Sunday, December 23, 2007

James Wan - Saw (2004)

While I'm not at all a fan of the 'new' style horror movie (with the exception of the resurge in b-grade), I like to keep up with major developments in the field, so I'd been meaning to see Saw. for some time now. I'd been somewhat put off by comparisons to the highly overrated Se7en, but I found Saw a lot more pleasing, perhaps because it had no pretensions to be anything other than what it was - a nasty little psycho movie, but with smarts.

The film suffers from the usual modern horror problems - serial killer with no meaningful motive, over-reliance on gore (I prefer my films either b-grade gory, or without, thank you), and my very least favourite - what I call 'Friday the 13th' syndrome - the characters (especially but not only women) never take the opportunity to put the villain out of the action once and for all when they have the opportunity, but instead fail to for the sake of the plot, and in the process entirely jettison the shreds of realism on which the genre trades.

Having said this, however, the 'twist' in this particular example is very nicely done: we follow the characters from a deathtrap situation through a history of how they came to be there, and with what consequences. This format means that we don't get tempted by another sin of the modern-day slasher flick, setting up a line of ducks and shooting 'em down one by one as a substitute for a plot.

It's a clever work - the twists are nicely done so that, when you think you're one step ahead of the film, it's in fact got the drop on your expectations. The twisted, intricate little scenarios the film presents are themselves are very ingenious, and will please those with a mind for complicated death traps in classic crime style, with a modern twist in the upping of the macabre factor. The atmosphere is very nicely done (though nothing out of the ordinary) - I found myself at times conceiving of the movie as a game made in reverse, given the fact that much of it is a series of very elaborate problem-solving exercises - but unlike many films these days which seem empty inasmuch as they're made for or from action-based gameplay, the ingenuity this involves maintains interest in the film medium as well. Overall it's a well-put together little package which is not for the queasy, but which holds pleasures beyond the standard mindless short'n'nasty slasher film that passes for horror these days.

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