Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Saw (James Wan, 2004) Review
Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell) wakes up in a dark bathroom, chained to a pipe with only Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) as company. They are forced by a un-seen third party to figure out where they are, how they got there and how to get out. Dr. Gordon and Adam reach out to each other and share what they know about the alleged 'Jigsaw Killer' who they surmise is behind this. Jigsaw is a mass murderer who pits people's willingness to live against their sins in sadistic "games" that, odds are, will leave them mutilated and dead. Detective Tapp (Danny Glover) has tangled with Jigsaw before and sets it upon himself to finish him for good and put and end to the games while Adam and Gordon fight for their lives.
A common misconception about the first film is that, because of its legacy of being affiliated with a horrific, gory franchise, that it too is violent and gory. In comparison, it's not. All the gore that happens is mostly off screen or implied except for the big finale that the film is now famous for (the DVD cover sort of gives that away). Instead, Saw is a thrilling and original film that uses unique film styles and filming techniques to produce an eery environment that we are isolated in for most of the film's duration. The bathroom has become an iconic location and this is due to the fact that, outside of exposition and establishment, we are stuck there with the protagonists and are just as lost as they are. It becomes an immersive experience as a result as we are on the same level as the people in the film except for Jigsaw himself. The plot does provide us with red herrings and misdirection that some could see as pointless filler however they are used to keep the audience on their toes in anticipation with an ending that leaves you wanting more.
I suppose the problem with making this a franchise annually is that the identity of the Jigsaw killer will most likely be ruined since they really pushed him in promotional materials for later films. Some would also cite horror films as a place for terrible acting (Troll 2, thank you very much) however it's passable in this one. Cary Elwes does a good job as Dr. Gordon as he manages to juggle his calm composed self at the start as well as the irrational, un-secure version of him by the end. The contrast is staggering. Leigh Whannell, in addition to writing the film, also does an acceptable job as Adam so it's a shame that he never really went on to be in the spotlight again. The rest of the cast isn't as memorable with the exception of Tobin Bell for reasons that would probably spoil a 10 year old film whose twist was ruined by sequels anyway (that's the point of secrets anymore).
Saw is far from perfect but it's rare that a horror movie would be considered perfect anyway (I imagine films from the Alien franchise take that distinction). It's suspenseful, thrilling and the way it's shot is very unique as it would go on to define the franchise's look and feel. Trust me, you know when you're watching a Saw film just based on the way it looks. The acting is passable by it's own merits but it's fantastic by the genre standards (sorry). Saw is a good, classic horror film that has it's place in the genre's history. Is it the best? No but it's a film that's worth keeping in mind. With that, we will tackle the rest of the franchise as the month progresses so join me later for Saw II. Things get...bloody to say the least.
A thrilling and well shot horror flick that left audiences wanting more...and that's exactly what they got.