Frightening ‘Saw’ worth price of admission

Ryan Mathe

With “Saw,” first-time director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannel have created an effective and macabre thriller that, despite some shortcomings, is well worth the price of admission.

When the movie opens we find Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), a successful doctor, and Adam (Leigh Whannel) inexplicably chained at opposite ends of a grimy bathroom. Between them lies a blood soaked body with a revolver in one hand and a tape player in the other. Slowly the two begin to unravel their shared mystery, and as the full scope of their situation is revealed it is clear that imprisonment together is no mere coincidence and nothing is what it seems.

The men soon come to the harsh realization that they are at the mercy of Jigsaw, a sadistic “killer” with a twisted social conscience, who forces victims to submit to his tortuous games or simply let themselves die. Dr. Gordon and Adam are both informed via the dead man’s tape recorder that the good Doctor’s task in their game is to kill Adam in seven hours time, or his wife (Monica Potter) and daughter will be killed.

While the film is not scary in the classic horror movie sense of the word, Whannel and Wan do a good job of conveying a certain sense of panic and desperation when watching the killer’s victims. Their situations draw on some of our most basic fears, and you often find yourself wondering how you would fare in a similar situation. There are a few sections that are genuinely frightening, but there are even more that will make you cringe.

What sets this movie apart from others in its genre is the underlying social message, however twisted or warped that message may be. All of the victims are selected because they have in some way “sinned” somewhere in life. A drug addict, a man who pretends to be sick for financial gain, a voyeur, all victims, all ready to be taught a lesson His sick games are set up to mirror the transgressions of the victim in an attempt to teach his victims a lesson not soon forgotten, if they survive.

The killer’s sick logic is revealed through many flashback sequences that recount his many killings. These flashback scenes are shot with shifting film speeds to convey the frantic and desperate attempts of the kidnapped victims to escape their confines.

Though conceptually the film is top notch, it occasionally falls short of expectations. There are a few sections of the movie where either the writing or the acting (or both) come off as somewhat cheesy and over the top, but thankfully these occurrences are scattered and rare. The whole “obsessed detective” subplot with Danny Glover is ill-conceived and brings down parts of the movie.

If you are willing to look beyond the film’s few missteps and focus instead on the sadistic fun of the situations and the clockwork like precision with which they unfold you will find a movie that is a cut above the rest of this year’s lackluster crop of thrillers.