See Saw with Alex, Day 1: Saw

Exploring the legendary 2004 movie.

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Day One: Saw

Click. Stop. Movie's over. Just saw Saw and, you know what, I'm actually looking forward to these movies supposedly becoming terrible because Saw the first remains an involving, and somewhat exhausting, grimy mess. I now see the appeal on the annual Saw tradition, but watching them all over a few days? Damn it, my favorite movies are Rushmore and a French comedy from 1967! I got my work cut out for me.

(And if you couldn't tell, these Saw interpretations will be spoiler-filled!)

So like most horror movies that give way to ballooning franchises, Saw starts simple. Two men -- one a photographer, the other a doctor (co-writer Leigh Whannell and Cary Elwes, respectively) -- wake up in a decrepit bathroom, both chained by the leg in opposite corners. A bloody corpse on the floor separates them. The two reason they're being punished by Jigsaw for their moral transgressions, while Elwes' character learns he has eight hours to kill Whannell or they'll both die, not to mention his wife and kid.
It's a smart blueprint, easily adapted over and over: dream up a central location of terror, and then revolve outside characters around it, racing to find the victims and/or stop Jigsaw.

The main bathroom scenes are just one long pile drive of dread and internal turmoil, but similarly impressive is director James Wan's alacrity to mix shooting styles for locations elsewhere. He uses MTV-style quick cuts and fastfowards for flashbacks of  previous traps, like the barb-wire gauntlet and the bear trap jawsplitter (featuring Shawnee Smith, who I'm aware will play a big role in the series).

Meanwhile, when inside Elwes's home, Wan dabbles in classic horror. My favorite scene is the abduction of the wife and daughter, beginning with a slow pan over the daughter's bed, an unsettling shot placed in stark contrast to Saw's typically manic tone.
Then following that with an eye peeking through the closet and red herring killer Zepp (Michael Emerson) covered in a blanket? Vintage boogeyman cinema!

But as effective the movie as a whole was, if I were Cary Elwes, I'd be mortified with this being one of my most-seen performances outside The Princess Bride. Elwes's approach was like a thespian tackling a chamber play; obviously, the bulk of the action takes place in one room, but his grandiose movements and loud line delivery is more theatre than film. It reminded me a lot of Shelly Duvall's performance in The Shining -- blown-out hysteria that generated sympathy as much as it drew you out of the movie.

Also, after sawing his foot off, doesn't he look like Will Ferrell sucked dry by the mutant Land of the Lost mosquito?
As the movie barrels towards it conclusion, the bodies start piling: Detective Tapp (Danny Glover) gets shot in the chest (after having his throat slashed and, oh yeah, going crazy after his partner gets diced by multiple shotguns), Zepp is bludgeoned by a toilet tank cover, and Adam is left to die in the bathroom. All this leads to the movie's final twist: the corpse in the room was actually Jigsaw the whole time.

I'd like to point out the Jigsaw identity reveal is the first time we get to hear Charlie Clouser's Saw theme in full, a dramatic and rousing industrial theme that goes a long way in selling this plot twist. Just further proof if you want to get a horror series going, better nail down that song.
Body count: 7, including Elwes (c'mon, he is so dead)

Most inventive trap: The reverse bear trap. A bear trap's freaky enough, but then making it go backwards? All kinds of genius there.

Stupid person in a horror movie moment: Monica Potter wrestles the gun away from Zepp but then, rather than shooting him, tries to hold him at bay while talking on a phone and tending to her daughter. When has that ever worked?

See Saw schedule:
  • Day 1 (10/15): Saw (2004)
  • Day 2 (10/16): Saw II (2005)
  • Day 3 (10/19): Saw III (2006)
  • Day 4 (10/20): Saw IV (2007)
  • Day 5 (10/21): Saw V (2008)
  • Day 6 (10/23): Saw VI (2009)