A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, September 7, 2015

Saw (James Wan, 2004)


My daughter was shocked to see this in the DVR queue, but hey, a movie-watcher can't just limit himself to Rossellini and Renoir. So when I saw this coming up on the Independent Movie Channel schedule, I decided to record it. After all, it's a prime example of an independent filmmaker's breakthrough into success and of a trend in horror movies, spawning numerous sequels. So what if it does have a 48% rating on Rotten Tomatoes? There were actually some reputable critics like David Edelstein and Owen Gleiberman who reviewed it favorably. And anyway, film critics are typically hard on genre pictures. So maybe I'd like it. I'm not averse to horror: I watch Hannibal and Penny Dreadful on TV, and anyway, I know all that blood is corn syrup and food coloring. The truth is, however, that Saw is neither as good as I'd hoped nor as bad as I feared. The central plight -- two men trapped in a grungy bathroom, one tasked with killing the other in order to spare the lives of his wife and daughter -- is a compelling one, much better than those old teenagers-who-must-die-because-they-have-sex slasher movie plots. Gradually, with the help of some good actors in smaller roles (Danny Glover, Michael Emerson), the plot thickens. But then it goes haywire: Screenwriter Leigh Whannell (who plays one of the trapped men) and director Wan seem to think that if one plot twist is good, then half a dozen will be great. The result instead is incoherence, and the ending is such an obvious attempt to provide an opportunity for sequels that it feels like a cheat. It's also a measure of how far we've gone in 11 years, too, that the violence seems tamer than what's routinely presented on even commercial television, where the serial killer has become a weary character trope. The only characters for whom I felt much empathy were the bound-and-gagged wife (Monica Potter) and child (Makenzie Vega), clinging together in terror. I'm always uneasy when I see children performing in films that they should under no circumstances be allowed to watch. On the other hand, it seems to have done Vega, who made Saw when she was 10 years old, no great harm: She now has a recurring role on the TV series The Good Wife.