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What would YOU do, if you woke up to find yourself chained up to filthy urinal pipes with no clear way of escape--other than the method implied by the hacksaw found in a grimy toilet? 'Tis the question faced by two bewildered captives in the grisly Saw.


Adam (Leigh Whannel) wakes to find himself chained to a rusty pipe inside a decrepit, filthy bathroom that would make a port-o-potty look like the can at the Ritz. Chained to the opposite side of the room is another disoriented captive, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes). The only other man in the room lies between them motionless in a pool of blood with a .38 in his hand. A tape recorder on the floor nearby contains instructions from their unseen captor, a serial killer known as ''Jigsaw,'' whose M.O. is to trap people and offer them terrible choices to get free--one woman's head is encased in a bear trap that will open in reverse if she doesn't dig the key out of her living companion's stomach, another victim has seconds to extricate himself from razor wire (hint: he doesn't make it). Here, Gordon must kill Adam by 6 p.m., or his wife and daughter die. With only a few hours and fewer clues to unravel the elaborate puzzle of their fate, their terror and suspicions mount, especially when they find two hidden handsaws--too weak to cut their steel shackles, but strong enough to hack through flesh and bone.


One imagines director James Wan was pulling a Tarantino in casting Cary Elwes in the lead to give him a comeback a la John Travolta. Having coasted on the fairy tails of The Princess Bride for years, Elwes' films of late have included such laudatory efforts as Ella Enchanted and something called The Cat's Meow--perhaps Westley's been on a quest for a good script for the last 17 years. In any case, he's found one in Saw and turns in a passable effort, other than occasionally dropping his American accent for a British inflection here and there and chewing the scenery admirably when faced with the hair-raisingly gruesome choices he must make. His potty pal, however, doesn't fare so well. Whannell co-wrote the script, and some of the lines he's given himself to say are more frightening than any serial killer M.O. could be: When Gordon asks him what his name is, he barks, ''What's my name? Right now my name is Pretty Fucking Confused, what's yours?'' Danny Glover, too, unintentionally elicits a guffaw here and there without meaning to, shambling through his role as a cop obsessed with the Jigsaw killer for, really, no apparent reason.


For his first-time effort, James Wan gets extra kudos for turning in a tightly wound, well-filmed little horror pic that will no doubt earn Lions Gate tons of dough like the Blair Witch Project did for Artisan in 1999--Saw has just that sort of buzz about it (gnuk, gnuk). You'll probably have heard the warranted complaints that it's derivative of Se7en by way of Cube with a bit of The Cell thrown in, and the end, while you may not see it coming, is waaaaay over the top. Still, you can't help but admire a mind that can concoct the visuals depicted here--they're rudely graphic and in-your-face, without being on the surface as bloody as say, your typical slasher flick. Wan missteps in his casting, some of the camerawork is way overdone and the marionette is a scream (laughingwise, that is…you'll get it when you see it)--less is more, in some cases--but overall, it's a brutal, vicious, well done psychological thriller that will leave you disturbed for days.

Bottom Line

If you like your horror movies graphic, grisly and gore-rific, see Saw.