Thursday, October 10, 2013

Stubs – Saw (2004)

Saw (2004) Starring: Carl Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Michael Emerson, Ken Leung, Tobin Bell, Leigh Whannell. Directed by James Wan. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell. Produced by Gregg Hoffman, Mark Burg, Oren Koules. Music by Charlie Clouser. Run Time: 102 minutes. U.S.  Color, Horror

In the spirit of the Halloween season, we’ve been looking at horror films that have spurned franchises. More than any other genre, horror films seem to spawn sequels and, as is usually the case for sequels, the budgets get bigger and in the case of horror, oftentimes the blood and gore get ratcheted up. As in the case of the Saw franchise, the subsequent films got much bloodier, gorier and more brutal than the original film, or so I’ve been told. The original film is more of a psychological thriller than I understand the subsequent films prove to be.

Saw opens with two men trapped in a dilapidated subterranean industrial-looking bathroom. One man, Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell), who we later learn is a photographer, wakes up in a bathtub full of water. Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Carl Elwes) turns on the lights. Both men are chained at the ankle to pipes on opposite sides of the room. On the floor between them is a corpse, lying in a pool of blood. In one hand is a revolver in the other a microcassette player. Adam naturally pulls the plug in the tub to drain the water and gets out.

Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell) is one of the men who finds himself chained up in a restroom.
Both Adam and Lawrence find they have cassettes in the pockets labeled “Play Me”. Lawrence also finds a key and a bullet. They play the tapes in the player that Adam is able to take from the corpse. Adam finds out that he has to escape the bathroom before he dies, while Lawrence is instructed to kill Adam before six o’clock, or Lawrence’s wife, Allison (Monica Potter), and daughter Diana (Makenzie Vega) will be killed and Lawrence will be left to rot in the bathroom.

They also learn that the corpse on the floor was another victim, who shot himself in the head before succumbing to a deadly poison in his blood.

Lawrence plays back his tape and discovers a secret message with clues that lead Adam to find two hacksaws hidden in the toilet. But sadly, they discover the saws are not strong enough to cut the chains, in fact Adam’s saw breaks. Lawrence comes to the horrible realization that the saws aren’t meant for the chains, but for their ankles and that the pair has been captured by someone known as the Jigsaw Killer.

In a flashback, we see Detectives David Tapp (Danny Glover), Steven Sing (Ken Leung) and Allison Kerry (Dina Meyer) recovering a penlight at the scene of one of Jigsaw’s “games”. The fingerprints turn out to belong to Dr. Gordon, so Tapp and Sing go to the hospital to interrogate him. They interrupt him while the doctor is speaking with medical students and an orderly, Zep Hindle (Michael Emerson), about a patient named John Kramer who is suffering from an inoperable tumor in his brain’s frontal lobe. Zep reminds everyone that the patient is also a real person.

Detectives Steven Sing (Ken Leung) and David Tapp (Danny Glover) were partners.
After confirming his innocence, the detective invites Dr. Gordon to see Amanda Young's story of how she survived one of Jigsaw's traps. Amanda, a heroin addict, is the only person to have ever escaped from the Jigsaw Killer. Amanda woke up with a Reverse Bear Trap that would rip her jaws open. In order to escape, 

Amanda had to kill her unconscious cell mate, cut open his stomach and grab the key. Amanda used the key to unlock the device and removed it just before it activated.

Meanwhile, back in the bathroom, Adam and Lawrence discover that behind a mirror is a camera, and there is a man, Zep, watching and listening to them. Lawrence recalls his last day at his home, saying good-bye to his daughter and arguing with his wife. Unbeknownst to Lawrence, Zep was hiding in Diana's closet and captured Lawrence’s family after he left.

Zep, who is holding Alison and Diana Gordon in their house against their will, goes near a window and David Tapp takes a photo of him from his house. Tapp is now living near the Gordon's house and is constantly watching their house because he is convinced Lawrence is Jigsaw.

Zep Hindle (Michael Emerson) is holding Lawrence's
wife, Allison (Monica Potter) and daughter hostage for Jigsaw.
Flashback to after Tapp takes Lawrence home after listening to Amanda's story. Tapp discovers Jigsaw is hiding in a building. Detectives Tapp and Sing arrive at the building and discover a man, Jeff Ridenhour (Ned Bellamy), tied to a chair. Jigsaw arrives via an elevator as the detectives hide. As Jigsaw is explaining his plans to Jeff the detectives emerge prompting Jigsaw to activate his trap for Jeff. While Tapp holds Jigsaw at gunpoint Sing tries to find the proper key for the lock at Jigsaw's suggestion, but ultimately deactivates the trap by shooting it. Meanwhile Jigsaw cuts Tapp's throat while he is distracted and leaves him to bleed out on the floor. Sing goes into pursuit and after shooting Jigsaw in the back with his shotgun, Sing unknowingly steps into a trip wire setting off a trap that fires shotguns off from above,  killing him. Jigsaw escapes and Tapp is discharged from the police. But Tapp is still obsessed with capturing Jigsaw.

Steven Sing doesn't have long to live.
Back in the bathroom, Lawrence gives his wallet to Adam, who finds a photo of Alison and Diana captured at the doctor's house and in the backside there was a message that they must look with their eyes closed. Following the instructions on the photo, Adam tells Lawrence to turn the lights off. On the wall, next to Lawrence, there’s an X drawn with fluorescent paint. Using a hacksaw, Lawrence breaks through the X and discovers a small chest. Using the key he found in his pocket, Lawrence opens the chest and finds a cell phone, a lighter and a cigarette. He tries to call the police but the cell is made to only receive calls.

Fluorescent X marks the spot.

The doctor remembers how he was captured: He was on his way to his car when a man took a photo of him. Lawrence didn't see the man. He tries to call home but the call fails to go through. Then, a masked figure captured him.

A note in the chest informs Lawrence that he doesn't need a gun to kill Adam. Lawrence turns off the lights to prevent the kidnapper from hearing them and he tells Adam that they are going to fake his death. Lawrence turns the lights back on and wets the cigarette with the corpse's supposedly poisoned blood and then hands that and the lighter to Adam. Adam goes along with the ruse and pretends to smoke the cigarette and dying of the poisoning but someone actives a device in his chain and electrocutes him. The plan fails.

Adam then remembers his capture. He had been sleeping when a noise in his apartment woke him up. He goes through his dark apartment with a bat and uses his camera flash for lighting. On his couch, he finds a puppet as a masked figure captures him from behind.

Back in the bathroom, the cellphone rings and Lawrence answers. On the other end is Diana, who is being held hostage with her mother. She is understandably scared. Then Alison gets on her phone and tells Lawrence that Adam knows him and that he is a liar. Adam reveals to Lawrence that he was following him for the last few days taking photos of him. He was the man who took the photo of him in the parking lot and shows him all the photos that he took to him, which were in the bag that contained the two hacksaws. Adam tells Lawrence that he followed him to a motel that last day.

Lawrence stretching to answer the phone.
Flashback to that night. Lawrence is going into a motel room with a medical student from the hospital, Carla Song (Alexandra Bokyun Chun). Inside, Lawrence tells her that he’s tired of her calling his home and decides to leave. But the phone in the room rings. Lawrence answers and hears a voice telling him that he knows what he is doing. It is after he leaves, out in the parking lot, when Lawrence is captured.

Lawrence angrily demands Adam tell him who is paying him and the young man reveals that is a tall black guy with a scar in his neck. Lawrence recognizes the description as Detective Tapp. Lawrence tells Adam he wasn’t cheating on his wife with Song.

Meanwhile, in the Gordon's house, Zep is watching the cameras, while Alison unties herself and her daughter.
Among Adam's photos, Lawrence finds the one that Tapp took of the man in his house. Lawrence recognizes the man as Zep Hindle. Adam then notices that is six o’clock.

Back at the Gordon’s house, Zep tells Alison that he must do his work and makes her call Lawrence to inform him he’s failed. While she is talking on the phone, Alison attacks Zep and gets his gun. The two fight for the gun. Gunshots are heard by Lawrence over the phone and by Tapp, who runs with his gun to the doctor's house. The calls ends and Lawrence gets electrocuted and throws the phone away.

Tapp enters the house and starts a shootout with Zep, allowing Alison and Diana to escape. Zep hits Tapp with a vase and runs to his car to go kill Lawrence and Adam. Tapp recovers and follows him. They arrive at the sewers and start a race to the bathroom. Lawrence recovers and the phone starts ringing. As he is unable to reach it, he starts screaming and then he takes off his shirt. Rather than try and lasso the phone, he ties his shirt around his leg and bites the sleeve. Grabbing the hacksaw, Lawrence starts cutting off his chained foot.

Dr. Lawrence Gordon gets ready to saw off his foot. 
Finally free, Lawrence reaches the gun, loads it with the bullet he found and shoots Adam. Lawrence then demands to see his family. Tapp reaches Zep and the two start fighting. Zep shoots Tapp in the stomach and Tapp dies.

Zep arrives at the bathroom and prepares to kill Lawrence. Just then, Adam stands up and throws Zep to the ground. Using the toilet lid, Adam hits Zep in the head multiple times until he kills him. Lawrence then tells Adam that he’ll go get help and will come back, before crawling out of the bathroom.

Zep arrives at the restroom to kill Lawrence.
Adam searches for the key of the chains in Zep's clothes. But instead, Adam finds a tape player that informs him Zep was another of Jigsaw’s victims. Zep had a slow acting poison running through his blood system and if he wanted the antidote, he had to kill Alison and Diana.

Shocked, Adam watches as the dead body stands up and reveals himself as John Kramer (Tobin Bell), the real Jigsaw Killer. Kramer tells him that the key for the chain was in the bathtub and Adam remembers that when he woke up in the bathtub, the key flushed away with the water. Adam tries to shoot Kramer but the killer electrocutes him with a control and Adam throws the gun away. Jigsaw then turns off the lights and seals Adam inside the bathroom, leaving him to die.

John Kramer aka Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) leaves Adam to die.
So as you can see, this is not really family entertainment. But the film is not as bloody or gory as the poster with a severed foot would lead you to believe. Gratefully, the sawing off of Lawrence’s foot is mostly done off camera or else I don’t think I would have made it through to the end. I don’t like piercing flesh, let alone severed limbs.

This horror is more psychological than gory, but it leaves a lot of open questions. I have the same problem I had with the Joker in The Dark Knight. John Kramer, aka Jigsaw, seems to be everywhere at once and still has plenty of time to devise things like backwards bear traps and keys on the tub stoppers. But like The Dark Knight, you’re not supposed to think about such things because you’re supposed to take it as it comes.

While I knew going in that Cary Elwes was in this movie, it still struck me as an odd role choice, considering he’s perhaps best known as Westley in The Princess Bride (1987), which is about as far away from Saw as you can get. (Regrettably, he is also in 2012’s The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure which should just be kept far away from everyone.) But diverse roles are part of any successful actor’s work life. He would later reprise his role as Dr. Lawrence Gordon in Saw 3D (2010) and no, I didn’t see it.

Carl Elwes as Westley in The Princess Bride.
And there were a lot of sequels to Saw that I did not see and don’t plan to, namely all of them: Saw II (2005), Saw III (2006), Saw IV (2007), Saw V (2008), Saw VI (2009) and finally ending with Saw 3D. The films have been dubbed Torture Porn by some critics, but at least the original Saw is really more about sadism and masochism, which isn’t my usual fare. While people are kept against their will and there are killings, the torture is more of the mind than the body. Never a critic favorite, the films in the franchise were a financial success, grossing over $873 million worldwide and spawning ancillary products such as Saw: Rebirth, a comic book; two video games, toys, costumes and even theme park rides. Look for the inevitable reboot in about ten years.

While I might have been covering my eyes from time to time, my ears were open to the soundtrack, chiefly written by Charlie Clouser, a mix of alt rock and electro-industrial. Clouser, a former member of the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, wrote music for all of the Saw films. For the most part, the score has received positive reviews and I would have to agree with those.

But honestly, I can’t recommend you watch this film. There are too many other films you should watch before this one. However, if you do find yourself being forced to watch it by some guy whose name reminds you of puzzles, know that it is not as bad as you might think it’ll be. Saw is more about the psychological torture than the physical.

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