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SAW
Uncut Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Michael Emerson, Tobin Bell, Ken Leung, Leigh Whannell
Director: James Wan
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, DTS 6.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Lions Gate
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: October 18, 2005

“LAWRENCE...NO! OH MY GOD! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

Film ***1/2

With so many horror and psychological thrillers being made in today's movie market, it's rare that one comes across as scary or even slightly terrifying, for me at least. With the exception of such recent marvels as Identity, there hasn't been a truly clever and terrifying movie that has struck my nerves so hard, that I felt myself haunted by it days later. However, such a film has surfaced in the form of Saw, which is certain to earn its place as a newfound classic in the genre.

Ever since the film came out, there's been a strong debate over whether the movie belongs to the horror genre or the thriller genre, and here's the way I see it: For the most part, Saw is very much a psychological thriller, and yet the graphically gruesome extremes that some of the characters are put through are enough to make the skin crawl, therefore making it much suitable for the horror genre. It's certainly a bit brainier than your average horror flick, which would rank this one alongside the likes of Identity and Seven.

Right from its opening shot, the film gets right into the plot at hand. Two men, Lawrence (Cary Elwes) and Adam (Leigh Whannell, who also wrote the screenplay) awaken to find themselves held captive in a dirty abandoned bathroom/lair. They don't know one another or why they have ended up in the same room.

Both are chained, by foot, to a pipe. The first thing they notice is that of a rotting corpse lying between them in the middle of the room. Before long, both discover in their pockets an audio cassette containing a message to each of them in regards to why they are in the situation the find themselves in. They are both supplied with hacksaws, which they try to cut their chains with only to see that their captor has something a bit more sickening in mind.

As Lawrence starts adding up the factors, he has an idea of who is doing this to them, a psychopathic predator known as The Jigsaw Killer. We then learn that despite being insane, the man has never really killed anyone, but simply places his victims in situations where survival becomes somewhat difficult, and they end up killing themselves. From the killer's point of view, what the victims share is the lack of appreciation for the lives they live, and balk at the suffering of others.

Lawrence knows this only because he was at one point a suspect. The plot then shifts back into the past to reveal how and why he was a suspect. A cop named Tapp (Danny Glover) questions Lawrence after discovering a pen of his that was left at the crime scene. Although his alibi holds up, he is asked to observe a surviving victim's story, which is a most shocking incident which will make you and I feel grateful for the upper and lower jaws we have.

As the story moves back to the present predicament between Lawrence and Adam, the two men soon find that one of them may not be trustworthy. As certain events prior to their meeting reveal a connection to the situation they have found themselves in, the tensions grow even more. To make matters even worse, the two have been given a deadline, with Lawrence being told to kill Adam with a supplied gun by 6, or have his wife and daughter suffer as the consequence.

The rest I will leave for you to discover. Let me go ahead and warn you that if you do not have a strong stomach, then you definitely won't be able to endure the level of blood and gore that Saw has to offer. There are many shockingly gruesome moments; especially one sequence near the end that I'm surprised made it into the final cut. For fans of this kind of stuff, such as myself, you're in for a bloody treat. I should also mention that the final 15 minutes of this movie deliver some of the most terrifying tension I've seen in any single scare flick—no joke!

Saw also serves as a tremendous debut feature for first time director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell. The two friends from Australia were able to shoot and complete this film, with only a budget of a million dollars, in just 18 days. The fact that such an outstandingly well crafted film, with a high level of grim style to it, got made in such a short period of time, and on the kind of budget that pretty much doesn't exist anymore.

Although last year was plagued from lots of horror flicks, from Dawn of the Dead to The Grudge, it's Saw that earns the crowning of the scariest film of 2004. Not since Seven has there been such a movie that has you in its grip and works on your fears and shock levels like this. It's truly the kind of film where you won't want to find yourself alone after watching!

Video ***1/2

Lions Gate has delivered quite a commendable video transfer for a film that should be remembered for its distinct visual style. The anamorphic picture does justice, especially for sequences set in the bathroom lair…when lights are first switched on, it's tremendously effective. Dark sequences pay off incredibly well, too, in particular a scene where a character uses a camera flash to guide his way through a darkened room. Colors are truly magnificent, especially in greens. The only flaw with the disc is a case of image distortion, in the form of little white blips that pop up occasionally, which is only a slight flaw. For the most part, an exceptional video performance.

Audio ****

This is, hands down, one of the strongest and most effective pieces of digital sound I've experienced this year, so far, and this one can be expected to get high marks at the next DMC Awards—IT'S THAT AMAZING. You get two stunning sound mixes; one in 5.1 Dolby EX and one in a phenomenal DTS 6.1 ES Right from the opening scene, the surround sound quality is in effect, as the confined settings allow for some sharp sounding delivery. Everything from dialogue to terror sequences, to a pulse pounding score (especially during the final 15 minutes) blend together to make a grand sounding disc that demonstrates the ultimate power of DVD audio.

Features ****

I was certainly hoping that Lions Gate would come through with the Unrated Cut of the movie everyone was waiting to see. This 2-disc unrated version includes up to two minutes of extra footage, most of which is the graphic footage that had to be cut in order to avoid the NC-17 rating. First off, the disc has got my vote for the best packaging of any release this year—I’ll leave it for you to discover!

Featured on Disc One are two commentary track; the first is a most engaging listen with director James Wan, writer/actor Leigh Whannell and actor Cary Elwes. This is one of the funniest tracks I’ve heard in a long time, as the three trade endless jokes and insights. You won’t believe your ears when Mr. Elwes treats you to his dead on impressions of Marlon Brando and Michael Caine. The second commentary track is with various production team members.

Disc Two includes more bloody goodies, including a three-part documentary titled “Hacking Away at Saw”, the original Saw short film that spawned the hit movie, an episode of “Full Disclosure Report” that details an investigation of a Jigsaw-like killer, an alternative storyboard sequence, an exclusive sneak peek at Saw II, a trailer and art gallery, and a DVD-Rom game.

Summary:

Horror or thriller—call it what you will. All that I can tell you is that Saw, now in pure gory, Unrated form, delivers the bloody goods in an extremely well crafted mode. Though it may go over the top at times, it remains a much more intelligent kind of scare flick than we're used to seeing. I challenge you not to be induced with fear by the last shot of the movie!
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