Six years later, it is quite remarkable that a movie like Saw could lead to one of the most prolific horror franchises of modern times. What started out in humble beginnings with a script hammered out by beginners, sold through a short excerpt of the feature, and a budget the size of most summer film’s catering department, Saw was able to make horror films distinct again even if that would lead to the danger of what some call “torture porn.”
In anticipation of the latest and allegedly final installment opening this week, I decided to go back and revisit the Saw series as some of these films I have seen only once and in some cases many years ago. If anything can be said about the series (again, going from my hazy recollection), the basic premise of each of the films is similar but the plots have been totally different. At the opening here, we meet Adam and Dr. Gordon who are chained by the leg in a dingy, industrial bathroom with only a fleeting idea of how they got there and an odd assortment of items to help them put the pieces together. The main adversary (in the series at large that is) Jigsaw seeks only to impress upon his “victims” the preciousness of life by way of an impossible task that would either put themselves or others in harm’s way in order to escape.
Honestly, the story is the best thing about the movie as the non-linear narrative assists the viewers in being at the exact same place knowledge-wise with the characters. The movie starts with Adam and Gordon in the dark both literally and figuratively but the use of flashbacks and side stories keep the information flowing at the pace that does not divulge everything at once but still effectively strings everyone along to try to figure it all out. While it has been decried, the violence here is rather minimal and is more implied than overtly shown, a notion that the sequels jettison if memory serves. Jigsaw’s previous work serve to show us a reason and a pattern to his games but never really seem unnecessarily sadistic other than to serve Jigsaw’s (and thus his victims’) purposes.
For as much pampering as the story and the Romero-style commentary get, director James Wan should have focused more on extracting compelling performances from his leads, and damn near everyone else in the movie, rather than cringe-inducing dialogue that would not have made an outtake in another film. Cary Elwes is a tough actor to pin down as he can go from other-worldly good (Princess Bride) to laughably bad (Twister) but it seems that the actor was channeling almost all of his previous performances as he ranges from very effective to embarrassingly bad in the short span of 100 minutes. Likewise for his partner-in-grime (and writer) Leigh Whannell and bloodhound detective Danny Glover who cannot go more than a few minutes without over- or underacting their roles away. Tobin Bell and Michael Emerson fair much better on the opposing team but that could be contributed to their significantly less screen time than the others.
If there is one thing I am not looking forward to over six more movies in this series, it is the damn hyper-editing that may attempt to heighten tension but only serves to annoy the hell out of me. While I dislike it, I have grown accustomed to the Michael Bay or Ridley Scott method of thirteen cuts in three seconds of an action sequence but when the camera filming a car chase has more movement than the actual (obviously immobile) vehicles, an editor who wants to show the movie without inducing motion sickness should be at the top of the wish-list. The frenetic nature of the narrative however is harnessed by composer Charlie Clouser who creates a score that is as haunting as the themes of the film itself.
At the end, Saw almost feels like an incomplete movie, one begging for a sequel or six, as we know little about the man behind the plot which is arguably the best part of the story. Jigsaw we know is twisted and sadistic but strangely has values that many of his prey do not. His appreciation for life (not necessarily the abduction or brutal violence aspect) serves as the basis for this film which is but the tip of the iceberg for many more treks into the quandary of morality to come.