Two men wake up in a dank bathroom, with no idea how they got there. They are chained to opposite ends of the room, and a third man, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, lies dead between them. In one of his hands is a small tape player, in his other is the gun. This is how Saw begins, and it's a promising premise that grabs the viewer and takes them on a grisly, blood soaked ride, before losing steam. It feels like the filmmakers did not come up with a good way to end the film, and instead of working one out, just kept plugging along. It's a mini version of the Final Destination movies, where the killer, in this case, a mysterious figure known as Jigsaw, sets up elaborate traps to see how far a person will do to survive.

Technically, Jigsaw isn't a serial killer, since all of his victims kill themselves. He (or she?) feels that each of the victims needs to atone for their sins, and making these Rube-Goldberg like devices is the way for them to redeem themselves. Too bad that the connection to the plot is tenuous, and at times it seems more like an excuse for gore than a way to forward the story. However, Saw is a good first time feature from director James Wan and Leigh Whannell (The Matrix Reloaded), who co-wrote the film together. Because two men stuck in a room isn't enough to sustain the film for feature length, they bring in some other characters and have a lot of flashbacks filling in the story behind Jigsaw. David Tapp (Danny Glover, The Cookout, The Royal Tenenbaums) is an ex-detective obsessed with capturing Jigsaw. One of his primary suspects was Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes, Ella Enchanted, The Cat's Meow), who is one of the men stuck in the room.

Gordon also finds a bullet, along with a note addressed to him. Stuck with him is Adam (Whannell), a photographer, and each has a small tape with their name on it. They need to piece together the few clues they have to figure out what kind of game Jigsaw is playing, and how to beat it. It's like one of those PC puzzler games, where somebody begins the game in the dark, and needs to figure out all the clues in order to move ahead. At stake is both of their lives, and the lives of Gordon's wife and daughter. Gordon and Alex find hacksaws, which fail to cut through the chains. Their conclusion is that it is a dare for them to cut their legs off. Alex initially refuses to cooperate with Gordon, who wants them to work together to figure how to escape.

The atmosphere of the film looks good. The bathroom looks suitably run down and grimy, and Jigsaw uses a pretty heinous looking puppet to as a mouthpiece. It's just that Wan and Whannell cannot resist throwing in grisly imagery to shock the viewer. It also happens to be a little too convenient that Gordon knows so much about Jigsaw. Yes, the story says he used to be the prime suspect, but it's more so that he can relate to Alex, and thus the audience, all of the gruesome crimes made in Jigsaw's name. The knowledge of this freaks the heck out of both of them, and it soon becomes an issue of trust. Alex's primary responsibility is to himself, and Gordon to his family. Are both willing to go as far as to sacrifice the other? Elwes gives a very good performance, especially as he becomes increasingly unhinged near the end, but overall, Saw is just so-so.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated R for grisly violence and language.

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