There are plot holes in every movie. Something is usually lingering in the back of your mind when it's all over. The key for a movie is to draw the audience in early so they can be overlooked and forgotten by the time the credits roll. That's something "Saw" does extremely well. It doesn't excuse the gaping holes that should be obvious to anyone paying attention, but it's gripping enough to reel you in and not let go.
Waking up inside a bathtub, Adam (Leigh Whannell, also one of the writers) is confused in the dark room until he hears a voice. That comes from Lawrence Gordon (Cary Ewles). When the lights come on, both men are chained to pipes by their feet inside a bathroom. A dead body lies in the center. The reason for them being there is slowly unveiled through clues left by the maniacal "Jigsaw Killer," a serial murderer who makes his victims kill themselves. Their only hope seems to be the police who have been on the case since the first death.
"Saw" is terrifying, but not because of smart writing, acting, or direction. It has a few of those qualities too it's just that the entire film relies on simply gruesome sequences involving intestines, blown off heads, and lots and lots of blood. There's certainly worse out there if you're a fan of gore. It's just the way it's all shown here, maybe briefly, but always horrifying.
One thing that's odd about this film is the way the low budget was put to use. The entire movie was crafted around a budget, so the director and his writer went about devising a plot that revolves almost entirely around one single room. If you're a video game fan, it plays out like an old adventure game where you always get what you need (just enough in most cases), as long as you can click the right spot on the screen or correctly follow the clues.
The shocker of an ending comes out of nowhere, blasting its viewers and leaving plenty of unanswered questions. That's a good thing. It keeps people talking, spreads word of mouth, and separates itself from the usual formula. The clues are there if you watch carefully, much like the "Sixth Sense." Also like Shyamalan's first outing, most of the crowd will never figure it out and then smack themselves when they watch it again realizing how much they missed.
Unfortunately, those plot holes mentioned in the beginning will likely linger for some time afterwards, maybe even more so than the ending. Also hampering the overall feel is the simply atrocious acting, especially from Cary Elwes. It's an inexcusable performance that could pull you right out of the film early on. Some of the directors choices seem off too, especially the fast movement/rapid cuts that seem out of place. That's not exactly the way to keep your audience involved.
If anything, "Saw" is a wholly unique, smart thriller that plays with your mind the entire running time. It will require a somewhat strong stomach (it was edited down from a NC-17), but the rewards are many. Just know your brain will likely be required to be in the off position to avoid having to scour the internet for answers, some of which you'll never find. (**** out of *****)
This is a tough disc to grade video on. It's intentionally grainy for a gritty look that suits the movie. If you like to see movies in pristine condition, this could be annoying to you. Ignoring that, compression artifacts are really irritating, especially on Elwes shirt. Other scenes are not that bad (surprisingly absent in the dark room sequence) and you'll have to really look to see them. Black levels are really nice, never compromised even when everything occurs without light. It's shaky overall, but it services the movie nicely. (***)
Lions Gate went all out in the audio providing a DTE-ES track and 5.1 EX. The audio is a very important part of the film and this disc preserves it. The only real complaint is that it's hard to hear separation during the louder scenes in either track. Everything is sort of lumped together. However, you still feel like you're there, even if you can't figure out where something is coming from. Subtlety is not this discs strong point. Bass is brutal and required for a few scares. Note that this disc is mixed higher than normal, so be sure to turn the volume down a notch or two from your normal setting. (****)
The extras here are some of the most disappointing in a long time. The commentary from both writer/director James Wan and his co-writer Whannell is active and informative, easily the only worthwhile feature. "Sawed Off" is a meaningless short featurette (2:30) that shows little behind the scenes footage and nothing new if you heard the commentary.
There's a music video from Fear Factory in both a rated and unrated version (they rate music videos now?). You can follow that up with a making of the unrated version, which runs four minutes. Ridiculous as it may sound, it's more informative, interesting, and better produced than the one for the movie.
Finishing things off are some posters and trailers. How stupid is it that the deleted scenes that would've pushed the movies rating up are not included? What's that? Oh, the inevitable special edition Lions Gate will put out will have them? Yeah, now it all makes sense. (**)
"Saw" was made for a little over a million dollars and hauled that in on its first day in theaters. Certainly the studio was ok with it and Wan did a fine job making things work with such a small amount of money (by today's standards at least). There's no doubt the film would have benefited from some better talent and a little more time. For what it is, this is still one of the better thrillers from last year, not a bad mark for a movie that was about to go direct to video.