199 – Saw

There has been a recent surge in horror movies lately, from remakes of classics to supposedly original films. Most of these are hissably enjoyable – that is, one can think of them as flights of fancy, whimsical farces that deserve to be laughed at, not with.

Saw, however, fits under a different category: movies that grab you from the get-go and never let go, relentless keeping you on edge, so much so that even after you’ve turned off the TV and are safe under the covers in your Happy Spot, the unease sticks with you.

Two men, Lawrence (Carey Elwes) and Adam (Leigh Whannell, who also co-wrote the story with James Wan, the director), wake up in an abandoned public bathroom. Stuff is oozing along the walls. There’s a foul stench. BOth men are chained by the ankle to huge, imposing pipes. And there’s a dead man in the middle of the room, laying face down in a pool of slowly drying blood. Neither man knows how he arrived in his present state. Then an unseen killer informs them that one must kill the other by 6 pm that evening – or Lawrence’s family will be murdered.

Lawrence and Adam figure out that they’ve been placed there by a notorious serial killer nicknamed Jigsaw, a psychopath who manipulates his victims into killing each other. The movie dances back and forth in flashbacks to explain what the killer’s done in the past (but not, of course, what he plans to do with Lawrence and Adam), which only heightens the suspense.

See, this isn’t a typical serial-killer movie, wherein your garden-variety Serial Killer Dude picks a theme (Ten Commandments, Seven Deadly Sins, zodiac symbols, alphabet, what have you) and then the scriptwriters get creative with the gore. Uh-uh. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s gore in this movie – so shoo the kids and make sure the dog’s looking the other way – but so much of the horror is perceived, rather than presented. And that’s what I love about Saw. At times, it’s inventively icky, but it never dwells on the sicko aspect of the killer’s machinations. What it does particularly well, I think, is that it constantly keeps you wondering what’s going to happen next – but never satisfying, never letting you settle into a comfort zone. Good horror films make your skin crawl not by how many buckets of blood they can spatter across the screen but by the mere anticipation of them; what’s more, the best horror films make you honestly and unequivocally believe that what’s happening to the protagonists could happen to you, too.

I mentioned there’s been a surge in horror films, but it’s more of a glut of mediocrity. Saw rises far above its brethren.

Saw: ***1/2

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