Review: SAW (2004) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 1 November 2010

Review: SAW (2004)


One dirty bathroom, two men, a dead body and a filthy toilet. What an intriguing premise to start off something out of ordinary. For bone-chilling effect, this Halloween weekend doesn't any frightening than watching SAW, an impressive debut for both Australian director James Wan and his fellow screenwriter Leigh Whannell.

The film opens with two male strangers, one is middle-aged Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and another one is annoying slacker Adam (Leigh Whannell), awake to find themselves at opposite ends of a large, dirty bathroom. Neither remembers how he got there in the first place and each is chained by his ankle to a pipe. Not only that, there is a man's corpse lies on the floor leaking a pool of blood with his both hands holding a tape recorder and a gun respectively. It's not long before they are soon discover that each of them has a personal message on the tape from a serial killer nicknamed "Jigsaw", who promises that unless one kills the other, both will die and they have exactly six hours long before the final countdown -- along with the wall clock ticking for its time. So they start looking around and soon realized that there are various objects and cryptic message actually concealed around the room, starting with a pair of hacksaws that won't cut metal but could cut through flesh and bone, which is of course isn't a good idea after all to get out of the room. As they are desperately trying to figure out to escape, Lawrence seems to have an idea who is the mysterious serial killer nicknamed "Jigsaw". As the flashback unwinds, we see Detective Tapp (Danny Glover) and his partner, Detective Steven Sing (Ken Leung) are hot on the trail to investigate a number of grisly murder that could have been linked to one serial killer and the first suspect happens to be Lawrence.

A word of advice before viewing: it's best not to think too much logic and leave plenty of room for suspension of disbelief because SAW is the kind of super-smart psychological horror that defies most of the common sense. While most of the similar kind of genre film often fails to intrigue, this film is really packed with a big wallop and had me squirmed once in a while.

The opening scene itself is a true knockout, as director James Wan created a certain measure of sheer, claustrophobic suspense that he's simply grab the viewers by the throat and lure them for a sick, psychotic ride that tapped into the realm of madness. Wan also make use for the hard R-rating (originally conceived as NC-17 -- let's hope we can have the unrated version in the DVD release) and as expected, the film offers enough bucket of blood and hardcore violence that is certainly not for the weak stomach. Such gruesome and frightening scene like the one involving junkie Amanda (Shawnee Smith), forcing to decide whether she'd rather dig a key out of a living man's stomach with a knife already being prepared or wait for the spring-loaded contraption locked onto her head to rip off her lower jaw is nevertheless terrifying or the scene (warning, spoiler alert!) -- where Lawrence risks himself for the sake to save his family by hacking the saw through his ankle; the look of his pure agony and the sight of his desperation to hack himself free had me squirmed big time.

Though the film borrows largely from SE7EN (1995), Wan and his screenwriter Whannell still able a twisted, squirm-inducingly nasty piece of work in which they also pay gruesome homage to Euro-horror of the '70s, evidently on Dario Argentio's FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET (1972) and DEEP RED (1975), some creepy inspiration from Asian horror genre as well as grinding the gritty David Fincher-like darkly stylish vibe, all thrown into good measure. Whannell's script is gamely playful, complete with a sick twist that leave you spellbound (though the very ending doesn't make much sense) -- think the last-minute surprise as in THE USUAL SUSPECT (1995) and provides tight characterization, particularly anticipating the two nervous strangers, Lawrence and Adam trying to stay alive.

While watching Cary Elwes in a dramatic role seems to be at times hard to swallow (who can blame anyone since he's mostly into comedy element?) and frankly, he's quite make a convincing cut as a desperate figure trying to get out alive. Too bad he tends to get overacted, mainly the way he cried and freaked out in certain scene he seems to be laughable. Whannell, who acted for the first time as with his first-time writing debut, is quite competent, though he can a bit overwhelming and at times stiff while it's good to see Danny Glover back into action.

Despite the film's dramatic scarefest, Wan tends to get a little too overwhelming the way he directs certain scenes -- too MTV-ish for some taste and the swirling 360-degree camera going round and round in such rapid motion could be a splitting headache. All in all, it's kudos once again to the bravado of Lions Gate, who keeps (especially) horror fans happy with their "ballsy" release that includes HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, CABIN FEVER (both released in 2003) and now this. And like director Eli Roth in CABIN FEVER, James Wan is definitely a genre filmmaker to watch for.

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