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          Obsessed with 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. 
          Anyone wondering 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 suspenseful.
          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 commitment.
          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.

Cast & Crew   |   Pictures  |   Coroner Report
Video Clip   |   Trailer

          - 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.




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