Starring Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, Shawnee Smith
Directed by James Wan
Released by Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Look past the Aussie accents, amiable personalities and excited giggling on this disc's lone commentary track and you'll find undisputable fervor (characteristic of all newcomers to the genre) behind director James Wan and actor/scribe Leigh Whannell's chatter. It's this drive that we get a taste of here that I'm almost certain prevented them from going absolutely bonkers trying to crunch the entire production of Saw into a scant eighteen-day shooting schedule. One can tell it's an achievement Wan is proud of; he mentions it not deliberately several times to the point where Whannell suggests the listener turn the commentary into a drinking game experience. Still, knowing this schedule, the intricate planning that went into it and then looking at Saw again, you can't help but appreciate it just a bit more, even if you were like me and thought it was a fine film but not the great nerve-shattering experience Lions Gate's expert publicity campaign made it out to be.
Saw probably would've made Rod Serling and Hitchcock raise an inquisitive eyebrow as its story draws a familiar kinship to the abbreviated works (Night Gallery, Alfred Hitchcock Presents) of those two masters of mystery that's sinister enough to appreciate. Two strangers wake up on either side of a dingy bathroom, each bound to a pipe with a chain around their ankles. No keys are in sight, but – hey! –there is a dead guy lying between them with a gunshot to the head. What subsequently unfolds is a puzzler involving a serial killer who goes by the name of Jigsaw, a sadomasochistic and moral chess player of sorts who poses lethal challenges to his victims or moves them into challenges he thinks they're fit for. For Saw's two strangers, played by Whannell himself and the hammy-as-ever Cary Elwes, one has to kill the other before dawn or face the consequences. In the outside world, a tortured detective obsesses over the Jigsaw murders, waiting for his moment to make his move on the man he suspects is behind the crimes.
Wan's debut effort is my slice of cake. He's proven himself to be a wild man with a vision with plenty of energy to spare. The look is grungy. And Saw has got a sick thought process that I'm hard for right on through to the point where Shawnee Smith, in the now famous jaw trap device, must cut a key out of someone's stomach. Even if we pinpoint the Se7en or giallo parallels from the get-go, we still buy the set-up. Then everything simply goes limp. Saw gets heavy. It maintains its sense of atmosphere and style throughout yet it just gets too involved in itself for its own good. The detective subplot stretches itself to the point of being superfluous, and Elwes and Whannell equally stretch their acting abilities too thin, too early. Then, as if on cue, the film switches gears again to bring the narrative around in the final act to that same intense, sweat-inducing pace Saw began with. And in the end you can either embrace the film for its style over substance approach and skillful set-up, or you can just dismiss it as a Se7en rip…which I don't think would be right anyway.
Now, having said all that – and given Lions Gate's enthusiasm for the film – I expected the studio to roll-out a sharp disc. No, no…the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is impressive as is the violent Dolby Surround, it's the amount of features that lacks teeth. With a box office gross of $55 million there should be a disc with a little more meat on its bones, no? Moreso than the fleshy limbs featured on the package's façade, I would think. The commentary I referred to earlier is worthy of a full sitting without interruptions. Wan and Whannell are a great team, each of them serving a purpose: the former good naturedly discussing the pressure of making the film, the drive behind it, all the while keeping in mind the lost art of that thing we learn in film school called "camera language" (gasp!). Meanwhile, Whannell elicits a few good laughs with his take on his acting experience. The dude does one helluva an impression of Cary Elwes too. Together this pair gives a clear sense of the astounding speed with which they moved to get something of quality on celluloid and in the can.
Onto the rest…
Sawed Off: Inside Sneak Peek at the Making of "Saw" is one of the greatest missed opportunities on the disc. It's a teasing 2m 30s Cliff's Notes version on the making of the film with some behind-the-scenes clips and an on-camera interview with Wan and Whannell. Did I mention it's condensed into less than three minutes? If that didn't satisfy you then take a look at both the rated (2m 50s) and unrated (4m 3s) versions of Fear Factory's music video Bite the Hand That Bleeds You. The tame version is still pretty graphic (and seems to suggest that watching the film spurs violence in the audience, yippee!), the unrated one is, well, drastically different evoking that "women given me angst" kinda vibe. Then there's your customary option of reliving all of those Trailers and TV Spots (five in all) that invaded multiplexes and airwaves, and Poster Gallery (3m 15s). What's missing? I would have killed to have seen the short film Wan and Whannell shot to lure investors. The footage apparently contains an early take on the jaw trap sequence. It goes without saying now that the behind-the-scenes featurette could've been beefed up considerably.
Oh, and James? Shawnee Smith is mine. Use her in your movies all ya want. I saw her first.
3 out of 5