I knew very little about Saw before I watched it yesterday. It came out during the time I was too busy moving out of my house and preparing to leave for France to pay much attention to upcoming movies. In France I heard a little buzz on the internet about it being a very captivating and scary thriller. I tried not to pay much more attention than that because there is nothing worse than learning too much about a scary movie before you go see it.
Yesterday, while Amy (who doesn't like horror movies)was out all day in class, I took my chance and sat down to watch it. Upon first viewing I thought it was a really top notch piece of horror (well all except that ending.) First time director James Wan does an excellent job creating a dark, creepy mood. The set pieces are continually dirty and slimy looking, which is perfect for the setting. The story is intriguing enough to keep you from paying too much attention to the sub par acting and the numerous plot holes. It's the kind of movie that kept me still for an hour after seeing it thinking it over. And there lies the problem. After putting some thought into what I had just seen the movie crumbled.
But first, a little more on what is right about the film. The opening sequence is one of the more imaginatively openings I have seen in a long time. The movie opens in a rat hole of a bathroom buried deep in some long deserted public building. The two main characters, Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannel are on opposite sides of the room shackled by the ankles with a short chain connected to rusty pipes. They have no recollection of how they got their, or why. Oh, and there is a dead guy with his head blown off laying in the middle of the floor. I won't give any other plot details away than this, but the remainder of the film centers on those two characters trying to find a way to get out of the room while playing a vicious game with a mad serial killer.
The design of the killer is also done quite imaginatively. Throughout the movie, we get brief glimpses into several other victims and the games they had to play. The killer's design and the games he creates are quite frightening and original. Unfortunately they are also quite implausible. There is no conceivable way that the killer could create his deadly games in the places he does without being noticed and eventually caught. I'm all for suspension of disbelief, but I believe a portion of the horror in this film is meant to be that this kind of sick killer could be quite real. He is not Jason, or Freddy, or Mike Myers, but a more realistic psychopath. In as such his killings are so complicated as to make them absurd.
There are several similarities to the superior piece of cinema Seven. Both films are set in the seedier areas of a large city. The cinematography is both is dark and moody. And both feature a moralistic serial killer who creates inventive and complicated murders. Yet where Seven succeeded in making a classic thriller all the way through, Saw fails about 3/4ths of the way in. The easier part of a horror/thriller is devising an original killer. Where the plot gets difficult is finding resolution of why he is killing and how he is caught. Saw tries to be original by first giving the viewer a cliche fake ending, only to give a real surprise ending later. I wasn't amused.
In order to fill out the plot and, I suppose, take up some time. The filmmakers create some characters that have no use. Danny Glovers subplot adds to the 'whodunnit' episodes to a movie that doesn't need to be a 'whodunnit.' Detective mysteries, cop shows, and murder plots create tension by giving various clues to who the villain could be. In a horror/thrill such as Saw there is no need for the audience to figure out who it could be. We only need to be thrilled by the murderer and grasp with the victims for escape.
You never expect the acting to be brilliant in a small budget horror film, and this film won't surprise you in that area. Cary Elwes was a surpise to see in such a film. Though I know he has done similar fare I will always remember him for his role in the Princess Bride. He doesn't add much to the film in acting. He is also almost too pretty for the role. It seems as if the filmakers recognized this because as the movie rolls on his make up got more and more dirty and grotesque.
Overall Saw creates an unusual situation that is thrilling enough in the first viewing. However, after a truly good begining the movie sinks into implausible and isn't smart enough to figure out how to end itself.