Ebert: Rolling Stone: TV Guide:1/2

Warning, minor plot points revealed!

I had high hopes for SAW.  There's been a lot of buzz for it and I keep seeing comparisons to Seven and Silence of the Lambs.  Comparisons to Seven and Silence are becoming a pretty standard marketing technique as those two movies are definitely the benchmark for world class serial killer films.  I don't disagree with the praise.  I could probably add a few others to the list, but I think those two movies are absolutely the twin quasars of the serial thriller universe.

Now, is the comparison justified?  Of course not!  It never is.  SAW may steal elements directly from Seven and Silence of the Lambs but it is in no way comparable.  

I don't want to give the impression that I didn't like the movie.  I liked it.  I was somewhat disappointed but it was worth seeing.  I'll probably rent it on DVD when it comes out so I can see the un-rated gorier version.  You can actually tell while you're watching it what scenes are going to be extended on the Director's Cut.

A madman, who the cops have named Jigsaw, is kidnapping people and then forcing them to kill each other and themselves in gruesome and horrific ways.  He's not really technically a serial killer because he doesn't actually kill anybody.  (This is admittedly a fresh clever little plot twist.)  As the two current victims have a few hours to figure out the clues that may or may not save themselves, the story of Jigsaw's past crimes and the detectives who have been tracking him are told in flashback.

I won't continue with the details because there are a lot of shockers and plot twists that don't deserve to be spoiled.  The list of possible suspects grows as each character is introduced.  Almost everyone seems like they could be Jigsaw.  I thought the film's ability to obscure the identity of the killer was impressive until the end when the revelation was, to me, a big disappointment.

The movie does have good cinematography and atmosphere.  This is probably what draws the most comparisons to the SevenAlmost every set location is nauseating.  The main room where the two men are kept is quite possibly one of the most disgusting and filthy places ever seen in a film.  The production designer did a repulsively great job.  It makes you really uncomfortable and queasy just imagining what it would be like to be chained up in that room.  

The elaborate techniques that the killer uses are also reminiscent of Seven and they are undeniably creative.  They are all sufficiently scary and gory as well.  Unfortunately there are only a few scenarios that we get to see in flashback, and all of them have been edited down.  We'll have to wait for the DVD to see the much buzzed about gore.

Usually it's not necessary to see the bloody act itself for a film to work.  For example, Seven only showed the aftermath of the violence.  This is usually a more effective story telling technique but with SAW it would have been better if they showed the gore happening.  If you're not going to spend a lot of time on the story and characters then you better ratchet up the gore to compensate.  

The actors all do a good job.  Particularly Cary Elwes who really goes convincingly crazy by the end of the film.  The situation and timing when he snaps is excruciating.  Danny Glover plays the cop who becomes obsessed with the case.  His character needed a bit more development.  At one point he appears to be assisting the killer and this doesn't really make sense and is never sufficiently explained.  There are no other big name actors but all involved do a fine job.

I liked SAW.  I didn't love it though and I probably won't be buying it when it comes out on DVD.  It will be worth watching on DVD though, at least one more time, if only to see the gore that they had to cut out.  Do you need to see this at the theatre?  No.  I saw it on Halloween and that was probably the last day that seeing it with a crowd would have been fun.  


Note:  Even though they had nothing in common, this film reminded me a little of the far superior, Takashi Miike Japanese film ‘dishon (Audition).  Similar gore I suppose.