Horror review: Saw

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, NOV. 4, 2004

Ten years or so ago, I was covering the local shoot of the trashy teen-from-hell flick The Crush for American horror mag Fangoria. It starred then-newcomer Alicia Silverstone as a hot-to-trot underaged babe willing to kill for the affections of a mild-mannered journalist, played by Carey Elwes. At the time, Silverstone was totally open to the request for an on-set interview, welcoming me into her trailer, while Elwes flatly refused to talk. It was as if he was worried that being featured in the blood-spattered pages of Fangoria might cast an unfavourable shadow on his career.

Either that or he was just ashamed of being in a low-budget potboiler like The Crush after starring six years earlier in the hugely successful Princess Bride.

Whatever the reason for Elwes’s decade-old shunning of the horror market, he’s certainly embraced it full bore with his role in Saw, the sickest, most sadistic fright flick to see a North American theatrical release since Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses. But the bad news for fans of gory, twisted films is that Elwes continues to be one of most unconvincing actors in the history of the silver screen. And I’m not just saying that out of spite.

In Saw he plays mild-mannered surgeon Lawrence Gordon, who wakes from unconsciousness to find that he’s been securely chained by one ankle to a post in a filthy, decrepit washroom, along with the equally astonished Adam (screenwriter Leigh Whannell), a scuzzball photographer who frantically explains: “I went home to my shit-hole apartment and woke up in a shit hole!”.

Sharing the putrid pisser with the two captives is the bloodsoaked body of a man who apparently shot himself in the head; he still clutches a .38 in one hand–and a mini-cassette player in the other. When the prisoners realize that personalized envelopes containing audio tapes have been planted in their pockets, they play them on Mr. Brainsplatter’s machine, hearing cryptic instructions that Gordon must kill Adam within eight hours or they both die (along with the doc’s wife and young daughter).

To add to the fun, the deranged abductor has left his bathroom-bound victims a pair of rusty hacksaws, which are too dull to cut through chains but might just do for primitive foot-removal in a pinch.

The message on Gordon’s tape makes it clear to him that he and Adam are the latest guinea pigs for Jigsaw, a psychopath who traps people and makes them play horrific games for a slim chance at survival. After we learn via flashbacks that Gordon had already been questioned by an overanxious cop (Danny Glover) in connection with one of Jigsaw’s grisly crimes, the twists and turns start ratcheting up.

But the mystery and suspense get continuously undermined by Elwes’s extremely hollow performance, which gets downright laughable just before the film’s awesome shock ending. What a shame. The filmmakers should have put more effort into searching for a decent lead actor and less into depicting torturous ways for people to die.

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