Saw opens with a gruesome scenario: Two men are chained to the walls of a grimy bathroom with a bloody corpse lying on the floor between them. Tape recordings tell them that one of the men has to kill the other, or his wife and child will die. The corpse is holding a gun in one hand, but it’s out of reach…but whoever has locked these two up has thoughtfully provided a hacksaw that can’t cut through the heavy chain, but might cut through a little flesh and bone. From there, Saw jumps back and forth as the two men slowly unravel how they know each…
Saw opens with a gruesome scenario: Two men are chained to the walls of a grimy bathroom with a bloody corpse lying on the floor between them. Tape recordings tell them that one of the men has to kill the other, or his wife and child will die. The corpse is holding a gun in one hand, but it’s out of reach…but whoever has locked these two up has thoughtfully provided a hacksaw that can’t cut through the heavy chain, but might cut through a little flesh and bone. From there, Saw jumps back and forth as the two men slowly unravel how they know each other and that their tormentor is one of those all-knowing, all-capable serial killers (it goes without saying that Saw is hugely influenced by Seven and the movies of Dario Argento), a fellow known as Jigsaw who disguises his voice and lets a creepy puppet (lifted almost directly from the eccentric animations of the Brothers Quay) be his visual representative. But imitation isn’t inherently bad; what puts Saw ahead of its horror compatriots is a gleeful enthusiasm that a dozen sequels to Halloween couldn’t muster. Saw has problems—it’s clumsily overwritten (every detail of what’s going on, no matter how visually evident, will be explained by the characters); most of the situations are static and implausible; and though the cast includes talented veterans like Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) and Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon), the acting has the depth of a puddle. The rapid pace and frequently frenzied camerawork keep things in motion and while the philosophical underpinnings of Jigsaw won’t challenge Hegel or Schopenhauer, they do offer more food for thought than most contemporary horror. Discriminating fans of the genre who like their gore with a glimmer of an idea will embrace Saw.
The Uncut Edition differs only slightly from the theatrical release; it reinserts a little more gore that was cut to get an R rating and tightens up the editing (the uncut version is actually a teensy bit shorter than the theatrical release). The extras are plentiful (if a bit thin): Two audio commentaries (one by director James Wan, screenwriter/actor Leigh Whannel, and Elwes), one by the producers—thankfully, no one takes themselves too seriously. Also included are a trio of typically self-congratulatory making-of featurettes (“He was amazing to work with” etc.), an animated storyboard of a sequence they couldn’t afford to shoot, a DVD-ROM game in which you can construct your own puppet, a couple of self-mocking Easter Eggs, and lots of promotional stuff for Saw II. There’s a very curious faux-news show purporting to be an investigation of the “real” Jigsaw, which uses clips from the movie as if they were documentary footage—it’s hard to say whether this is a misguided attempt to make the movie seem creepier or a bit of flimsy humor. Most fans will find the regular DVD release satisfactory; this special edition is largely for hardcore enthusiasts. —Bret Fetzer
Barnes and Noble
Few movies in recent years have opened with such a compelling gambit: Two men awaken in the filthy utility area of an obviously abandoned industrial complex, their feet chained to pipes at opposite sides of the room, with a dead man sprawled on the floor between them. One of the prisoners, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), faces a horrible choice—with his wife and daughter in the hands of his ghoulishly sadistic captor, his only chance of saving them lies in freeing himself and getting to a phone to call the police. Apparently, the only way he can do that is to sever his leg above the shackles using a dulled hacksaw left him by the unseen tormentor. Gordon’s fellow prisoner—whose role in this setup is far from coincidental—is played by Leigh Whammell, who also collaborated on the screenplay with his friend, director James Wan. Together they have crafted an unusually horrific thriller (one that originally earned an NC-17 rating for its graphic gore scenes) designed to keep viewers in a constant state of agitation. The suspense becomes almost unendurable as the two captives bicker with one another, each realizing that every tick of the clock brings them closer to the grisly death promised by their kidnapper, a demented serial killer known as “Jigsaw.” Although the basic premise is simple and the setting claustrophobic, Whammell and Wan enhance the story with subplots involving a dogged detective (Danny Glover) and Gordon’s wife (Monica Potter). Undeniably intended for viewers with strong stomachs, Saw offers a surfeit of visceral thrills for those who relish hardcore horror. Ed Hulse