Remember how creepy Seven was? Writer / director James Wan does, and he proves it with Saw.
A man named Adam (Leigh Whannell) awakens mysteriously in a dark tub filled with water. When the lights snap on after Adam emerges, another man named Lawrence (Cary Elwes) is already there and looking equally confused. Both men are chained to separate pipes across from one another in an abandoned public restroom, and whoever has put them there makes it clear that one must kill the other. But there are rules, and the rules must be followed…
Saw doesn’t open with a bang. It starts with a twisted situation and builds upon it in layers through flashback and revelation. On top of this is a production design that takes the term “torture chamber” to a whole new level, including some truly gruesome devices and equally diabolical things that must be done to escape them (not to mention some of the nastiest and most unsanitary places to be trapped in). If you’ve ever wanted or needed a distraction in your life to let you know what’s really important, this film’s got a villain for you.
The one bad thing that can be said for Saw is the miscasting of Cary Elwes in such a dramatic part; the muffled laughter busting from the audience as he breaks down into tears probably wasn’t what the producers had in mind. Everyone else is spot-on, including Danny Glover in a rare he-doesn’t-have-to-do-this-kind-of-film turn. An unknown cast probably wouldn’t have gotten as much attention for this film, but all unknowns wouldn’t have hurt the premise. With the exception of Elwes, the cast keeps it all believable without getting too melodramatic and lets the tale tell itself.
While the story builds to an ending with a bit of a twist (what thriller nowadays doesn’t?), you can’t say they didn’t set it up from the beginning; suspect everything and everyone because secrets are everywhere. There’s plenty of the red stuff for the purists and puzzles for the thinkers, so whether you like to watch the gore or keep one step ahead of the doomed characters, Saw is the cross-bred horror-thriller you’ve been waiting for since Seven.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)