Saw gives audiences something to see

The problem with psychological thriller/horror/serial killer movies is that they?ve been done before. Most everyone who sees Saw, the new psychological thriller from first time director James Wan, will draw immediate comparisons to David Fincher?s quintessential genre film, Se7en. The films share many elements; however, Saw doesn?t quite live up to the latter on any level. It does everything well, but nothing great.

The concept behind Saw may be one of this film?s best qualities. Much like Se7en, there is a serial killer on the loose trying to show mankind the error of its wicked ways. However, the twist is that Jigsaw, Saw?s mysterious madman, hasn?t actually killed anyone. Instead, Jigsaw traps each victim in a sadistic, meticulously organized trap that forces them to kill themselves (or someone else) to get out. One man is trapped in a razor wire jungle and has to tunnel his way out. Another is forced to read, by candlelight, a long safe combination written on the walls of his cell in order to access the antidote to a poison in his blood. Oh yeah, and he?s covered in flammable goo, just to make it interesting. A woman has to sift through the entrails of her dead cellmate to find a key to unlock a ?reverse bear-trap? strapped to her jaws, and if the time runs out before she does, her face will be ripped apart.

These victims are all just ancillary details, though, that come in to give a bit of background to the main plot. Saw opens in the grungiest bathroom imaginable, with two men chained to pipes on either side. There is a dead body in a big pool of blood in the middle. Needless to say, the two men are a bit freaked out. Adam (co-writer Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes, of Princess Bride fame) can?t remember how they got there, wherever there is, and they certainly can?t figure out how to get out. The background of the Jigsaw killer, and the two men?s connection to him, are revealed throughout the movie as flashbacks, and through the subplot of Detective David Tapp (Danny Glover), a burnt out ex-cop who has been tracking Jigsaw since the beginning of the killer?s diabolical games.

As it turns out, Adam and Lawrence are in quite a pickle. Jigsaw is holding the Gordon family hostage, and informs the protagonists that unless Lawrence kills Adam by 6 pm, his family will die. And the only way to escape their shackles is to saw their feet off. Lawrence has both a gun (tantalizingly out of reach) and the poison-filled blood of the dead man on the floor to try and kill Adam with. Of course it?s not really that simple.

Any more plot exposition would, at this point, spoil the entire story. Saw is full of plot twists, some more ridiculous than others, with one massive twist at the end that will likely make or break the film for most viewers. Many people are saying the movie is worth seeing just for this final climax, and it truly is a plot twist of a magnitude not often seen in movies these days.

Unfortunately, every aspect of the film is not as engaging as the story. The acting is, in general, very generic. Whannell plays his role with an appropriate edginess, but his performance does not always really click. Danny Glover?s character is not fleshed out enough, but his borderline obsession remains interesting to watch throughout the movie. Cary Elwes makes a good even-handed foil for Whannell?s character in the first half of the film, but as his sanity begins to wane, he becomes less and less believable. Elwes? acting history makes it hard to fully accept this role ? it gets hard not to imagine Princess Bride?s Wesley giving some of his lines.

The atmosphere in Saw is what really makes it scary. The movie keeps the bleak, grimy palette that Se7en did so well, and the directors worked in some genuinely disturbing imagery that goes for more cerebral scares. There is plenty of gore, too, but not so much that it gets distracting. And like any good scary movie, there are two or three jump-out-of-your seat moments, including a particularly jarring scene in Adam?s pitch-black apartment intermittently lit by his camera?s flash bulb.

Saw is a great first entry by James Wan, and definitely one of the more memorable serial-killer-based psychological thrillers in recent years. It is not without its flaws, but is definitely worth a look if you?re in for a good scare. See if you can guess the ending before it comes ? you?ll be surprised.