Saturday, February 12, 2005


Before I get into the movie, I want to acknowledge Fred Hembeck's quick response (the third entry for February 11) to my passing the buck on the music meme. I knew Fred was a Beatles fan, but I had no idea he was such a big Who fan, too (as am I). I mean, listen to what he says:

...the all-time [live album] champ, "The Who: Live At Leeds" (original, expanded single disc, OR the expanded double disc version--any and all will do! Forget the Stones--the Who ARE the world's greatest rock and roll band! Listen to this and try and tell me otherwise, just TRY!...)
And in naming his five most-listened-to songs, he cheats and lists the entire double album Tommy:

...this whole crazy thing could easily be viewed as one long, looong song, weaving its way in and out through any number of variations. It's naively pretentious, simultaneously nonsensical AND deep, and played and sung with such riveting conviction, that it's no wonder that I've been completely under its spell since I first received it as a Christmas gift back in 1969!
I've always been a fan of Mr. Hembeck, but now... well, shucks, I think it may be love!

From the high of tender young love we go straight to the low, the very, very low of Saw, a truly awful and supremely incompetent horror film.

Spoilers ahead, if you can spoil something that's so rotten to begin with.

It baffles me, it truly does, how a film like this can even get made. It's like a vanity project for Leigh Whannell, who both wrote the script and cast himself in the leading role, as one of the men trapped in a room by the "Jigsaw Killer". The end credits even bill him as "And Introducing Leigh Whannell". Introducing. Charmed, I'm sure.

Vanity projects can be successful, along the lines of Kevin Spacey's Bobby Darin biopic, Beyond the Sea (not Under the Sea -- thank you for the correction, Catherine), or legendarily disastrous, like Costner's Waterworld or The Postman... but a vanity project requires someone with clout and standing to push for it to get made in the first place. How the hell does this guy Whannell get the go-ahead on such a horrible script, get himself cast as the lead (and if you think his writing is bad... well, okay, it's still worse than his acting, but his acting's pretty damn bad), attract actual Hollywood actors (B-list names, sure, but solid B-listers, like Cary Elwes and Danny Glover) -- any of it! How does a complete nobody like him get someone to put up the money for this mess? (Admittedly, it's not a lot of money; my favorite sign of cheapness is when cameras whiz past two cars to make it look like they're in an exciting chase, but it's painfully obvious they're not even moving).

I will admit, the central premise was intriguing enough to me to want to rent it (despite the many horrible reviews); the killer never kills anyone himself, but rather puts his victims in situations where escape is possible, but death is far more likely. And the opening set-up has promise: Whannell is chained by the leg across the room from a similarly-trapped Cary Elwes (who delivers one of the very worst performances I have ever seen), and each are given clues and items to help them escape. Some items are in the hands of a dead man out of reach in the center of the room, including a gun. Elwes is then told (via audiotape) that if he doesn't get the gun and kill Whannell by a certain time, his wife and daughter will be killed instead.

Neat idea for a horror film, I thought. But it's all so wretchedly executed and filmed (the director loves to spin his camera around the room in fast motion for no reason whatsoever), with such stupid, stupid characters. Stupid. At one point, toward the end, a cell phone the two have been given, which has fallen inches out of reach, begins ringing; if Elwes could reach it, he'd find that his wife and daughter have escaped. But rather than take off his shirt, say, and use it to drag the phone those scant inches, he goes into a grandly hysterical freak-out (so embarrassingly bad that it's more horrible to watch than all the film's copious gore), and he cuts his own foot off with the hacksaw the killer has provided. Geez, talk about overreacting! And Whannell's character is equally dimwitted; when a clue indicates something is hidden in a nearby toilet, he immediately plunges his arm into the shit-filled bowl, rather than taking the top off the tank first (which indeed is where the items are hidden). Later, when a bad guy (but not the bad guy -- I'll get to that) comes to finish them off, Whannell overpowers and kills him, retrieving his gun in the process. Now, if you were chained by the leg, and you had a gun at hand, what would be the first thing you'd try to do? Shoot the chain, maybe? Hell, I don't know, maybe the chain is bullet-proof -- but wouldn't you at least try? Heck, you can hardly blame him -- when Elwes' wife got the gun from the bad guy earlier, she didn't use it, either. Instead of shooting the guy who has threatened to kill her only child, she foolishly bides her time until she can be distracted and have the gun taken away from her. Nobody knows how to use a gun, I guess!

Or, best of all is when cop Danny Glover and his partner find the Jigsaw Killer's hideout. The killer is out when they get there, but they do find the killer's next intended victim, trussed-up and hidden under a sheet. Just then, they hear the killer entering. Do they corner him, and free the victim? No, no they do not. Glover says, "I want to see what he's going to do," puts the sheet back over the poor, innocent victim, and makes his partner hide with him. "I want to see what he's going to do"? That is the dumbest fucking thing I've ever heard. What the killer does, Glover, you moron, is to get close enough to his victim that, when the cops finally jump out, he's able to activate the mechanical death trap the victim is tied to and distract the cops long enough to cut Glover's throat (he gets better), and then blow his partner's head off. "I want to see what he's going to do." IDIOT!! Every single character's total obliviousness to logic and common sense just infuriated me.

Most of the film is told through flashbacks, and at one point, flashbacks within flashbacks, which tell what the Jigsaw Killer has done to other victims. One guy is forced to crawl through razor wire before a timer closes a door. So the guy flips out and tears himself to shreds trying to escape in time. The thing is, there are no repercussions if he doesn't escape in time. Just -- the door closes. He couldn't take his time and be more careful? (Of course not -- then where would we get the gore?) Also, a jigsaw-shaped piece of flesh has been cut from him (or from one of the guy's victims, I can't recall), but this little detail, which gives the killer his name, after all, is maddeningly unexplained. Why do it at all? And why only from the one victim? If you're going to name a killer after his M.O., you should at least A) explain it eventually, and B) be consistent, rather than just forgetting about it immediately after you introduce it.

And then there's the dumbest twist of all: the dead guy in the middle of the room with Elwes and Whannell? He's not dead after all. The guy who's been holding Elwes' family captive, and who eventually comes to try to kill the two of them, is just another pawn in the game. The actual Jigsaw Killer is the supposedly dead guy, who's just been lying completely motionless, without flinching or involuntarily twitching at anything that's gone on in the room, without even breathing, apparently, for the whole eight hours or so they've been trapped in there. Elwes, a doctor, can't even tell a real gunshot wound to the head (which was the apparent cause of death) from the makeup appliance that it is. Did he get his medical degree from a box of Cracker Jacks?

Maybe it's pointless to pick on such a nothing film in such detail. But I love horror movies, and let's face it, horror movies are pretty easy to do right. It's the horror movies that seem to think they have ideas, or pretensions to being something new and different -- and which usually, like this one, are nothing but a warmed-over Se7en rip-off, complete with overly elaborate death scenarios and a preaching, moralistic villain -- that really set me off on a rampage. I'd rather see a Jason X* that knows it's nothing more than a delivery system for blood and nudity, and doesn't try to pretend it's something more, than something which does think it's something more, but fails miserably in every way possible.

*Sorry, Corey. I hope seeing the "J---- -" word didn't traumatize you too badly.

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