Saw is an unpleasant, macabre little piece of business that, for ninety minutes wallows in illogical nonsense and human suffering. It might be a total washout if I didn’t admire that fact that the screenwriter obviously spent hours and hours over his word processor trying to weave this clockwork plot into something better than your average horror movie knock-around. Where most horror movies are simply brainless trash, this is a hard working screenplay that isn’t brilliant but at least gets some points for effort.
It opens with an interesting idea. A man wakes up submerged in a bathtub and emerges only to realize that he is in a large filthy old bathroom in an unknown location. He is Adam and he finds that he is chained to the wall. On the other side of the room, also chained to the wall, is Dr. Laurence Gordon (Carey Elwes), a man seemingly in the same predicament that may likely have the same ending for them as the poor soul who’s corpse lies between them in a pool of his own blood.
Clues come sporadically over time as they are given instructions from a killer called Jigsaw that Dr. Gordon has seven hours to kill Adam, lest his wife and daughter be killed instead. Laurence, the smarter of the two seems to be better at deducing than Adam and he quickly figures out some of the clues to their escape. Problem is, this scenario is so tricky that if he makes one false move it could mean a gruesome death for all involved.
Meanwhile, out in the world, two detectives David Tapp and Steven Sing (Danny Glover and Ken Leung) are trying to crack the mystery of Jigsaw. They begin by investigating the death of a man who was forced to crawl through razor wire to exact his own escape. Currently however, their only witness is Amanda, an emotionally shaken heroine addict who survived one of Jigsaw’s traps. Long ago she found herself tied to a chair with a large metal device locked to her jaw and was instructed that she had only a few minutes to get the key, lest her head be wrenched apart. The key: Hiding in the stomach of the man lying on the floor in front of her.
These horrifying elements all eventually converge on one another into a bucket of red herrings and twisty plot turns that seem clever at the moment but seem less and less logical the more you try to reason them out. It may not be necessary to understand why Jigsaw conceives of these traps but one does have to wonder about the time, the patience, the planning and the resources needed to construct such terrible traps.
On the outset, the movie plays with our senses. This is a grungy little thriller that often makes us squirm, not for what is happening but the concept of what it happening. Who will the killer turn out to be? What is the motive behind it all? Will Dr. Gordon kill Adam? Will the killer murder Dr. Gordon’s family? What happens when the clock runs out? Who is the dead man in that bathroom? What is the point of all this? The movie weaves together all of these questions and more but, sadly, to very little payoff. What comes of these devilish tricks and traps is a movie that seems intriguing the less you think about it. The pain and torture and human suffering is fine from a surface standpoint but gets more mean-spirited and depressing the longer it goes on, until it reaches and ending that was a nice surprise but, wow, left me feeling sad and miserable.