|Written by Bill Warren|
|Wednesday, 01 November 2006|
“Saw” is a tidy, efficient little bundle of malice, so effective and well-made that it became an actual hit, and so far has generated two sequels, one this year. James Wan (director) and Leigh Whannell came up with a simple but gripping story, and they tell it very well. It is also extremely grim and brutal, with lots of blood spilled amidst the mayhem. It is, as they say, definitely not for the squeamish, but is a nice, hot cup of rich blood for those with a taste for the genuinely macabre.
In a filthy, disused combination men’s room/lavatory, Adam (Leigh Whannell, the co-writer) wakes up, his leg shackled to a pipe. He looks around the white tiled room in confusion. Lying on the floor just out of reach is a dead body in a pool of blood, the pistol that clearly killed him nearby. On the other side of the room is another prisoner, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Carl Elwes), shackled to the wall in the same manner. Neither of them has any idea how he got there.
But they soon learn WHY they are there. Clues on tape recorders and elsewhere fill in some of the background. Eventually we (and they) learn they’re the captives of Jigsaw, a mysterious figure who has been capturing those he regards as morally bankrupt. He imprisons them in deadly traps with notes explaining how they can free themselves—at immense cost. One woman was in a trap over her head set to rip her skull in two unless she can unlock it. And the key is inside the stomach of the body on the floor in front of her. She finds a way to cut open the body, and as she does, she realizes it’s not dead…
Another man, a fat one, was placed in a cage with an unlocked door across the space in front of him. But to get there he had to crawl through a tangle of razor wire. He didn’t make it. But the terrible traps of Jigsaw has engaged the attention of dedicated police detective Tapp (Danny Glover); he and his partner Steven (Ken Leung) set out to track down the mad killer.
As Adam and Gordon bicker and cooperate by turns, they realize they’re not getting anywhere—and then Gordon learns that Jigsaw has taken his wife and daughter captive. And will kill them (or have them killed) by a certain time if Gordon doesn’t free himself—and kill Adam.
The movie is absolutely cold-blooded in its handling of this sensational material, but that distance isn’t the same as reserve: “Saw” is drenched in blood throughout. It’s merciless to its characters and to its audiences, but it’s also splendidly made, a great calling card for director Wan. (Who didn’t direct either sequel.) He uses harsh colors, warm colors, different types of film stock including a lot of snowy black and white video images, as if photographed by a surveillance camera. He really knows how to build scenes and the movie overall, which becomes intensely suspenseful toward the end. (But the very ending is unacceptable; it requires us to believe something that is just too improbable.)
The story not only has twists, it’s based on twists, with surprise deaths and unexpected revelations. It now has developed an extra flavor: the man who took the wife and daughter captive is played by Michael Emerson, now the leader of the “Others” on TV’s “Lost.” You can’t trust him—can you?
We never know very much about Jigsaw. We do learn that Adam is a private detective hired to follow Gordon and take pictures of his illicit sex life, so there’s actually something of a motivation for Gordon to kill the other man. But Gordon is a doctor, and it’s nearly impossible for him to make the deadly decision—which seems to be something Jigsaw didn’t actually regard as a possibility.
We occasionally see a bizarre, disturbing puppet that represents Jigsaw, and at the end, we see, but not clearly, the man himself. But we never know what set him on this path of enforcing what he regards as his own unshakable moral superiority. He can do it, so he does do it.
This Blu-Ray disc, though it has no extras at all, is an ideal way to experience ‘Saw” for the first time. The kind of movies that benefit most from this high definition treatment are those with a lot of details in their images. This room may be ugly and filthy, with an overflowing toilet and a stiff on the floor, but it’s full of details, all of which pop into relief in the high definition process.
The sound design is also imaginatively handled. The movie doesn’t really have a score of the ordinary sort, but the soundtrack is busy nonetheless, with musical notes and themes seemingly squeezed out of the background.
“Saw” marked the beginning of something; time will tell just what it is.