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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » Saw
Saw
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // October 29, 2004
Review by Kim Morgan | posted October 28, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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Why must cinema make serial killers sooooo clever? It's become as tiresome a conceit as hookers with hearts of gold, opposites always attract and Julia Roberts has a big, huge, I-love-the-world grin (come to think of it, Roberts would make a good serial killer…). But, Lordy! If these movie psycho's aren't artfully offing their victims through the dictates of the Seven Deadly Sins or frying Ray Liotta's brains to add that certain panache to the dramatic dinner party, they're mutilating corpses with such crafty detail that Martha Stewart would look on proud.

In James Wan's feature film debut, Saw, we've got another convoluted serial killer on the loose—a guy, or monster or whatever he is that seems to have found inspiration through the videos of Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails (which makes us think, not so brilliant because that's so very stuck in the '90's). Anyway, this guy, the Jigsaw killer, places his prey in elaborate scenarios, providing them with clues and choices on how to survive—kind of like those create your own adventure stories, only for real and with dead bodies in the room. Some situations he's masterminded involved a poor guy trapped in barbed wire and a pretty girl with her face clamped in a bear trap—the only way she can survive is if she kills the guy in the room (and then she gets to go shopping! Oh wait...that was Pretty Woman, excuse me another movie cliche). Nevertheless, she has to make a moral decision that will haunt her forever, the MO, we presume behind this freak.

The picture opens with two very desperate men, a surgeon (Cary Elwes) and a young photographer (Leigh Whannell, who wrote the script) chained by the leg at separate ends of a foul underground room that's been functioning solely as, apparently, the bathroom from hell. What's their adventure game pieces? A gun, a tape recorder and two hacksaws. As they attempt to figure out just what the heck they're going to do, the movie flashes back to before they were captured weaving together a story about why they're stuck in such a place and who would do such a thing. Well, we can tell you without revealing any spoilers—there's a real nut job behind it!Seriously! But the question is--which nut job?

See, in a side story, an ex-police detective (Danny Glover) who was tracking this particular killer has gone crazy after his partner died. He sits in his messy apartment (with tagged walls—which means he's a graffiti artist also) and rages while staring at surveillance equipment. At this point the story has become so convoluted its actually entertaining—like, laugh out loud when we should be scared entertaining. And the gore isn't as wonderfully gross and extreme as you'd expect, which negates any small reason you'd want to see the film.

And it's really a shame because the actors are all appealing presences: Whannell is a nice newcomer we hope to see more of, Elwes is always reliable even when given some bad moments to work with and Glover, well, we can only ask, what is he doing here? It's possible the idea of the movie seemed intriguing. The concept of two guys stuck in a room with the option of hacking off their own feet, or killing each other could be a terrific, scary film. Korean director Kim Ki-Duk who created the brilliant, atmospheric The Isle would have made this an evocative horrifying bit of perfected minimalism. But Saw is overstuffed, over-wrought and over-crazed. It makes you wish John McNaughton's resourceful Henry Lee Lucas could step in the frame to say, "Hey, it doesn't have to be that complicated guys."

Read More Kim Morgan at her blog Sunset Gun
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