(Originally published in Rocky Mountain Bullhorn)
Cinematic serial killers are a lot like James Bond villains – they claim to be nefarious evildoers and frequently commit dastardly crimes, but always wind up unnecessarily complicating their dirty deeds. That’s definitely the case with the baddie of James Wan’s grisly Saw, a fiend known as the Jigsaw Killer who kidnaps people, presents them with torturous life-or-death dilemmas, and then watches to see if they’ll kill themselves or each other. Case in point: when Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes) awakens chained up in a grimy bathroom shared by a stranger named Adam (Leigh Whannell), his evil captor informs him that if he wants to save his abducted wife and daughter, Gordon will have to kill his companion and perform some impromptu amputation surgery to escape.
Oooh, how diabolical! Such moral quandaries have a macabre, Edgar Allan Poe-inspired exquisiteness, but Saw is so busy concocting ghoulish set pieces that it rapidly becomes overburdened by narrative overload. Whereas Dr. Gordon and Adam’s predicament promises bone-chilling claustrophobic terror, the script (by Wan and Whannell) mistakenly takes regular detours out of the lavatory to flash back to Gordon and Adam’s unsavory pre-abduction activities, as well as to tell us about a haggard cop (Danny Glover) hot on Jigsaw’s trail. From its preachy killer to the fluorescent greens and tawdry reds of David A. Armstrong’s grimy cinematography, Wan’s debut is devoutly modeled after David Fincher’s Seven, and such derivation would be dismissible if the film provided more scares. Unfortunately, Saw’s overly elaborate, sporadically effective do-or-die games ultimately don’t make the cut.