Waking up underwater in a filthy bathtub only to discover that you’re chained at the ankle to a rusty pipe in one of the creepiest shithouses this side of Tiger Stadium — this is no way to start your day. Did you have one too many the night before, leaving you in the clutches of a sadistic one-night stand? Get a little behind with the bookies? Did an evening of Dungeons and Dragons get a little out of hand? No. You are unlucky enough to have been chosen as the next victim by a serial killer known as “Jigsaw,” a brilliant fiend bent on making his victims appreciate life before they expire. You see, he won’t kill you. He makes you kill you. Which brings up just one of the maddeningly preposterous premises this flick wants you to swallow. If I throw you into a room full of barbed wire and instruct you to run through it or else you’ll die (which befalls one of Jigsaw’s victims), I’m pretty much responsible if you bleed to death, OK? And if my whole modus operandi is to give my victims the depraved choice of killing someone else or staying alive themselves, why in the hell are they calling me Jigsaw instead of The Moralist or The Gatekeeper or something even close to what I do? I guess Jigsaw sounds cool, which is the only thing this film is concerned about. It definitely isn’t about being scary or taut or even original. If you’ve seen the brilliant and truly unsettling Seven, you really have no use for this dime-store knockoff.
It’s too bad Saw winds up failing so miserably, for its beginning is the stuff of nightmares. Two men are chained on opposite sides of a room with a dead body between them. The poor soul looks like he blew his own brains out, and is holding a tape recorder in one of his bloody hands. One of the chained men is Lawrence (Cary Elwes, who must have lost a bet to be in this sucker), a doctor. The other is Adam (Leigh Whannell, who obviously took on too much, as he’s also the screenwriter), who we are led to believe is just a slacker with no obvious enemies. Both men are taunted with little bits of information revealed to them by the killer, who is apparently watching them on closed circuit television. Eventually it becomes clear just what the killer wants the good doctor to do: The only way for the doctor to survive his ordeal will be to kill Adam. Otherwise, the doctor’s wife and child will be murdered. Sounds pretty intense, eh? Don’t get your hopes up. For the next 90 minutes, director James Wan will waste this promising premise by serving up one ludicrous twist (and I use that term loosely) after another until you are so weary of the whole shebang that it will be impossible not to laugh, which 90 percent of the audience did when I saw it. Not good tidings for a horror movie.
Normally I wouldn’t divulge plot points for a movie like this, so as not to ruin any surprises. This time, I refrain due to sheer embarrassment for the creators of the film. If your idea of terror and horror is watching some moron wave a gun in front of a 6-year-old girl’s face and watching her scream and cry in agony for an interminable amount of time, this “psychological” masterpiece is what you’ve been waiting for. If you find this scenario cheap, lazy and exploitive — take a pass.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.