- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 31, 2004

Buried deep beneath the sadism and gore in “Saw” lies an intriguing premise dying to be born. Jigsaw, the film’s requisite madman, doesn’t actually kill his victims. He traps them in fiendishly clever prisons, then forces them to maim or kill themselves trying to escape.

Not bad for a horror flick, especially since every one these days is either a remake or remade from a Japanese model.

Which is why we expected more from “Saw.”

Sadly, the R-rated film barely seems worthy of its Halloween weekend opening.

First-time director James Wan, pretentiously introduced with the “A film by James Wan” label, wants “Saw” to one-up 1995’s grisly “Seven.”

Instead, he trips on his ghoulish intentions, falling face first into a puddle of faux blood.

“Saw” follows two men imprisoned in an institutional bathroom by a maniac who picks his prey for their moral shortcomings. Both young Adam (co-screenwriter Leigh Wannell, proving he can neither write nor act well) and Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes) are held in place by leg irons.

The two are left with some clues by their captor to win their escape, none of which would tax the mind of a preschooler.

Dr. Gordon’s plight worsens when he learns his family is being held hostage and will be killed should he fail to play nice. Oh, and he’s told he must somehow kill Adam to guarantee their safety.

Of course, either the good doctor or Adam can always use the hacksaw graciously provided to literally cut themselves loose.

“Saw’s” narrative darts from past to present like an undecided voter, never establishing a mood beyond the need to repulse.

Mr. Wan takes disreputable pleasure in showing us grinding, tearing flesh — and with “Saw” for its title, its no secret that somebody, somehow, is gonna lose a limb in the film.

Jigsaw picks victims who deserve a little comeuppance. But Dr. Gordon’s transgressions, we learn, hardly qualify for such punishment.

It’s not fair to demand horror film actors discuss the Method between takes. Yet even by the genre’s generous standards the acting here is intolerable. The final half hour alone drew a series of hearty laughs from a screening crowd.

The industrial soundtrack provided by Nine Inch Nails’ producer Charlie Clouser also fails to impress, even when combined with Mr. Wan’s visual tricks meant to compress time.

Danny Glover’s appearance as an obsessed cop confirms the actor’s career free fall. Let’s hope someone dusts off a “Lethal Weapon 5” script on his behalf.

Despite innumerable flaws, “Saw” doesn’t follow a typical slasher film framework, and its major twist suggests the filmmakers might have a superior follow-up within them — if, perhaps, some cinema 101 classes can be absorbed between now and then…

WHAT: “Saw”

RATING: R (Graphic violence, mature themes and torture)

CREDITS: Directed by James Wan. Original music by Charlie Clouser. Cinematography by David A. Armstrong

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sawmovie.com


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