a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Monday, October 02, 2006


So late last night, not in the mood for writing (I did do some yesterday) or any more reading (ditto) I flipped on TV, cycled through some channels, and found "Saw", which was just about to start, and which I hadn't seen.

So what the hell. I watched it.

Saw has a great hook, in that it starts out with two guys, chained by their ankles to pipes on opposite ends of what looks like an oddly-huge bathroom, with a dead guy lying in a pool of blood in the center. They find small cassette tapes in their pockets, which fit in the cassette player near the dead guy, which they are able to retrieve.

When they play the tapes, they learn that same guy is messing with them. He has stashed things around the room to help them escape. But he also makes clear that if one guy doesn't kill the other by a certain time, the guy's wife and daughter will be killed.

At this point I was hooked, because there's something dark and primal about this, while the great thing about this story is that we feel like we are going through it with them; we find ourselves thinking about where helpful stuff can be, and how these guys can possibly get out of it.

It has the same appeal as many video games; you are put into a situation, and you have to figure out a way out of it.

*** Spoilers ***

Unfortunately, the writers really can't sustain the conceit. There's a great 90-minute movie in the basic concept here, a movie that just stays in the room with these two guys, as they puzzle stuff out, alternatively work with each other and turn on each other, and figure out the depths to which their unseen tormentor is messing with them.

Unfortunately this movie would have taken great talent to write, to sustain a piece with one location and two actors, and Saw doesn't really try. Instead it keeps leaving the room, for flashbacks and concurrent stories, that have a lot of shock value but which also keep costing the basic storyline a lot of its tension.

After a while all of these cutaway scenesl start feeling like a cheat, because none of the characters in the room are privy to most of this; in fact, no character in the movie is privy to most of this, not even the bad guy. It's a huge, twisty show that is really just put on for the audience, who are the only people who can really appreciate it.

But in terms of the bad guy's motivations, it just seems too contrived and over-complex, especially since at the heart of this the point is really supposed to be how basic this actually is. You have a chain around your ankle, a deadline, and a saw. How soon before you use the saw on your ankle?

So while it helps kill time to have another character who turns out to have kidnapped the wife and daughter because he is being manipulated into it, and an obsessed cop trying to figure it out, it all just feels like an unnecessary risk by the supposedly-psycholtically-brilliant villain.

Plus, the whole idea of the face-down apparently-dead guy on the floor actually being the bad guy has been used a lot, and here it really doesn't serve any purpose at all -- there's absolutely no reason he needs to spend 7 hours on the floor, playing dead, when he could be comfortably sitting in the room next door, watching and listening over a camera or through a two-way mirror. Yeah, it's a nice shot when he rises out of the blood at the end, but it still needs to make a certain amount of sense.

(I'm also unclear exactly who this guy is, and how he ties in with the doctor; there's some way-too-rushed-for-2AM exposition about a brain tumor, or something. The doctor and the other guy also remain naggingly underdeveloped).

Still, there are things here that work, and it's nice to watch a horror movie that gets parts of your brain working, even if it falls a bit short at the end; it's easy to see how this rose above most recent, unimaginative horror entries, and why the sequel did so well.

But I still think it would have been more satisfying just staying in the room, for 90 minutes, with these two guys.


At 1:16 PM, Blogger taZ said...

I didn't want to watch this at first, but did after being told I had to by some friends.

Now, I liked the twists and story of it. Unlike many other horror/twist flicks, this one presents something more original and well executed.

And I don't remember why the bad guy had to lie on the room's floor, but I rememeber that when I saw it, it made some kind of sence to me. Like that way he could see/listen everything they did, without fear they might find a way out... or something.

At 1:59 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Well, given that he's lying face down, he's really not picking up more than a good listening device would anyway, while if he were spying on them he'd have a visual element as well; as it is, if they gave each other hand signals, he'd never pick up on it.

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Formerly, The Dude Spoke said...

Saw 2 is actually quite a better film, i feel.

At 6:41 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

So does Saw 2 pick up on the events of the first one, or is it just an unrelated group of killings by the guy from the first one?

(Oh, and don't give anything away)

At 6:50 PM, Blogger wcmartell said...

The second thing - killer is back with brand new victims (save one - the girl in the iron mask returns to play the game again).

My "SAW rip-off" treatment solves the problems you point out - it stays in the room. I have people hand cuffed the the person they most want to kill... and each has some sort of tool... and there are 4 sets of handcuffees... and a maze filled with boobytraps (really sick ones) that they must navigate... against a ticking clock. So - do you kill your enemy or work with them? My idea was to explore forgiveness and hatred and how tightly we can hold a grudge.

- Bill

At 7:01 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...


At 1:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree 100 percent with your comments (you should feel proud). WHITE NOISE had a similar problem with its out-of-left-field twist at the end, which I'm going to be vague about cos I don't wanna spoil it.

I'm almost certain that the original conception of SAW was, in fact, to keep it mostly in one room. I think it was conceived as an ultra low-budget piece, but as the budget went up they decided to expand the storyline.

Also, Cary Elwes' overacting got annoying. The crowd I watched it with broke into laughter at the climax.

At 4:25 AM, Blogger The Gambino Crime Family said...

I'm also working on my own spin on SAW, except it's more in the French existentialist mode. Two guys in a room, smoking Gauloises, emotionally trapped by the weight of their past and their omniprescent fear of nuclear war. No killer and no dialogue - except at the end where one mutters "Rosebud" and the other guy chuckles ironically.

At 8:06 AM, Blogger Emily Blake said...

I haven't seen it. Not really into horror movies. But my students love that freaking movie. Every time I tell them we're going to watch a movie, which isn't often, they always ask for either Saw or The Longest Yard, at which point I tell them to shove it. I'll have to investigate why they love those movies so much.

At 8:13 AM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Agreeing with the Dude that Saw 2 is a better film but it, too, misses some opportunities. This is not my normal genre but I was wheedled into taking my teenager & his friends because he couldn't get in on his own until he was 17 and of course, he insisted I see the first one on DVD before I took him to the 2nd.

At 9:10 PM, Blogger Dave said...

Both Saw films have come highly recommended by some friends, but they still sink down to the very bottom of my Netflix queue. Even hearing what I expect are interesting details, I have no desire to see either one of them.

I really liked Emily Rose, the Exorcist, Omens, etc. which seems to indicate my specific horror preference.

I've never been drawn to people being cruel (as in dismembering) to other people. Maybe it's that I just find the news more horrible than any film could ever be. I just don't see the entertainment. Oh well. To each his own.

At 10:27 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I didn't even realize that Saw 3 is coming out in a few weeks. Apparently it follows the killer and the female survivor from the first movie, who have teamed up.

It's sort of interesting that the series has gone from a barely-there villain presence in the first one to the villain apparently being heavily onscreen by the third.

At 10:57 PM, Anonymous kristen said...

i agree w/u about saw - at first i thought it was interesting, but in the end it was just another "Seven" ripoff, way too showy.

At 6:31 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

The ideas behind Saw makes me cringe. I don't know that I could even watch it. I imagine myself having to saw off my own foot to save my life or worse, having to kill a helpless person to save my own life.

In my old age, I find myself unable to watch graphic horror.

To find out that Saw isn't a very good movie is no shocker. What was the last truly good horror movie? Alien? John Carpenter's The Thing?

I kind of liked The Others a couple years back, so I might go with that.


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