and plot holes you could drive the International Space Station through at a leisurely pace. What succeeds is the concept, the overall sick concept to make a pretty disturbing film on a micro budget and genuinely unsettle an audience. Not in the way that the thought of seeing Barbara Streisand in a film again is deeply disturbing, but a set up where there is genuine horror, and scenes where you peak through your
fingers, unsure if you really want to see what happens but unwilling to miss it.
Saw makes ample homages to some of the modern 'classics' (Se7en especially, the works of Dario Argento as well, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre), but does enough of its own heavy lifting to warrant the attention of sick puppies everywhere such as yourselves. It may derive from other sources but I'd hardly call the film cliché, as most horror flicks are. The granddaddy horror plot that it really comes from is surely Edgar Allen Poe, specifically The Pit and the Pendulum, and anyone who remembers reading the story as a kid or seeing the film (which I think had Vincent Price in it, as did pretty much every single horror film made in the entire world since time's beginning and its inevitable end) knows how potent that style of storytelling can be. Saw is nowhere near that league, but it is close enough to make it far more interesting for me than just another story about some guy disembowelling or decapitating an endless string of sorority girls and cheerleaders.
Two guys wake up in a dirty, dirty bathroom, chained to some pipes at opposite ends of a room. Between them is a body on the ground, holding a gun in one hand and one of those mini-cassette players. They don't
know each other, the body, how they got there or how to get out. The story starts unfolding from there. It's a decently disorienting introduction, enough to confuse and start the balls rolling.
Through a bit of exposition, a lot of coincidences, a few flashbacks and a heck of a lot of suspension of disbelief we learn the basic plot set-up. Our two main characters, Adam (Leigh Whanell) and Dr Lawrence
Gordon (Cary Elwes) may or may not be the latest playthings of a particularly macabre serial killer known as Jigsaw. His or her particular kick is setting up complicated and Rube Goldberg-esque situations where the deaths of his 'victims' are due to their own actions or inaction, sometimes with some pretty elaborate machinery and scenarios involved. The intention seems to be, according to these little tape recorded messages, to get people to appreciate their lives more, if in fact they actually survive. More than that, the killer wants to punish people for wasting their lives or not living properly or some other crap. Whatever the lunatic's motivation is, because of him we have a bunch of people in jeopardy trying to find a way to survive within the rules of a game not of their making.
In these kinds of stories the killers tend to be super-geniuses always one step ahead of the cops, the FBI and the protagonists, and this is no exception. But there is no intention to turn the Jigsaw Killer into
a perverse anti-hero like Hannibal Lecter or John Doe (from 7). Rather the intention is just to set up a nasty premise, maintain a fairly dark, sick tone, and put everyone through hell until the end.
Danny Glover, edging out all the other competition, puts in arguably the worst performance as a cop on the trail of the killer. No-one really acts very well in the film. It doesn't matter, surprisingly enough. I know, it sounds like blasphemy since I usually can't excuse it in anything else, whatever its genre may be. But I don't really think it would have made a difference in the end. The film couldn't have been sicker or more macabre if you put Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Sir Laurence Olivier, Christopher Lee and Jenna Jameson in all
of the lead roles, because even with them there the director wouldn't have known what to do with them beyond what he got his actual actors to do here.
And the dialogue is sometimes pretty naff. Leigh tries to give himself (what he thinks are) the best lines, but many of them aren't anywhere near as funny as he thinks, and with others he fucks up the delivery. Also, his American accent really, really sucks at certain points. For reasons I can't work out Cary Elwes' American accent also sounds really bad in some scenes, despite the fact that he's been using one for over
twenty years. Maybe he was really, really tired. Or maybe Leigh was dragging him down, down, deeper down.
Which is okerly dokerly. They all do as much or as little as is needed by the plot, sometimes much less. How Leigh Whannell convinced Lion's Gate (them being the ones that ponyied up the cash) that he should star
in a film which he scripted being completely unknown stateside must be an amazing tale to tell. Then again, he made such an impression upon the American psyche when he played such a crucial role in Matrix: Reloaded as Axel (who? someone who died like a redshirt with fuck-all dialogue). Also considering the budget here he probably did it for bugger-all cash.
Those of you in Australia who many years ago may have watched that Saturday morning to noon program called Recovery that used to play on the ABC may remember Leigh for two reasons: he was the over-caffeinated long-haired chap who did the movie review segment, and also he was made to look funnier and a substantially more enjoyable tv host by dint of being nowhere near as annoying as main cocksucker host Dylan Lewis. It's a ballsy step going from being a crappy tv reviewer on the national broadcaster to Hollywood success story. Of course for their next film Leigh and James will probably get a bigger budget, more stars to work with and a fair amount of hype. And their film will suck more than anyone ever thought theoretically possible.
Maybe they can call it Blair Witch Project 3: Shit Out of Ideas.
Or the more likely Saw 2: The Sequel Nobody Asked For.
From the advertising and some other reviews a person could be under the impression that this is a gory, excessively violent film. It's not, it genuinely isn't. But it is definitely perverse and very macabre without
having to resort to gore all the time. I don't have a problem with gore in general, but it's the mark of a decent horror film when you can feel terrorised without there being a single drop of blood spilled or a
single eyeball ripped out of its owning socket. Most of the most violent stuff happens off-screen or is implied.
As an example, one of the sickest moments for me on paper (or screen) won't in itself sound that horrific. Two characters are tied up (they're not really characters, they're plot devices in truth) and held at gunpoint. They are clearly terrified, but the person holding them thusly wants to really appreciate their fear. So he listens to their heartbeats with a stethoscope whilst threatening them with a gun just to hear the elevated beat. I can't say exactly why it's so fucking 'wrong' because that'll spoil it further, but it's definitely
There are a bunch of scenes like that throughout the film that genuine horror fans live for. They're also the scenes that people who like horror movies use as a justification for not condemning the flick overall when there's slow pacing, bad acting and sloppy plotting that doesn't entirely hold up in the light of day afterwards.
The ending really worked for me, in the sense that it takes courage to have that kind of ending even for a film within the horror genre. And for a film where the characters are mere chess pieces, it's perfect.
I should have said that the ending succeeds even despite the best efforts of Cary Elwes and Leigh to fuck things up with some hilariously bad acting. I don't know what's happened to Cary Elwes since the days
of playing Westley / Dread Pirate Roberts in the classic The Princess Bride. All I know is that someone was putting De-actifying drugs in his breakfast cereal when he was making this film (which, by the by, took
18 days to make, which is a ridiculously tight schedule). Very, very good ending.
Of course when I refer to the ending, I'm not necessarily talking about the final revelation that is made, which makes so little sense that had Stephen King been sitting in the audience he would have yelled out
'That shit makes no sense!' I'm referring to the manner in which the movie finishes. Major distinction there.
For me it was a treat. It's not the best film I've seen all week (that title definitely goes to The Incredibles at the cinema, and watching Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources on DVD yesterday for the first time makes calling Saw a decent film seem insane), but it was definitely (probably) one of the best genuine horror films from last year. If the cognitive dissonance arising from the pros and cons I've
listed thus far seems too brain-hurtingly painful, then this flick is definitely not for thou. You're better off going and watching Blade: Trinity, which had none of the pluses and all of the minuses I mentioned throughout this whole ordeal.
Contradictions, contradictions, life's all about them
7 drill bits going into Danny Glover's skull that I would have liked to see out of 10
Dr. Lawrence Gordon: He doesn't want us to cut through our chains. He
wants us to cut through our feet. - Saw