It’s not every day that a first time director creates a truly enticing film with one of the cleverest premise’s I’ve seen in a while. Director James Wan certainly delivers one helluvah film thanks to the god’s among distributors, Lions Gate Films, who will soon also be giving us “Haute Tension”. Thanks guys.
To say that this film is like “Se7en” is not exactly accurate. Sure it has elements of a “Who Dunn’ it”, but its focus is not entirely on cops trying to pinpoint the assailant behind the grisly crimes. To be more accurate, I’d actually say it has more in common with Vincenzo Natali’s 1997 ‘kafka-esque’ “Cube”.
“Saw’s” opening sequence is probably the best in the entire film. It’s the most effective, the most gripping and the most heart pounding. A man named Adam (Leigh Whannell, who actually wrote the screenplay) wakes up submerged in a bathtub located in a dingy-dilapidated washroom, his mind racing a mile a minute. Across from him is another man played by Cary Elwes (Kiss the Girls, Shadow of the Vampire) who is just as lost and confused, minus the lavish tub. Upon inspection, they both realize that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, with shackles adorning each of their ankles. In the center of the room lays a body drenched in a pool of blood, gripping a gun in one hand and a microcassete recorder in the other. When each man plays a cassette found in their respective garments, the ragged recorded voice informs the two that they are part of an elaborate game that will only end when one of them is dead. And so, the “Jigsaw” killer’s methods of perversion are laid out. He’s a voyeur, a sadist but most importantly, clever.
Cary Elwes does a great job, albeit there are several, almost laughable scenes in which he goes a little over the top bordering that of a teenage high school drama queen. Sure it sounds harsh, but he has ample opportunity to make up for it…and does. Danny Glover, on the other hand, who plays a detective who has been following the “Jigsaw” case since its inception, is easily the strongest actor in the film. It’s unfortunate that his on camera time is minimal and odd considering his character seemed to be the most knowledgeable of the case.
It’s easy to see the influence of the Italian horror form of Giallo in “Saw”. Argento’s “Deep Red” is certainly one of several obvious homage’s that Wan ‘nods’ to. Director Wan has admitted on several occasions to being a fan of Argento as well as the first (in my opinion anyway) North American slasher film, “Black Christmas” in which we see the “eye ball” peering through the crack. In actuality, we’ve seen this shot duplicated numerous times including Del Torro’s “The Devils Backbone”. Everyone draws inspiration from somewhere, but a true ‘artist’ follows one just rule, “art is either plagiarism or revolution” and in this case, we have revolution. Wan has created a new genre of mingling giallo mystery with the subsequent American bloody slasher genre.
I truly enjoyed every aspect of this film, except for one, and some may find me going way over the top by saying this, but it’s got to be said. The soundtrack ruined the film.
Now, I use to be a huge Nine Inch Nails fan and I respect the work of Trent Reznor and Charlie Clouser. However, if anyone from Nine Inch Nails were to score the film, it should have been Reznor himself and not Clouser. Reznor has shown that he can make a great score without resorting to distorted-fast guitar rifts. One particular scene, which I won’ spoil, we’ll call, “the jaw-ripping device”. It depicts a woman with said device strapped to her head and very little time to remove it. Her mind is racing. Imagine the agony, rush of fear and sickening panic? Now, throw in some fantastic editing and cinematography and you get one creepy scene. Done. Instead, ‘they’ throw in some revved up, distorted, metal-esque rifts and get something that can be likened to “Scream” or “Jason X”. The effect is somewhat a trivialization that had me rolling my eyes instead of gripping my seat. It’s a shame really. What could have been a brilliant and fantastic film was curbed by a lousy score. What Wan should have done was get Seattle based “Climax Golden Twins” who scored the music for Brad Anderson’s amazing “Session 9” (If you haven’t seen that movie, go BUY it NOW….well, after you read this anyhow). The ‘Twins’, have a talent for making some of the most menacing scenes that have graced celluloid simply by adding their musical talent to the bill. Replace Clouser with these guys and you will than know what kind of truly uncomfortable atmosphere a good soundtrack can create and what “Saw’ could have ultimately been.
Wan and Whannell are currently writing the screenplay for Universal’s “Shhh”. A throwback to late black and white chiller flicks. Wan has described it as “Carnival of Souls” / “Dead of Night” meets the “Drop of Water” (Mario Bava) episode of “Black Sabbath”.