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It seems that every few years a small budget film will come along that exceeds everyone's wildest expectations at the box office. These films often have a different feel from the regular Hollywood product and have to rely on a strong story and creativity to make up for the lack of money. The most recent film like this to take the theaters by storm is Saw, a horror film that was made for around a million dollars but went on to gross over $100 million in worldwide (and that's not counting the DVD releases.) This film is creative and eerie and filled with a good amount of suspense and mystery. It's easy to see why it did so well.
The film starts off fast and doesn't let up. Two men, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam (co-writer Leigh Whannell) wake up in an old, decrepit bathroom, chained by the leg to metal pipes. Laying on the floor in between them is a dead man with a gun shot wound to the head. The men have no recollection of how they got there or why they are being held.
Through cassette tapes left in their pockets they find that they are being held by a serial killer, dubbed the Jigsaw killer by the press. This maniac has presented Dr. Gordon with a little problem: his wife and child are being held hostage and will be killed in eight hours. All he has to do to save their lives is kill Adam, a man that he can't reach. It's an interesting problem since he only has a few tools at his disposal. There's a key that doesn't seem to unlock anything, some broken floor tiles, and a hacksaw that he could use to cut off his own leg in order to be freed.
This film gets a lot of things right. There are some weaknesses in the plot, but these fly by unnoticed due to the way the film is constructed. Told through a series of flashbacks, the background becomes clearer as the movie progresses. As time marches on however the situation in the room also becomes more dire. The mystery of who these people are and why they are in this bathroom really draws the viewers in like moths to a flame. The writers also did a great job of doling out the answers slowly as the film unfolds so that the film doesn't have a chance to get stale or dull.
There's a lot of suspense in this film, with even the flashbacks being rather scary in parts. As each piece of the puzzle gets put into place, the tension continues to build, ratcheting up to a nail biting edge-of-your-seat conclusion that is both surprising and well done.
This was a very entertaining and well done film, much better than its miniscule budget would indicate. There are a few minor plot flaws but these don't ruin the film and are hardly noticeable. The acting is very good too. Danny Glover is the only real name in the cast, he plays a cop who is after the serial killer, and he does a very good job with his role. I especially liked the way the officer's character changes over the course of the film. The movie really rest on the performances of the two main characters, and Elwes and Whannell were up to the task. Both of them really act like they are trapped in the lair of a killer, alternating between trying to rationally think through their predicament and being filled with mind numbing panic. A very well done job on both their parts.
There are two versions of this film that have been released on SD DVD: the theatrical release and a director's cut. (A few minutes of the movie had to be cut in order to obtain a "R" rating, and that 'edited' version was released to theaters. Those excised segments were then restored and released on a director's cut DVD.) This Blu-Ray disc presents the original theatrical release of the film.
Note: The only Blu-Ray DVD player on the market at the time of this review is the Samsung BD-P1000. Apparently an error crept into the design, and a noise reduction algorithm on one of the chips was turned on which creates a softer picture. As yet there is no fix for this, or even an official announcement from Samsung.
The widescreen color image had some good points, but there were some problems too. First the good: the image was sharp and had a great definition. The contrast was excellent, with details clear even in the myriad of dark scenes that filled the movie. I haven't seen the standard definition DVD of this film, but reproduction here looked very good.
Now for the bad part: There's a fair amount of grain in the picture, but the digital noise is much worse. The dirty white floor of the room where Adam and Lawerance are trapped looks like it's moving and the doctor's blue shirt seems to shimmer on his back. The grain I can live with but the noise was a bit distracting.
There are also a couple of spots on the print that was used for the transfer, something I was surprised to see. There were only five or six defects through the entire film, but there shouldn't be any in such a recent title. I hate to be nit-picky, but with the cost of the player and the discs, I think consumers should expect an outstanding product.
There's one more odd thing that I'm not sure is a defect with disc, it could be a problem with the Samsung player. In a couple of scenes where there is fast movement, the image jerks a bit. It is as if every other frame was cut out of the film, or someone increased the projection speed for just a moment. This gives the characters movements an unnatural look. It happens quickly, and in only a few spots. The first time I thought I was imagining it, but the second time I played the scene back again and the defect was repeated. I checked other reviews, something I rarely do before writing mine, and other critics have noticed this too. I could be a problem with the decoding algorithm of the player or the disc itself. It's hard to say.
Update: This jerky effect is only apparent when the DTS audio track is selected. When viewing the film with Dolby Digital sound, that defect isn't present. What and odd thing. Thanks to reader Steve Phillips for pointing this out.
The disc offers a 6.1 DTS-ES soundtrack as well as a DD-EX 6.1 mix. There isn't an uncompressed PCM mix, but the two tracks that are provided sound very good. I screened the film with the DTS track and spot checked the DD, and was very satisfied with both. The soundstage was used frequently, though not always as effectively as it could have been. (The scene where Adam hears the puppet talking behind him is a good example. They threw the puppet's voice to the front when it would have been much more startling to have it come from the rear.) The music, though sometimes overdone, was reproduced well and comes through loud and clear. This was a low budget film, and some of the voices are a bit hard to make out at times, but this is only when the characters are whispering or the voice is coming over the phone. I'm certain that this is a problem with the master too, and a flaw with the DVD.
There are no extras. I am really getting tired of these bare-bones, or nearly so, Blu-Ray discs.
This was the first time I had a chance to see this film, and I was pretty impressed. The story was engrossing, the suspense was so thick in parts you could cut it with a knife, and there were enough surprises to keep viewers guessing. The Blu-Ray release was a bit of a mixed bag. Though the image did look very good for the most part, the excessive digital noise was a big negative. The lack of any extras (the director's commentary that is on the SD DVD would have been nice, and easy, to include) was also a disappointment. Even with these flaws I enjoyed this movie and the disc, so it is recommended.