Saw (2004) — A home improvement project

“He doesn’t want us to saw through our chains. He wants us to saw through our feet.”

Kyle’s rating: Even better than the real thing

Kyle’s review: I don’t pay much attention to stuff like Marilyn Manson music videos, Rob Zombies videos, blah blah blah. I’ll go as far as Tim Burton’s twistedness extends; beyond that I’m interested in the dark places, but I don’t have the time or patience to explore. But lots of people do, and they’re influenced by it.

They watch hardcore movies, ranging from the hokey Faces of Death films to stuff like Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer and Strangeland (though I have watched about a minute’s worth of Strangeland *inside joke related to Linda Cardellini*). They’re changed by it, almost certainly (it’s pretty icky, after all). But I think more importantly they get their own ideas about how they’d improve what they’ve seen and make their own superior works, and among friends they argue and contemplate and imagine and sometimes, oh, sometimes… they get their chance to create.

Saw is one such creation. I don’t even have to do research to find out that the creators are into the sorts of things I’ve mentioned: Saw wears its influences on its sleeve and is ultimately too smart and too admirably intricate to be the work of fakers or the usual screenplay hacks.

Two men wake up to find they’re chained to pipes in a grimy old bathroom where a dead man lies on the floor, clutching a handgun and a tape player. Each of the men has a tape with a personalized message, both of the men are more connected than at least one of them might think. They have a matter of hours to “win” a game before one man’s wife and daughter are killed and the two of them presumably as well. All of this transpires because people don’t seem to appreciate what they have and enjoy life, so the so-called Jigsaw Killer takes elaborate pains to teach his “victims” to find their will to live.

I guarantee that whatever assumptions you’ve made about the plot and who’s to blame, 9 out of 10 of you will be wrong, and even the 10th person will only have lucked upon part of the solution. Encyclopedia Brown couldn’t crack all of this one!

I saw an exclusive look at Saw on IFC where the director guy explained that he and the writer wanted to take the serial killer genre and twist it, do something different with it. They certainly succeeded with the “different” aspect. And the “serial killer” part as well: A character in the film mentions that it’s technically difficult to classify the Jigsaw killer as a murderer, since he doesn’t kill anyone: he finds ways for people to kill themselves. The film is a cool achievement, one worthy of all the hype and attention it’s received. Good work! If nothing else, the poster with Shawnee Smith in dental gear from hell is one of the most memorable ads I’ve seen in a long time!

Saw is ultimately sort of a mixed bag. I think it’s a great theater-going experience, especially if you don’t know the surprises and plot twists to come and it’s one big rush of “where the heck is this going” your first time around. I went opening day after mostly avoiding any spoilers for months in advance, and I was mostly blown away. Some parts I felt neutral apart, other parts had me deep in thought trying to put everything together. Overall, though, Saw was a lot of fun. But now that I know the secrets and outcome, I’m in no hurry to see it again.

The great movies make me want to hide in the theater bathroom and stay for a second showing. Good movies, like Saw, just offer a great one-time experience and maybe the promise of a fulfilling rental. But that’s just me. Perhaps you’ll go nuts and want to watch it over and over to fully understand what it’s saying and trying to squish together into a motion picture. Good luck with that.

In the end, Saw may be a slight disappointment. Only because internet buzz, that sweet promotional image, and my own ideas about what was to come built Saw into the third or fourth coming of horror, and on top of that I was anticipating the experience of watching Saw to send me into therapy or even an asylum. Sure, why not? But Saw hides most of the gore (wisely or unwisely; it’s up to you) in the spirit of Halloween, and prefers to wow you elaborate plans and devices, confuse you with red herrings and hints of mystery, and invoke epileptic shocks with occasional scenes of flashes and fast motion circular views of the action (usually a victim in agony). It was cool to watch, and in a way it’s a mainstream gateway film into the more macabre and pulsatingly loud, hard and dark music realms (so if you’ve always thought you might like the Manson/ Rob Zombie stuff but weren’t sure, this might allow you to decide). I’d ultimately rank it below Seven for disturbing qualities and nightmare potential, so don’t be too afraid to give it a try. You just might be dressing in all black studded metal things and eyeliner in no time!

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