The elaborate setups and convoluted techniques that are often the mechanisms used by movie serial killers are given a run for their money in 'Saw'. A blood-spattered mix-breed of frightening psychological horror, chilling investigative thriller and slasher gore, it pursues a sadistic killer, who likes to play intricate and deadly games with his victims, often driving them to their own deaths by way of the situations in which they find themselves.
Two such people are Doctor Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam, who wake up in a large darkened bathroom, chained at opposite corners to pipes and given instructions and clues via recordings of how they can possibly escape alive. Its all a ruthless game in which one is threateningly asked to kill the other and this leads to a flashback that takes us to the first occurrences of similar crimes and the ongoing investigation by Detective David (Danny Glover) and his partner in trying to unravel and unmask the criminal. Each of the setups in which fatalities are found consists of a choice given to the victims to try and make a flee from their precarious situations within a limited amount of time. For most, given their preposterously treacherous status quo, the outcome is a foregone conclusion, but their desperation to try and attempt an escape eventually becomes their undoing.
Although similar in tone and premise to many other serial killer movies, most notably 'Se7en', 'Saw' lacks the skill of a unique execution, for want of a better word. The violence and extremity are done purely to elicit shock, having no deeper purpose and thus in bad taste, though there is a glimpse of parody underlying many of the situations. It also does not have the fortune to be blessed with a talented cast, in turn settling for the wild histrionics of Cary Elwes and others who make up the hollow set of campy performers.
Despite these limitations, for lovers of the genre, there is much to recommend. A terrifying sequence in the stark darkness where Adam seeks out an unknown intruder in his apartment with a flash camera is skilful and smart, and the script keeps the twists and turns constantly churning. Made on a shoestring budget and without major studio backing, it was edited from its original NC-17 version to a more appropriate R rating, becoming an instant hit on its theatrical release. Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, 'Saw' is a grisly, macabre and relentlessly hellish ride that leaves a disturbing first impression. - Faizan Rashid