Saw is the latest in a long series of movies that take inspiration from Se7en's unremittingly bleak direction. The actual plot of Saw is very simple: two men, Adam and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (played by scriptwriter Leigh Whannell and Cary Elwes respectively) find themselves chained to some pipes in a disused, very large, bathroom by the renowned Jigsaw Killer. How they got there, and why, but more importantly how they are to escape, become focal points as the movie progresses. Otherwise, that's it. I mean, fair enough, you have Danny Glover playing obsessive detective David Tapp and a few other sideline plots, but Saw is really only about the two men, in the bathroom. Leigh Whannell, despite being a scriptwriter, gives a pretty good performance. His reactions have effervescence, an everything including the kitchen sink, feel that only the truly motivated posses. Cary Elwes, on the other hand, never seems to be emotionally charged. Sobs of tears have no tears sounding contrived with a hollow resonance. Cries of despair are raw, but come across as forced and without feeling.
A partial lack of good acting has ever stopped budget movies in the past from succeeding, though: U Turn or Dog Soldiers are both movies that thrive on their budget constraints, using creative direction and story to enrich themselves. I am not entirely sure that Saw pulls this trick off. Merely having the Jigsaw Killer act as God, pulling the strings of his victims in an effort to teach some moral code, is something thrillers (perhaps more accurately horror movies) have been doing for a while and should work. However, these thrillers tend to build the antagonist's character so that you understand where their psychoses arise and even identify with them to an extent. Therefore when the final “twist” happens it hits you both with surprise and revulsion -Silence of the Lambs' skinned face scene is a perfect example. With Saw, however, you don't know what drives the Jigsaw Killer, nor does he have a standout quality to his character to elevate it beyond a by-the-numbers identikit villain. The Jigsaw killer is reduced from what could have been something truly unsettling into a mechanic through which the moviemakers can produce a slideshow of gruesome torture scenes. It looks like the creators had an ending to the movie, and some signature scenes thought out, but no way of linking them. So they worked backwards hitting a bare minimum of plot points but with no consideration to a fully fleshed idea. Just a direct line to that ending. Speaking of which, there are a few too many, almost like the writer had a few good endings, but was unsure which to use, so used them all. The last one is rather good, though, and caught me by surprise. Not because it existed, or even the manner in which it unfolds, but a throwaway comment that renders Adam and Lawrence's suffering needless. Other than that, this movie is, even taking into consideration budget and absurdly short shoot of 18 days, a rather mundane one.