Review: Saw [2004]

a (quick) review by the Crow.

Opening Thoughts

Since the Azure-Winged Magpie’s still having trouble finishing up her review for A Serbian Film (surprise, surprise) I’ve had to pull yet another review out of my safety nest to keep horror month going.

[Azure-Winged Magpie note: My review for A Serbian Film is done! Go read it here! The Crow knows nothing!]

Instead of shopping around for something new to watch (due to time constraints), I decided to pull the bones of a review from what little remains of my previous blog to fill the void. It was this post by Emma K. Wall that gave me the idea to dip back into my old files, so credit where credit is due.

And it didn’t quite work, thanks to the fallouts of a corrupted hard-drive (so much for the easy way out). This post effectively had to be written from scratch all over again. But as we all know: the show must go on.

That said, let’s talk about Saw.


The Games They Play

WARNING: This section contains MODERATE spoilers.

Premise and a part-summary: Saw is a variation on the classic “locked-room” mystery starring Dr Lawrence Gordon (Carey Elwes) and Adam (Leigh Whannell) in a deadly game of life-and-death. Both men wake up in a multipurpose bathroom, chained to water mains. Between them, and just out of reach, lies the first “scare” of the movie: the victim of a suicide-by-gunshot.

On the wall, there is a clock — and apart from a short scene that plays in the very first seconds of the movie — that is all we have to go on. As do our primary characters.

We follow both men as they start to piece together the events that led them here, as well as the reasons as to why they are here in the first place. As always, there is a mire of deception and intrigue that ties our two main characters together. We discover these connections at first through the use of flashbacks and flashbacks within those flashbacks; and thereafter — once most of the connections have been made clear — through a concurrent narrative that runs alongside our “locked-room” mystery.

But before we can get to the questions surrounding their appearance in the bathroom, the two protagonists decipher what their individual purposes in the “game” are. For Adam, things are simple: escape the bathroom by six o’clock. For Gordon, things are a little more complex: kill Adam by six o’clock; and if he fails, not only will he spend the rest of his days locked here in the bathroom, but his wife and daughter will be killed as well.

After both men agree to work together for the time-being, Dr Gordon reveals that he is aware of who is behind the “game”. He knows this because he was once a suspect in the little-known case he is sure he has just become a part of.

Enter the story of the “Jigsaw Killer”: a killer (and this person is a killer) who conceives “games” for people to play. In these games, the winning prize and the cost of losing are one and the same: the player’s life. Gordon tells the story of a heroin addict who he was taken to meet whilst a suspect in the case. In the flashback-within-the-flashback, we meet Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) — the only known survivor (at the time) of the Killer’s games (see above). The sequence in which her struggle is shown is a remake of director James Wan and lead Leigh Whannell’s original Saw short movie, which convinced Ms Smith to take on the role.

She reveals details about the Killer to us — as the killer himself does later on in the story. The man fancies himself a sort of a philosopher, “gifting” people a renewed appreciation of life through his games when he considers them to have lost their way. And through Gordon, Adam is enlightened as to the designs of this Killer as well.

And in the background, the clock ticks down.

The detectives directly involved in the case: David Tapp (Danny Glover) and Steven Sing (Ken Leung) are the stars of the concurrent narrative. Again in flashback, we discover that they had once come close to capturing the Jigsaw Killer in his lair — saving another victim in the progress — only for him to escape. Tapp hasn’t let go of the case even now, and he is still on the hunt, monitoring Gordon ever-since — convinced that the doctor is the killer, or at the very least connected to him.

Apart from the characters mentioned above, Dr Gordon’s family, a co-worker of his, and an orderly from the hospital Gordon works at round out the rest of our named characters. The orderly — Zepp — is played by Michael Emerson in one of his earlier movie roles, who would go on to star in the excellent Person of Interest, in which Ken Leung also had a few minor appearances.

While the locked-room mystery continues, the Killer and Dt. Tapp become embroiled in a game of cat-and-mouse that leads to a high-tension climax.

Technical aspects: Saw is crafted quite well. While the relative inexperience of the team behind the movie is apparent — especially in the editing of the movie, it still manages to be visually interesting. There are some stark colour palettes on display, and I personally felt that their use was a little clever (despite the heavy doses of “Matrix-hangover” at points).

The music by Charlie Clouser, and the score in general (featuring input from other artists) is by far the best backdrop to a “slasher”-style thriller as far as I’m concerned. If there is another that could rival it, I would be interested to know, because I see nothing touching the work on display, here.

The performances of Whannell, Emerson, Smith, and our detectives are quite good, but Elwes seems harshly miscast. I could be pushed to understanding that because of the mental state that the character is driven to, his demeanour is affected. But whenever I think back to his performance (especially the “Ally…?!” line), all I can see is terrible acting. He does manage to somewhat save his performance during a particularly brutal scene at what should be the peak of the third act, but on the whole comes off as subpar. I haven’t seen him in anything apart from Saw, so I don’t know how this singular appearance affects the rest of his body of work.

Saw is a bloody, messy affair, that shies away only a little from the brutality on display. This isn’t a movie for the weak-stomached, but it isn’t a splatter movie, either. It’s a movie that can be enjoyed through the gaps of ones’ fingers, if one is averse to fake blood and simulated violence on-screen.

To clarify: When I first watched the movie upon it’s release I had to take a moment to truly define which genre it falls into in my mind. Saw for all intents and purposes might be considered a ‘loose’ slasher movie, or even a ‘loose’ splatter movie. But at the end of the day it is a thriller that borrows elements from both the aforementioned genres.

And honestly, it’s very run-of-the-mill by those standards. It has some interesting ideas, and it’s a fresh spin on the kind of genre it floats in, but it never seems special.

And then, something happens. A moment that shifts the aforementioned ‘peak’ of the third act. A realisation, of sorts.

My mum and I fancy (well, okay, maybe not just fancy) ourselves detectives, and we engage in the game of “let’s figure out Whodunit“. And we have never been wrong (play along). We don’t even play the “that’s the one” finger-pointing game. We pause movies and lay out arguments.

But we have one loss on our record. And this is it. That’s all I’m going to say about it.

That one moment elevates the movie in my eyes. It’s such an excellently-crafted deception that you’d be lying if you said you deduced it. It’s something (which I’ll leave unmentioned) that is bared sometime during the flashbacks to our eyes, and it isn’t missed until it becomes relevant when the clock finally strikes six.

Consider my score to this movie to be entirely for that one moment. It’s worth sitting through the whole movie for, as run-of-the-mill as the entire product is.


Closing Thoughts

Personally, I would recommend Saw, but with a word of caution to those who are squeamish. There is a lot of blood on display, along with many scenes of violence. Saw also displays a strong sense of terror, and that’s always a welcome sight to my eyes.

It hasn’t aged very well, but it does well with what it has. Ignore the weaker parts of Elwes’ performance, and the almost-amateur editing, and you have a good thriller on your hands. And please, please ignore the sequels. I haven’t watched all of them, but they’re all atrocious from what little I’ve seen.

Again: it’s worth sitting through just to experience that one moment, but I doubt it’ll work as well on a re-watch. Saw is definitely a one-time movie, but make sure you cross it off your list that one time if you’re inclined to thrillers (the violence notwithstanding).

— Crow out.


Final Ratings

THE CROW: 4/10

THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 8/10


Here’s the official poster:


See Also: Jigsaw [2017]

reviewed by the Azure-Winged Magpie

jigsaw-teaser-poster-02

8 thoughts on “Review: Saw [2004]”

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