Save your money - don't see 'Saw'

Posted: Thursday, November 18, 2004


Rating: "The most I would pay is $2.25 out of $8.75"

Starring: Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell and Danny Glover.

Director: James Wan

Parent's guide: R. "Don't let your kids watch this one."

Running time: "The only part that matters is the last 10 minutes."

"Saw" is the reality television of a sick-minded serial killer. Instead of playing for money, contestants are forced to gamble with their body parts in hopes of being rewarded with their own lives.

Unfortunately, it's about as shallow as the latest episode of "Trading Places with My Big Fat Apprentice," and given 20 years it will be just as easily forgotten.

Two men wake up to find themselves trapped in a room with a dead body and no obvious way of escape. One of the men is a doctor (Cary Elwes, from "Princess Bride") and the other is a guy named Adam (Leigh Whannell, who co-wrote the script). The good doctor soon reveals that they are the latest victims of the serial killer known as Jigsaw, and they must use the clues hidden in the room if they want to make it out alive.

This killer chooses victims that are "ungrateful to be alive," and teaches them a lesson about the value of life by considering the price they would pay for their own.

This film tries very hard to overcome the conventions of a genre that was defined by "Silence of the Lambs," but succeeds in offering nothing more than a condensed version of the last 13 years of terrible genre filmmaking. Nothing about this film is fresh, and the most stomach-upsetting element is the nonstop use of a fast motion track during every ensanguined moment.

The director must have been on set saying, "Hmm. How can I emphasize the fact that the audience is supposed to recoil in horror at this moment? Ohhh, I know, why don't I track in on the action real fast and maybe do that like a hundred times. That way it won't ever get old." Pure genius.

Also, the acting is about as stellar as the filmmaking. The two central characters act very stiff in their roles and every word delivered feels contrived. The acting fails to convey any emotion even close to something one would expect from someone who is faced with the fact that he might die in a few hours.

This is director James Wan's first film, and probably will not be his last. Mr. Wan had a lot of talent and ambition in this first project, but he fell into the trap that most first-time directors fall into. In an effort to make a slick film, he became obsessed with one camera move and refused to let it play itself out; instead he employed it over and over again without it being absolutely necessary in advancing the narrative of the story.

A signature move, if you will, but extremely self indulgent. Regretfully, with this critic, Mr. Wan has just signed his career's death warrant; unless, of course, he is willing to confess in front of the camera as a participant on "Real World Siberia." Then all will be forgiven.

• Brice Habeger is a Juneau native who is taking a break from attending film school in Chicago.

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