Lions Gate is choosing to release Saw with an R rating, though what they cut for it to initially receive an NC-17, I couldn’t tell you. It’s more gruesome in tone than anything else, in the same way that Seven doesn’t actually have much onscreen violence.
But Saw is abysmal and gets worse the more you think about it. The young writers and director had a solid concept; Two guys in a room, chained to the wall, with a dead man between them, and no idea how they got there. They are told that they have a time limit to get out before they are both killed, and there is only way to get but they first have to figure out how to get that chain off. It’s like Oldboy mixed with Cube. And from that point, after the first 8 minutes, it goes nowhere. The remaining 90 minutes is all flashback and exposition, but play more like padding, with characters doing inexplicable things and scenes that go on and on, incoherent surprise twists that follow no logic, and a kitchen sink ending that tricks you right out of giving a shit.
The killer’s motivation is flimsy and the filmmakers pray you don’t think about the inconsistency of it, and the acting is stunningly awful for a professional film, especially from Cary Elwes and Danny Glover. Glover fares worse though, because his part doesn’t make any sense at all, and the way they try to tie him into the final act (which is on the level of Taking Lives bad) is mindbogglingly stupid. There are a lot of TV and B movie actors in the film, usually with one short scene (Benito Martinez, Dina Meyer, etc.), so I wondered if they had more scenes that were scrapped, or they just wanted exposure in a low budget movie.
One of the largest problems is that the movie has no point of view, so as we see flashbacks and backstory for each person, we don’t know from who’s perspective each scene is from, as it constantly shifts. It makes it impossible to identify with anyone on screen for that reason. The visuals are a headache, with the speed cutting and the “we cribbed this from Feardotcom and every movie that stole from too” look. However, the biggest problem is that the film tries to engage your brain. If the viewer never expects anything from a movie, and just enjoys it, no matter how stupid or ridiculous it is, because the movie never challenges them or even makes the effort, then it can get away with being braindead. But if there is that attempt to engage your head, but the movie doesn’t follow through and plot hole after plot hole is left gaping, then it’s simply irritating and frustrating.
And because of all of this, from the “creepy” look to the “surprise” ending to it being “a smart, frightening thriller,” Saw will open to $15 million next weekend*.
* What did I win for being right? An endless supply of sequels.