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26 June, 2005

Review: 'Saw' (2004)

I don't like supernatural horror films, particularly the 'slasher' or 'monster' types, so it's perhaps surprising that several of my favourite films are in the psychological 'serial killer' horror genre: 'Cube', 'Se7en', 'The Cell', and now 'Saw'.

Apart from the specifics of the story, 'Saw' adheres quite closely to the conventions and look of the genre; superficially, it could be accused of being a 'Se7en' clone. Yet it's clear that the writer enjoyed defying the stereotypes of standard film shorthand, and the ending is the one I've always wanted to see. This definitely isn't a standard Hollywood movie!
As is fairly usual, the protagonists begin in ignorance and gradually unpick their situation, which means I can't reveal much without ruining it for you. For that same reason, I'd recommend avoiding too many reviews and the IMDb entry until after watching it, as there are too many inadvertent spoilers.

Two men, Adam and Lawrence, wake in a dark, filthy room. They don't know how they got there, nor why they are chained by the ankle to pipes at opposite ends of the room, with the body of a third man in a pool of blood between them. When they discover that they've been provided with hacksaws, not to cut the chains but to amputate their own feet (if they become sufficiently desperate) Lawrence realises they're the prospective victims of a serial killer who doesn't kill; he/she merely establishes situations wherein victims have to mutilate themselves or kill others, or die.

That description implies it's a gory film, but virtually all of the violence itself is implied or off-camera.

Though seemingly an independent production (it cost $1.2 million to make and was filmed within 18 days, but doesn't look low-budget!), 'Saw' features well-known actors, including Danny Glover and Cary Elwes, but Elwes' co-star as joint-lead actor is an unknown, Leigh Whannell (actually, the IMDb says he was in 'The Matrix: Reloaded'), who turns out to have been the author of the screenplay and who also receives a slightly cryptic credit implying he was co-director. His is an impressive performance; no writer's cameo, he plays Adam, at the centre of the entire film.
That might be an opportunity to observe that in hindsight, character development isn't all that great, and even the protagonists remain somewhat two-dimensional. However, 'Saw' is almost wholly plot-led, and the limited characterisation is entirely adequate in that context.

I'd acknowledge that this isn't going to be to everyone's taste, but if you enjoyed the films in the first paragraph, I'd certainly recommend this one.

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