SAW

(2004)
With Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Shawnee Smith, Michael Emerson
Directed by James Wan

Reviewed by JB

Shawnee, how I luv ya, how I luv ya...     James Wan's SAW was the unexpected sleeper horror hit of 2004, a return in spirit to the days when horror movie makers filmed quickly and cheaply.  Reportedly, SAW took a total of only 18 days to get in the can and was done on a minimal budget, with many of the scenes captured in one take.

     Any movie that begins with two men waking up in a large, filthy bathroom, each chained to the wall, with a dead body between them on the floor, has to have something going for it. The fun of SAW (if "fun" is indeed a word that can be used for this disturbing film) is in its imaginative narrative style.  Although too enamored with MTV-style editing and camerawork, director Wan and actor Leigh Whannell have fashioned a story that constantly jumps back and forth in time to reveal little bits of the whole "two guys locked in a bathroom" mystery, in ways that are often downright confusing.  As detectives Danny Glover and Ken Leung chase down "Jigsaw", a serial killer with a sick sense of morality, pieces of the whole puzzle start coming together, or so you are lead to believe.  But just when you think you know what is going on, you find you've been following a red herring, or several.  The ending, though it barely makes sense, is still a killer (he wrote punningly.)

     Most of the cast is uniformly good (though Cary Elwes seems miscast), but it is a handful of actors who fill smaller roles that stand out.  Michael Emerson, now known as Henry Gale/Benjamin Linus on TV's Lost, shows he's always had a talent for playing creepy little guys you just want to smack down.  Eternally youthful and beautiful Shawnee Smith is effective in a small but pivotal role as a Jigsaw victim who lived through her ordeal.  The best performance of all, as is fitting for a movie like this, comes from the eerie little puppet-man with the Target Store logo on his cheeks.  When he comes pedaling into the room on a little bicycle after Smith escapes from her bizarre death mask, it is one of many times you may find yourself thinking "Okay, this just got weird."

     SAW showed that there are some people still able to make an original, effective horror movie on a low budget.  So, true to form, it was instantly turned into a new franchise, with the disappointing SAW II ("Oh, yes, there will be blood") being the first of what promised to be many unnecessary sequels. But at least it will might mean more work for Shawnee Smith. ½ - JB

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