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There are many ways to portray a thriller on the screen, you can either choose psychological or visceral. With a film like Seven both methods where perfectly blended. The film Saw had a lot of hype that it was the next Seven, the films did have one thing in common, they both began with the letter ĎSí. Saw is a film that borrows heavily from far greater films without having the ability to provide something unique or really innovative. The film begins with two men chained on opposite sides of a public bathroom. Between them is the mutilated body, a pistol and a tape recorder. Next to each man is a saw. Adam (Leigh Whannell who also co-wrote the script) is the younger of the two men; he is naturally frightened almost beyond belief and completely clueless as to why he is in this strange room. The other man, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) sits across from Adam, both men wondering what purpose brought them to this predicament. The tape recorder gives some hint; Lawrence must free himself within four hours by hacking off his leg, get the gun and kill Adam. If he fails his family will die. Adam has to survive for the allotted time period. The person responsible is called The Jigsaw Killer by the police. He is not your run of the mill serial murderer; in fact, he has never personally taken anyoneís life, his specialty to devising elaborate traps that force a person to kill themselves. For example there is one scene where the hapless victim has a device on her head that will pull her jaw apart. Her only hope is to get the key to the device out of the stomach of a body. On the trail of this psycho is Detective Tapp (Danny Glover), unable to cope with the machinations of the Jigsaw Killer.

While the premise of the film is intriguing there was a lot missing in the execution. True, some films set out to shock the audience, putting on display horrors and disgusting scenes that will lurk in their memories. When this technique is used sparingly such as in films like Alien or the original Exorcist the shock punctuates the plot. Here we have scene after scene of some of the most revolting images every presented in a mainstream film. The effect was to make the audience numb by the conclusion of the film. The movie comes across more as near pornographic fetishism than a well structured thriller. While the visceral elements certain are present the much needed psychological foundation is all but missing. The one level that the film does work on is it did create, at least for a brief time, controversy, audiences and critics alike where either turned off or swept up by the film. Almost anyone viewing this work will not finish viewing it left undecided. At times I felt like I was watching some horrible accident, revolted but unable to turn away.

Leigh Whannell having co-written the script was able to convey the terror of his character. He builds his character slowly, helping the audience to fully appreciate the dire circumstances Adam is in. His resume is a bit on the light side, he was in The Matrix Reloaded in a small role and it is really too early to accurately judge the talent the man possesses. Cary Elwes has a bit more experience in front of the camera and it shows. While new to leading roles he makes the doctor into someone that the audience can connect with on an emotional level. Considering how disconnected much of the film is this is a bright spot in the acting here. Danny Glover seems forever typecast as the somewhat grumpy older detective. Unfortunately, the underlying humor that served him so well in the Lethal Weapon flicks was not afforded to him in this flick. Overall, the acting here was stiff and unrealistic. The script didnít help since there was nothing to make those of us watching care an iota about the plight of the characters.

Saw is a true freshman effort for James Wan, not only as the director but also as co-writer and producer. Perhaps he took on too much here, needed to control so many aspects of the process that was not able to give his full attention to what should have been his prime focus, direction. Wan was obviously heavily influenced by several noteworthy directors. There is the many moments that where pure homage to David Fincher with the very staccato pacing. The dark and moody atmosphere is right out of any number of films by Dario Argento. Wan has talent to build on but needs to find a method of telling a story that he can call his own. The use of expository flashback was disconcerting in that it was over used here. In a thriller or horror film it is good to jump in the time line to keep the audience guessing but here it was like a spice that was over used in an otherwise interesting meal. Wan has a semi-documentary style that is becoming increasing popular. It was effective here since it did help the audience maintain a sense of this is really happening. The script was too loose to really carry what was intended, it dumped the ending out instead of teasing the audience, leaving clues that build, mislead and really surprise at the conclusion. The story uses an interesting concept and makes a gimmick out of it.

Lionís Gate did the DVD presentation very well. To there credit, they give the best possible reproduction to every film they release. The Dolby 5.1 audio track was incredibly eerie, the room is filled with every little creak and noise possible. The dialogue was clear, the Foley effects very crisp. There is a full, rich sound field created that will give good use to your set of speakers. The video is a bit more difficult to judge since the movie uses pushed color palettes to reinforce the mood. The sickly greens and yellows bleed into each other, the stark lighting in the confined sets almost close in on you. There is a commentary track by the director that is a bit mundane. He goes into all that had to be done before and during production but Iíve heard most of it before. There is a music video of Fear Factory's "Bite the Hand That Bleeds that fits the film rather well. There are two making of featurettes, one for the film and another for the music video. While not for the faint of heart this film will appeal to the hard core horror fan.

Posted 1/19/05

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