teaching his victims the value of life, a deranged, sadistic serial killer
abducts the morally wayward. Once captured, they must face impossible choices
in a horrific game of survival. The victims must fight to win their lives
back, or die trying...
"He doesn't want us to cut through our chains! He wants us to cut through our feet!"
- Dr. Lawrence Gordon
The Premise: Adam
(Leigh Whannell) and Larry (Cary Elwes) awaken to find themselves locked
in a filthy, dilapidated public bathroom. As they regain awareness, things
go from bad to worse. They see a dead body on the floor between them, and
then they realize that they're chained to large pipes on opposite sides
of the room. When they discover a hidden message for each, they learn that
a madman is playing a sick game with them. Can they win the game and escape
with their lives? Every once in a while, I'm given an opportune moment
to engage in a mini-rant, so here we go.
why I usually pay no attention to the Academy Awards need look no further
than Saw. In my view, Saw should be nominated for eight 2005
Oscars: Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in
a Leading Role (Elwes), Best Achievement in Directing, Best Writing--Screenplay
Written Directly for the Screen, Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best
Achievement in Art Direction, Best Achievement in Makeup, and Best Achievement
in Music Written for Motion Pictures--Original Song (Fear Factory's "Bite
the Hand That Bleeds"). Not that I feel it should necessarily win all eight,
but it should have a fair shake at them. It's difficult for me to take
something seriously that is so far off the mark when it comes to recognizing
quality films. But it's not as if a general anti-genre bias in the Academy
Awards--as well as with professional critics and the self-appointed film
literati--has not been noted before.
James Wan and
Whannell (who takes on double duty as an actor) have authored a tightly
interwoven story, with a puzzle theme that draws you in like the best material
of The Cube series combined with a gritty, Se7en-like serial
killer police procedural. The pieces of the plot fit together precisely
and unfold like a predetermined chess game. Wan and Whannell build tension
gradually, despite the fact that the film comes out of the gate extremely
Wan, who also
served as director, creates a fabulously disturbing, dingy atmosphere throughout
the film, bolstered by Julie Berghoff's production design, which is as
inventive as the script. Part of the delightful novelty of the film is
the elaborate, potentially fatal puzzles devised by the villain. Berghoff's
designs for these scenarios and devices easily matches the lockstep intricacy
of the plot and the ominous foreboding of the overall atmosphere. Viewers
will likely cringe at vicariously envisioning themselves in the contraptions,
and that's much of the point. The cinematography throughout the film is
just as imaginative, easily telling a story that often depends on subtle
visual cues, and reaching just the right balance of extended techniques,
such as the varied film speeds during a car chase.
Because so much
of the film is focused on just two characters in a single, relatively sparse
room, Elwes and Whannell must turn in powerhouse performances, running
a gamut of emotions including vulnerable helplessness, studied hopefulness,
vengeful anger and frenzied desperation. Both are excellent, with Elwes
particularly remarkable. Danny Glover, as Detective David Trapp, is impressive
in his transformation from a somewhat typical macho cop to an obsessive
loon, perhaps on a par with the villain in his single-minded irrational
The modus operandi
and motivation (which serves as the theme) of the villain are intriguingly
gray. The victims are often morally questionable, and can potentially benefit
from their victimization. They're putatively given an out from their predicaments
if they can muster the necessary wit and skill. At least on one level,
the villain wants to give his victims a hard lesson and improve their lives.
It should have
been clear by the comparison to Cube and Se7en that Saw is not for the faint of heart (although it's not quite as gory as it could
have been) or for those who want only clear messages of good and evil and
happy endings. As one of 2004's best films, however, you owe it to yourself
to give it a watch.
- The MPAA originally rated the film NC-17, due to the film's tone
which director James Wan had to remove some content to secure an R rating.
- In the demo DVD Wan and Whannell made to present to Hollywood
produces, the bear trap was made by their industrial designer friend. To
make it rusted, he placed it in salted water and left it on his roof for
a week. Whannell, who acted in the demo scene, had to put the rust trap
in his mouth with all the rust. In the movie, the trap worn by Amanda was
professionally made with rust painted on.
- Saw was shot in 18 days.
- Principal photography was done in a converted warehouse. The bathroom
set was built while the other locations were existing rooms redecorated.
- Was the closing film for the Toronto Film Festival.
- Originally intended for a straight-to-video release. After positive
screenings, it was given the nod to become a premier movie.
- The director took a gamble and took no "up front" salary for the
movie and opted for a percentage instead.
- Contains many references to the films of Italian horror/giallo
director Dario Argento. The creepy painted puppet is a reference to Argento's Profondo
Rosso, while the unseen killer's black gloves are one of Argento's
trademarks and can be seen in almost all of his films.
- Shots cut in the R-rated version, according to director James
Wan and screen-writer/actor Leigh Whannell, included ones of Amanda sifting
through the intestines, the fat guy struggle through the barb wire just
to shorten the scene, and some forensic ones. The color was made more even
and the sound was altered because the MPAA had problems with the tone of
the original cut shown in Sundance.
- James Wan and Leigh Whannell wrote the script and submitted it
to their manager. The manager then sent it to an agent in L.A. who summoned
the two of them for a meeting. They were encouraged to shoot a scene from
the script as a short film which they started passing around to studios.