Going In:

I’m expecting low budget entertainment with plenty of gore, cheap scares, and a few truly shocking moments.

Review:

Oftentimes you watch a movie and can easily tell that it was inspired by current events. Obviously Saw wasn’t ripped from the headlines of yesterday’s paper, but I think a recent, amazing story of survival may have sparked the filmmakers’ imaginations. The event I’m referring to is when Aron Ralston cut off his own arm with a pocket knife after being trapped under a rock for 5 days. There are no trapped mountaineers in this film, but a couple of guys are chained to a wall with nothing but a hacksaw that isn’t sturdy enough to cut the chain. Hmmmm…. How are they supposed to escape?

Saw tells the story of two men who awaken to find themselves chained to opposite sides of a nasty bathroom with a dead man face down in blood between them. The dead man is holding a gun and a cassette player; each of the two men wake with a tape that gives them clues on how to survive the day. One of the men, a doctor, is given a few hours to somehow kill the other man or his wife and child will be murdered. The person responsible is a twisted serial killer who rather than killing his prey, sets up elaborate traps where the victims either kill themselves or someone else. I don’t want to give away too much because I want you to be as intrigued as I was while watching. It’s not often that a thriller works so well for so long, but I was completely enthralled by the story and the setup. There are only a couple things that keep this movie from hitting the bullseye: acting, and uh, overacting.

Sure this is a low budget movie, and it isn’t packed full of familiar faces. The problem is that the guys we don’t recognize do a fine job, while a couple of “old faithfuls” are all over the map. Not only is Cary Elwes all over the map, he’s all over the desk next to the map; he’s across the street in the map shop looking for a map large enough to contain his awkward performance. Elwes plays one of the two men trapped in the bathroom. He’s a doctor who recognizes what is happening because he was once a suspect in the search for the vile, but creative, serial killer. The good news is that he doesn’t come across as a total and complete hack. He’s believable for the first half of the movie, but whenever he has to show any sort of emotion, he crumbles. Acting classes should be forced to watch his performance to see the perils of overacting. He looks more like an actor trying to portray anger, than a man whose unusual circumstances have driven him into a panic. It’s a terrible tragedy when the audience is laughing through the climax of a film because the actor can’t carry the part. His performance is so over the top – so completely distracting – that the film really suffers.

The usually steady Danny Glover is also inconsistent. He plays the lead detective investigating the serial killer, nicknamed “Jigsaw.” His character is very emotionally driven but not enough time is given to his development. The audience can’t help but question his motivation and many times the logic behind some of his decisions. The part was never fleshed out and because of this, Glover’s performance is weak. He just didn’t have enough to work with.

The supporting actors fare much better. Monica Potter is good as the doctor’s wife, and Makenzie Vega is quite good as her daughter. The most pleasant surprise was the performance of Leigh Whannell, also one of the screenwriters. Whannell plays the other man who finds himself chained to the wall in the bathroom. There were a few weak moments, but overall his performance was solid.

A lot of hype has been given to how shocking, disturbing, and scary this film is. Let me set the record straight. Saw isn’t scary, but it is suspenseful. It’s much more of a thriller than a horror movie. There are a few surprises, and a few truly disturbing sequences, but as hard as it tries, Saw doesn’t achieve the atmosphere and feel of Se7en. That’s not to say that it doesn’t successfully create a disturbing mood. A couple moments really worked for me. There is a creepy moment with the young daughter of the doctor (Makenzie Vega) staring at a mobile in her room, wondering if the boogie man is there. Another sequence with a man using a camera as a flashlight also worked well. In fact, the first three quarters of the movie successfully draw the audience into the story and the characters. But then it starts to fall apart.

The final act of Saw feels like a different movie. The tone seemingly changes, and the film relies on clichés and coincidences to drive the story. It becomes a cookie cutter thriller straight from the Ashley Judd school of predictability. But then everything changes again. SPOILER WARNING: JUMP TO THE CONCLUSION IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ok, the ending is great. The movie had hit rock bottom and there were no explanations for the actions of the characters. Then there is a twist and everything makes sense. As great as the twist may be, I’m not sure it makes up for the previous 15 minutes of the film. It’s hard to forgive what the movie does to the audience during that sequence. I felt detached from the film and I felt the story had let me down. Still, I don’t often fall for surprise endings, and this one got me good.

Conclusion:

Saw is an uneven but satisfying film. It isn’t the best thriller you’ll see this year, but it may just be the most intriguing. The premise is great, but the acting detracts. It’s an UP and DOWN experience – See Saw – I recommend it.

Saw is rated R for Really Ridiculous Acting

Saw Review
An uneven, but recommended horror flick.
Stortelling8.5
Craftsmanship7
Performances4
Satisfaction7.5
The Good
  • Intriguing Premise
  • Some real surprises
The Bad/Ugly
  • Acting
  • Acting
  • Acting
6.8Solid
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
0.0

About The Author

By day I’m a producer/director at a video game development studio. By night, I’m… um… yeah, i’m usually just a more tired producer/director at a video game development studio. BUT, by weekend I’m a husband, father, and critic of all things.