Movie Review #898
|Wide release on October 29, 2004. Re-release on October 31, 2014. Horror/Mystery. This film is rated R for strong grisly violence and language. Rated NC-17 before appeal; edited for rerating. Runs 103 minutes. American-Australian co-production. Director: James Wan. Written by: Leigh Whannell. Story: James Wan and Leigh Whannell. Cast: Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, and Tobin Bell.|
MUCH OF THIS MOVIE DEMANDS TO BE SEEN IN THEATERS, EVEN 10 YEARS LATER.
By Alexander Diminiano
The experience of working at a movie theater is infinitely rewarding. I’ve loved every moment of it from the second I was hired. Research has shown that those who enjoy their work tend to lead far healthier lives than those who do not, which suggests that at this rate, I’ll still be smiling a full set of teeth when I’m a century old.
If you ask me, the best part of the job is tearing tickets. It’s like looking at living, breathing box-office statistics. It becomes obvious rather quickly whether the film will rake in much money, whether it’ll be well-liked, and what crowd might be seeing it.
But all that almost seems irrelevant to the 10th anniversary rerelease of “Saw”. Who got excited when they heard the original 2004 cult classic was going to be coming back into wide release for one week only? I sure did. I made sure I went and saw it on Halloween. Was I the only one? Kind of. The film made $650,000 in over 2,000 theaters this weekend. Which means that if we suppose that the average theater screened the movie twice a day from Friday through Sunday, then each screening nationwide averaged less than 6 patrons.
It’s a damn shame, because I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun on Halloween Night. (For the record, I watched “Rocky Horror” last Halloween and “The Exorcist” a year earlier. Try arguing that those two weren’t fun.)
“Saw” is James Wan’s “Se7en”. It’s a wicked twist of detective noir and haunted house horror, whose greatest trick is its crafty ability to seem far simpler than it actually is. The film opens with two distinctly opposite men waking up on opposite sides of a dank restroom. Each of them is chained by the foot to one of the pipes on their respective ends of the room. The less I tell you about the film, the less of this cleverly unraveling mystery I spoil. So I’ll keep it as simple as possible. There’s a dead body in between the two guys, and–as they quickly begin to discover–clues all around them. Clues that lead them to realize how they ended up in this dingy locale, and what will happen to them if they don’t find their way out in time. Or, what will happen if one of them doesn’t put the the other out of his misery in time. Clearly, these two did not come here by will, and the monster who brought them here calls it all a “game.” The question is whether or not it’s all for his strange amusement, or if there’s a proverbial “method to his madness.”
“Saw” works because its script works. As more of the plot reveals itself, this movie becomes increasingly interesting: Leigh Whannell’s writing is quite clever. When he isn’t developing the story through elaborate flashbacks, he’s developing it through his keenly resourceful characters. But while his storytelling is exceptional, Whannell proves to have a weak hand at dialogue. Whannell appears as one of two protagonists in “Saw”, the other played by Cary Elwes. Their characters really start to become laughable toward the end of the movie, but I would not argue this to be the result of poor performances. It’s the result of poor dialogue, as delivered in two solid performances.
Anyone who has heard of “Saw” knows that it’s not a family movie. And unless “family” implies “Manson Family,” it’s nowhere close to a family movie. There is a story here, and there’s more to it than a sick psychopath who enjoys killing people. The substance far outweighs that of a generic slasher movie, and this isn’t your generic killer. The so-called Jigsaw Killer is really just a tremendously violent version of John Forsythe’s iconic Charlie Townsend. (Wouldn’t you know it, cinematographer David A. Armstrong comes up the cleverest of shots to keep this killer’s face hidden.) Except rather than sending three women on missions, he sits and watches his victims as he gives his victims instructions on how they must do the unthinkable: that is, put themselves through inhuman torture in order to stay alive. The gruesome “art” of the Jigsaw Killer’s crimes is that he never lays a finger on any of his victims. But god what a violent film it can become, and how strangely fun it can be watching people put to the test of the most basic Darwinian principle. If you need a reminder of how exhilarating the “reverse bear trap” scene is, don’t rent “Saw” on DVD. Go see it at the theater while it’s still there.