Given that just about every movie poster advertising Saw and Saw II involves body parts, I gave the film a pass. Not because I was afraid it would be gross, but because I've long since lost any interest of watching horror movies with an audience; movie horror audiences tend to be loud, scream at stupid things, and otherwise just plain irritating to anyone who wants to actually, ya know...enjoy the movie.
Someone finally lent me Saw (thanks Matt!), so my wife and I got the chance to see it. This becomes problematic when you talk about the film to other people. "Did you see Saw?" "I saw Saw." "You saw what?" "I said I saw Saw." "Stop repeating yourself..." You get the picture.
Anyway, the plot begins with Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam (Leigh Whannell) waking up in a nasty-looking bathroom. A dead guy is in the center, apparently having blown his brains out. In one hand is a gun, in the other a tape recorder. Eventually, our two protagonists discover they have a tape in their pocket, and a lot more in common than they think.
The first half of the movie unfolds in flashbacks as Gordon explains who they're up against. Their nemesis is the serial killer known as Jigsaw. Only he doesn't technically kill people; Jigsaw makes his victims kill themselves or each other. Jigsaw is a genius on the level of a Batman villain, a master of puppeteering, trap making, and disguise.
If you've seen Se7en, you've seen most of what Saw's all about: the dark blue/green lens, the ever-present filth and grime, the weary black detective (in this case, Danny Glover). The difference is that Jigsaw's violent morality plays are considerably more contrived.
That said, this is a film that revels as much in the psychological horror of the human condition as it does in gore. What are you willing to do to save your life? And assuming you're a paragon of morality...what would you do to save the lives of your family? Finding out how our protagonists answer those questions is half the fun.
The movie has its flaws. For one, poor Elwes still sounds like a Brit pretending to be an American with an aristocratic accent. Glover doesn't seem to have much to do but growl. And Jigsaw is a diabolical genius with a lot of time on his hands.
By far Saw's biggest problem is that it's just plain cheap. The supposed car chase looks like two guys pretending to drive cardboard vehicles while making "vroom vroom!" noises. Blood looks like ketchup. Weird cut scenes skitter away from anything of substance, cleverly disguising the poor special effects with blinding headaches. That's what you get for a $1.2 billion budget and an 18-day film shoot.
Still, Saw managed to surprise me with its ending. There's so much going on and so many plot twists that I wasn't expecting the sudden revelation of Jigsaw's identity.
Is it gross? Not really. Other than the thought of how disgusting some things are, the "wet" factor is it relatively mild. Is it scary? Definitely. There's enough gruesome traps and awful choices that one of them is bound to strike a nerve with every viewer, enough to make your skin crawl. In that respect, Saw is a resounding success.
See Saw. There, I said it.