James Wan has created what is, in my mind, one of the greatest horror films of the past fifteen years. "Saw" is the type of film that comes at you out of nowhere and keeps the viewer guessing until the end. "Saw" is a throwback to the Argento & Hitchcock schools of horror where the scares come not from the gory images, but from the setting, look, and tone of the film.

Two men awake to find themselves in a dank bathroom, chained to pipes on opposite ends of the room. Between them are a dead man, a gun, and a tape recorder. Where the film goes from there reaches far beyond the walls of that room. Wan and writing partner Leigh Whannell have tapped into the modern human psyche and present some of the most truly frightening situations from a gut level. Opting not to have the men menaced by some grotesque madman, they instead are terrorized by their own minds. Fear of loss of control, fear of the unknown, fear of what and who to trust are the villains here. The "Jigsaw Killer" that orchestrates their fate is merely a facilitator for what they do to themselves.

We are given brief glimpses into the Jigsaw Killer's other crimes as well. These also deal with emotional traumas magnified into physical dangers. A man is given a choice between giving up hope and starving to death in a room or attempt to escape even though it may cost him his life. A woman is forced to choose between saving her own life and killing a stranger. The Jigsaw Killer's motive is to make those people he kidnaps appreciate their lives by forcing them to make these very difficult decisions to save themselves. This taps into another primal fear; would you be able to do whatever it takes to save yourself or your family? Those that doubt or cannot do it, die.
The writing, as mentioned above, is excellent. "Saw" is Australian James Wan's first major release but he pulls it off like a seasoned professional. Through clever camera work, Wan is able to make the relatively small distance between the two captive men seem like a great divide. This and similar techniques throughout help the viewer immerse themselves in the film.

The acting plays a key role in the success of the film as well. Standout performances are Cary Elwes and writer Whannell as the two men in the room. They both excellently convey the fear of the men as well as their growing frustration and desperation. The only misstep is Danny Glover's performance. I felt he, along with the other detective, just looked lost in the picture and not up to the caliber of the rest of the performances. Fortunately they are only briefly in the film, and its certainly doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment.
"Saw" is the type of film that gets horror fans excited when they see it. Hopefully it signals the introduction of new, fresh talent to the genre. Additionally the success of a new, original horror film will hopefully slow down Hollywood's remake plans long enough to throw some support behind filmmakers with new ideas. If you are a horror or a thriller fan, make sure you support this film; you'll be doing yourself a favor in the long run.

Saw (2004)
Directed by James Wan
Review by David Carter

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