Saw is a serial killer film with a difference. Although the murders are suitably brutal, and the storyline of an ingeniously misleading killer is inventive and grisly, the killer here does not actually murder his victims. Instead, he forces the victims to kill each other or themselves as they attempt to escape from the horrifyingly elaborate predicaments they find themselves trapped in.
A middle-class surgeon, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and a young layabout called Adam (Leigh Whannell) awake chained down on opposite sides of a filthy, large and abandoned underground bathroom. A bloody corpse with a gun and a Dictaphone is the only thing that separates them both in the domain of a serial killer who has been christened ‘Jigsaw’ by homicide detectives due to his bizarre calling cards.
Adam and Lawrence are each left a tape by the killer, which they play on the Dictaphone that Adam manages to reach from the corpse. Like all the victims of ‘Jigsaw’, the pair are told the lessons of life through mental and physical torture. It literally becomes a taut race against the clock as Lawrence is told to kill Adam as an escape if he is to prevent his wife and daughter from being murdered in cold blood.
Judging from the grainy, neo-gothic visuals and the gruesome, yet plausible, premise Saw could quite possibly derive from David Fincher’s school of filmmaking and be the logical successor to Se7en.
Indeed the crimes committed in Se7en were not random acts of gratuitous violence and murder but meticulously planned homicides that were committed for specific reasons. The killer saw his crimes as being ‘sociologically important’, and his victims were people that society could continue to function and be better without. The killings in Saw are committed in order to force his victims to look at their lives and see where they have gone wrong, hence the tape or video message left behind explaining his motives.
However immoral, unethical and unspeakably evil it may seem, both films look at murder in the most unconventional manner. Actually, the only surviving victim astounds the detectives be telling them ‘Jigsaw’ made her life fundamentally better because she has kicked her drug habit and is learning not to waste her life.
Mainly told in flashback, much of the film is well paced, creating an eerie, perspiring-drenched feeling of claustrophobia and paranoia. There are a few rather annoying scenes where James Wan uses a nauseating fast-forward filmic technique which, added to the loud soundtrack, give the film an unnecessary MTV movie feel.
The script is not totally sharp, especially scenes involving Danny Glover as the obsessive Detective David Tapp, which see the dialogue flutter off into irrelevance. Yet the majority of the picture is filled with gut-wrenching tension and unbelievably nasty acts of gruesome, bloodthirsty violence that lead to the horrifying conclusion.
Saw is one hell of a horror film that ranks alongside Se7en for terrifying realism, and with Halloween for an evil yet totally engrossing bogeyman. James Wan and scriptwriter Leigh Whannell have created a sombre masterpiece of 21st century American horror.