on October 29, 2004 by Annlee Ellingson
A young man jolts to consciousness to find himself immersed in a tub of foul bathwater and chained to a rusty pipe. It's pitch black, but he can hear another man breathing across the room. Suddenly fluorescent lights blaze. As their eyes adjust, photographer Adam (co-screenwriter Leigh Whannell) and oncologist Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) begin to comprehend their situation: They are shackled on opposite sides of a squalid industrial bathroom, and there's a dead body lying in a pool of blood between them, holding a .38 in his hand. Gradually, the two men piece together the clues left for them--the brand-new clock on the wall, microcassette tapes, a single bullet, cigarettes, a cell phone that doesn't receive a signal--and realize that they are the latest victims of Jigsaw, a serial killer who contrives elaborate torture chambers to teach his victims the value of life by presenting them with an impossible choice.

The cleverness of this opening scene is that the viewer has no more information than the characters locked in the room together and therefore pieces together the puzzle along with them as information is revealed. The scenario is by design limited, however. Once the filmmakers have exhausted the utility of flashbacks, which explain not only why the men have found themselves in such a situation but how they're connected, the story moves out of that room. At Dr. Gordon's home, his wife and daughter are being held hostage, and, across the street from his house, the detective on the case (Danny Glover), driven mad by a close call with the killer whom he believes is Dr. Gordon, has set up a stakeout.

Working backwards, one recognizes the narrative need for such divergences, but ultimately the choice sacrifices suspense, as the viewer knows what's happening outside the room, even if Adam and Dr. Gordon don't, rendering their hysterical actions emotionally void. Or maybe it's the at-times amateur acting.

Meanwhile, "Saw," the first official acquisition of Sundance, is not as tightly scripted as it would like to think it is. Jigsaw chooses his quarry based on their failings, but, while it's immediately apparent why he's selected Dr. Gordon, Adam's deficiencies are not as clearly defined. In addition, without going into enough detail to give the twist ending(s) away, one of the victims doesn't fit the profile as someone who needs help appreciating life. And it's rather convenient, don't you think, that Dr. Gordon just happens to be a suspect in the Jigsaw murders, giving him intimate knowledge of the investigation?

Still, the intricacy of the "Seven"-esque killings by a deranged criminal mind holds a certain fascination, and "Saw" is a fun ride if you don't think too much about it after it's over. Starring Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Leigh Whannell, Tobin Bell and Michael Emerson. Directed by James Wan. Written by Leigh Wannell and James Wan. Produced by Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules and Mark Burg. A Lions Gate release. Horror/Thriller. Rated R for strong grisly violence and language. Running time: 100 min

Tags: Starring Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Leigh Whannell, Tobin Bell and Michael Emerson. Directed by James Wan. Written by Leigh Wannell and James Wan, Produced by Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules, Mark Burg, Lions Gate, Horror, Thriller

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