A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Saw" is an efficiently made thriller, cheerfully gruesome, and finally not quite worth the ordeal it puts us through. It's a fictional machine to pair sadistic horrors with merciless choices, and so the question becomes: Do we care enough about the characters to share what they have to endure? I didn't.
Two recent films, "Touching the Void" and "Open Water," involved characters who experienced almost unimaginable ordeals of pain and despair, and I was with them every step of the way -- not least because I understood how they found themselves in their terrifying situations, and how they hoped to escape.
"Saw" by contrast depends on an improbably devious and ingenious villain who creates complications for the convenience of the screenplay. Named "The Jigsaw Killer," he joins that sturdy band of movie serial killers with time on their hands to devise elegant puzzles for their victims and the police. Sometimes that works, as in "The Silence of the Lambs," and sometimes we simply feel toyed with. That said, "Saw" is well made and acted, and does what it does about as well as it could be expected to. Horror fans may forgive its contrivances.
The movie opens in a locked public toilet. A clock on the wall says it is 2 o'clock. Two men are chained by leg irons to opposite walls. In the center of the floor is a corpse in a pool of blood. Near the corpse are a revolver, a tape recorder and a saw. The men are Adam (played by Leigh Whannell, who co-wrote the screenplay) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes). The corpse remains a mystery for a long time, but the tape recording is helpful: It informs both men that Dr. Gordon has to kill Adam by 6 o'clock, or his wife and daughter will be murdered.