Why? That is my question. Why did they have to take a perfectly good horror film and tack on an arbitrary twist at the end that negates everything that went before it. Why? Saw had so much promise all throughout, and, if done right, the ending could have tied it all together and really delivered a message, but instead, the ending essentially throws everything out the window in favor of tricking the audience. Sure, all of the self-contained plot elements might make sense, but the resolution completely ignores all logical character motivations. This is not to say that Saw isn't a disturbingly scary movie for most of its length, but, jeez, why?
The film opens in a disgusting bathroom that you can almost smell through the screen, where Adam (Leigh Whannell, who also wrote the screenplay) and Lawrence (Cary Elwes) wake up to find themselves chained at the foot on opposite sides of the room, and, oh, there's a dead man lying in between them. They quickly intuit that this is not good, and Lawrence, a doctor, conveniently has a good idea of who has captured them here, because he was once a suspect. It seems there is a serial killer on the loose, but this killer does not technically do any killing himself; he cleverly finds ways to allow his prey to kill themselves.
And so the killer has given Lawrence an ultimatum: kill Adam before six o'clock, or the doctor's wife and young daughter will be killed. The killer has left certain objects in strategic places for the two of them to discover and use as they will, including a jigsaw for each of them--not to cut off their chains, mind you, but rather their feet. Obviously both of them are freaked out. Along the way, we get some flashbacks involving Detectives Tapp (Danny Glover) and Sing (Ken Leung) in pursuit of the killer. And there we have the setup: will Lawrence and Adam find a way to escape to save the lives of loved ones, or will Lawrence give in and kill Adam first? After all, he's got all the tools he needs at his disposal. But, wait, why are they there in the first place? And who is this killer who has brought them here?
A film like Saw is more frustrating than your average run-of-the-mill bad horror movie, which is not to say that this is a bad horror movie; in fact, it's quite good. A bad horror movie is preposterous from the first frame to the last, and believe me, there are more of these kinds of movies than the world needs. However, Saw gives us an entirely credible premise, and fills it with just enough elements to keep our heads from spinning off, but then takes a horrible wrong turn and the wheels come flying off, leaving some viewers to think it's a brilliant twist that brings everything together when really it's a cop out, and offers nothing deeper than a "gotcha!" moment.
Director James Wan has infused the film with a lot of style, using washed-out colors and quick edits to give it a gritty look and keep the suspense factor high. He also succeeds in using psychological suspense rather than monsters and one-off spooks. There are some truly terrifying moments where you know something bad is going to go down, but you don't know the what, when or who. All of the good points had me thinking that Saw would find a way to rise above the mediocre formulas of horror films, but the ending--oh, the ending!--still has me asking why, and not in a good way.
Note: All of this talk and I haven't even mentioned the blood, gore guts, and violence that is depicted in this film. It is ample, I will tell you that. Saw is not suitable for children, and there are plenty of adults who will want to avert their eyes at some points as well.
May 24, 2005