How chilling the simplest ideas are. What would you do to protect your family, or yourself? How far would you go?
These questions and more are asked by first time director James Wan and his close friend and screen writer Leigh Whannell in the low budget horror/thriller Saw. The premise was borne out by having no money to make a film; to this end they asked themselves what is the least you need for a film? A room and two actors, and from this humble beginning Saw was born.
Adam (Whannell) awakens in a filthy disused bathroom. He is confused, chained to a pipe and has no idea how he got there, but soon discovers he is not alone. Chained across the room from him is Dr Gordon (Cary Elwes), who also has no idea how he came to be in this position. In between them is a dead body, from a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. We learn from flashbacks (sometimes flash backs within flashbacks) that the two are being held captive by the 'Jigsaw Killer'. A new bread of psychopath, one that puts his victims in morally questionable situations of life and death and then observes the results. He always seems one step ahead of the police, headed up by aging cop David Tapp (Danny Glover). In the confines of their cell, Adam and Gordon are given a series of clues as to what is expected of them; in short Gordon is required to kill Adam in order to preserve the life of his wife and daughter being held captive elsewhere. A variety of ways are presented to him, yet as a doctor he is dedicated to preserving life, so perhaps in order to escape, he and Adam could work together? The two hacksaws provided, however are unable to cut through the chains, but are just right for something else......
This film has split its intended audience. On the one hand we have those that hail it as top end low budget horror, on the other a poor excuse for set gore pieces. One thing that unites both, though, is the tone of the film is inspired from Fincher's 1997 hit Se7en. The bleak direction to the down beat ending it's all here. However, unlike Se7en, Saw's villain is never given the chance to explain his motivations, rather he is there as an overseer, able to control his victims through the power of his traps. His psychosis and motivation is explained away in one line; and this reduces his effectiveness. Whereas the film should be about the trapped pairs horror and possible escape, it falls into whodunit territory by taking the emphasis away from the escape and placing it on the final twist, which although it did take me by surprise, it was also a WTF moment, rather spoiling the final scream.
Acting wise, the film is not going to win any awards, Whannell plays his part well for a first timer, with enough conviction to pull it off, Elwes however, seems a bit lost, and sadly lets the side down, never really getting emotionally involved, even when he has to do the unthinkable. Glover plays the old pro he is, but it's a shame he wasn't given more. Likewise Monica Potter (Mrs Gordon) did well with what little work she had to do. Ultimately Saw will be remembered as a low budget horror, which is what Wan and Whannell set out to do and that is exactly what they have achieved. Obviously fans of the horror genre, their influences are clear, and their effort should be applauded even if the end result may not be to everyone's taste.