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And people wonder why I
hate going to the dentist.

Saw
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Halloween 2004 may be forever remembered as the year horror took the holiday off (unless you count Ashlee Simpson's performance on Saturday Night Live).  Only two major horror releases are being offered and both miss the mark.  Last weekend we had that blemish on horror history known as The Grudge.  This weekend we get the entertaining, but flawed, Saw.  While the movie is infinitely better than The Grudge, it's unlikely to have anyone sleeping with the lights on. 

The movie opens to darkness and an ominous sounding voice.  We then discover two people trapped together in a room, without knowing how they get there or where "there" even is.  They're both chained by the ankle to pipes.  One of the captured men is a doctor (Cary Elwes).  The other is a photographer (Leigh Whannell).  Like the characters in Cube -- an obvious influence on Saw -- their lives were somehow connected, before this horrific turn of events.  As with Cube, neither character is initially aware of this.  There's a dead man lying on the floor of the room.  It looks as though he committed suicide.

A menacing voice occasionally breaks up the chilling sparseness of the area when it gives directions and commands to its inhabitants.  It turns out the doctor is familiar with the man behind the voice.  He (the doctor) was a suspect in the murders of other victims who were stuck in eerily similar situations to the one the doctor and the photographer have now found themselves in.  How did the doctor get stuck here?  What connections does he have to the photographer?  What ties does he have with the killer?  Why is the guy playing him such a horrible actor?   

Saw is a giallo film in the vein of Italian horror masterpieces created by the likes of Dario Argento and Mario Bava.  Images used frequently by Argento populate the film (the black gloves shown throughout scream "Deep Red").  The movie is also similar in look and feel to Seven (which should surprise exactly no one).  While it doesn't live up to its reputation of being one of the most disturbing horror flicks ever made, it does have its fair share of deliciously twisted moments. 

The murderer in the film sets up elaborate traps for his intended victims.  While there is a way out, finding it is about as easy as completing all six sides of a Rubik's Cube.  Therefore, we get to see plenty of people die throughout the movie; usually in creatively morbid ways.  One of the killer's victims expires while climbing for safety through a basement of barbed-wire.  Another, covered in flammable material, is engulfed in flames, when using a candle to locate the combination to a safe with contents that could lead to his freedom.  Only a drug-addict makes it to safety, but not before cutting open a living man's stomach and stealing the key hidden within. 

The perverse killer has set up yet another nasty puzzle with yet another sadistic solution, in the lair where the doctor and photographer are imprisoned.  The doc finds out that his family is being held hostage.  They will be slaughtered by the murderer unless he kills the photographer.  He's given eight hours to complete the task.  If he doesn't, everyone, including him, dies.  It is revealed to the doctor that the coagulated blood surrounding the dead man on the floor of the room is poisonous.  All he need do is soak a cigarette -- strategically placed by the killer -- in the blood and let his newfound roommate smoke it.   

The idea is a captivating one and it keeps the movie going through its weaker moments.  Saw never fully delivers on the promise made by its gleefully graphic advertising campaign.  One-sheets featured a tiled floor with hacked off limbs and little else.   While attempting to be dark and disturbing, and occasionally pulling it off, Saw becomes the victim of a painfully embarrassing performance by Cary Elwes, a plot holier than the Vatican, an industrial soundtrack that makes the movie feel more like a Nine Inch Nails' video than a true horror film, and a first time director more interested in quick edits and camera tricks then with setting a mood.     

It's especially hard to ignore the film's glaring plot holes.  Sadly, it's not possible for me to address them, without spoiling the entire film.  All I can really say (if you've already watched the movie and want to discuss its holes, send me an email), without saying too much, is that they involve Danny Glover's character, the character of the killer and the killer's pawn.  And, lastly, because it opens up even more holes, the film's finale is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, it caught me completely off guard (which movies rarely do), on the other, it added additional plot holes to a script that was already resembling Swiss cheese.

Saw is an overrated film, but it's still a grisly movie worth taking a look at.  It keeps things dark, right through to the end.  Because of its eagerness to disgust its audience and willingness to make them miserable, it shouldn't be ignored.  Some of the ideas were just sick enough to make me question the screenwriter's and the director's mental health, which can only be a sign that the movie's good outweighs its bad (at least if you like this kind of stuff).  And, finally, nearly a month after attending the screening, I want to go back and see it again on opening day.  Maybe, just maybe, horror didn't take Halloween 2004 off, after all.   

Agree? Disagree? Have questions?  Comments?  Email this critic at alex@juicycerebellum.com

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On a scale of 1-10?

7

What does this rating mean?  Everyone rates things differently.  Your "5" could be my "7," or vice-versa.  Find out what MY rating means by clicking here

COMING SOON - Reviews of Seed of Chucky, The Incredibles, Polar Express and, just because it's been requested more than ANY other movie yet to be reviewed on this site, Hellboy (so who says I don't listen to my readers?)!

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