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James Wan

Saw, a new hard-core thriller from up and coming director James Wan, follows a familiar road set by earlier films such as David Fincherís Se7en, with little deviation into unknown territory. Derivative origins aside, Saw does offer up a few new twists, some clever set design, and some very intense scenes that some viewers might not be able to handle. Overall, the film has quite a bit going for it, but a couple of glaring weaknesses keep this from being what it could have been.

First off, the acting is incredibly uneven. Elwes, in my opinion miscast in this role, has never been one to play complex characters, tending to stay on the lighter side of the fence and rely on good screen presence and good comedy writing to help carry his performance. His character here, Dr. Gordon, is a crucial cog in the machinery of this film, and Elwes doesnít quite pull it off. Waffling from over-the-top and melodramatic, to deadpan and distant, Elwes fails to lock down a clear path of development and left me wondering just what he was going for in this character. No clear moral standing is ever made clear, but this characterís morality plays a massive role in the film. Alas, at least this man can act to some degree, which cannot be said of Leigh Whannell.

Saw features an interesting concept of two men trapped in a room, each with a few scant clues as to why they are there. A serial killer, who uses intricate traps to kill his victims, has given Dr. Gordon a choice: Kill the other man in the room, or lose his family to the killer. Now, any two men in this situation would be at least somewhat out-of-sorts, emotionally. Elwes, uneven performance aside, manages to get this across to the audience. Whannell, however, canít seem to convince even the other man trapped in the room that he is concerned. Aside form a small outburst right at the beginning of the film, Adam (Whannell) seems relatively calm about the whole situation. There are a number of instances where I assume the director had instructed Whannell to become upset and irrational, but his performance is so unconvincing and lame, that I could hear chuckles sporadically throughout the theater. I found myself questioning the credibility of the director multiple times, wondering if he had even seen the cut while making the film. Gloverís ho-hum performance as the obsessed cop, Tapp, reinforced this conclusion.

The screenplay is actually rather clever, and had me guessing for most of the film. I did figure out who the killer was by the end, but I most certainly didnít have the whole mystery figured out, as it is hidden quite well. The director also tosses red herrings at the audience quite liberally to throw the viewer off, and is successful for the most part.

The set design, although again somewhat derivative of Se7en, was well thought-out and executed, and had a level of detail I really enjoy seeing in films. Directors like Terry Gilliam use detail as a trademark, and this filmmaker seems to follow the same school of thought when conceptualizing for his projects. Kudos to the folks who put this together. The lighting design and photography are also a few rungs above average, setting mood quite well, and creating some very interesting deep focus compositions. I really enjoyed the sound design and engineering, as well.

I liked Saw, all warts aside, and had to grade on a curve, considering the genre, and the usual fare (save Se7en) that is served up in films of this sort. I will also keep an eye on this creative new director. If you are a thriller/horror/shock buff, this is one you probably donít want to miss. If you are a sensitive viewer that has trouble digesting hard-core violence and grotesque situations, you may want to skip this one.

EDIT - I saw this again recently - Saw is terrible. Don't see it. I must have been on glue or something when I wrote this review...