CampBlood Gay Horror Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy


Saw James Wan 2004

What the Butler Saw

While being locked in a bathroom with a cute young Australian is likely a fate for which many of us would shell out a hefty sum, it unfortunately doesn’t make for compelling cinema. Clumsy, precocious, and at times incredibly (an unintentionally) hilarious, the “serial killer with a point” melodrama Saw could very well be the horror genre’s answer to Showgirls: a great watch if you’re comfortable laughing at the spectacular misexecution of a decent concept.

That said, allow me a moment to defend Showgirls: I stand by my theory that it was a meticulously planned disaster. Every frame is intentionally bad. Garish, ridiculous, and jaw-droppingly offensive, the film is determined to upset and horrify, like a horror film that uses the female form and starfucking ambition as its monstrous elements: call it Starship Troopers with breasts instead of bugs. I think it’s brilliant at most, and a compelling experiment at the least.

Now, while Saw might be good for a few scares and some belly laughs, I’m afraid to say that the entertainment happens mostly by mistake. I find it hard to believe that Carey Elwes (whom I generally like) went into this film attempting a stylized performance akin to early television melodrama. Likewise, I doubt that Danny Glover’s intentions in grunting his way through his role were to elicit guffaws whenever appearing on-screen. Although, he did appear in Operation Dumbo Drop, so we can’t really be too sure of what the fuck he’s thinking these days…

At any rate, I’m sure you already know that Saw is a horror/thriller hybrid that manages to mix the most boring of subgenres, the locked-room mystery and the police procedural, and create something even less compelling. Clumsily toggling between Elwes and screenwriter Leigh Whannell (the aforementioned cute Aussie) and random flashbacks and exposition about the killer (who manages to run around the city dressed like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice without attracting any notice; but then again, this is L.A.), the movie seems to be aiming for a gritty tone akin to Seven (with its elaborate, sick murder setups and grimy locales), but which is ultimately more like Ocean’s Eleven. Peppered with random semi-cameos (Monica Potter turns in what can easily be considered her Most Undignified Role – no small feat considering she’s starred opposite Freddy Prinze, Jr.; Dina Meyer of Starship Troopers is on screen for literally 45 seconds as a cop – lame!) and boasting enough pretentious camerawork to fill an entire episode of Queer as Folk, this is a perfect example of a good script gone bad – style over substance doesn’t even begin to describe it.

The biggest problem here is the acting, which is uniformly stilted and embarrassing save two decent performances by Whannell (his Adam is annoying but well-drawn) and Shawnee Smith as a twitchy victim of the Jigsaw killer (and his only survivor to-date). Her scene is certainly the centerpiece of the film (she describes the harrowing incident in a police station and we see her flashback) and has a coherent, satisfying arc that the rest of the film lacks (her closing comment, “he helped me,” is also one of the film’s only genuinely disturbing moments – which is saying a lot considering that there are people running around wearing pig masks and siccing puppets and power drills on one another.

I’m going to argue to the defense of the filmmakers here and say that their biggest crime is ambition; they certainly have a love of horror films of the more surreal variety (there are moments lifted from Deep Red, Fire Walk With Me, and the like) and their attempts to emulate them are noble enough. Unfortunately, handling the delicate balance between gritty urban police drama and abduction horror and frilly-pants Wonderland imagery is not exactly easy to do, and much more than most first-time filmmakers are going to be able to pull off. Remember the man in the rabbit suit that appears out of nowhere in Cabin Fever? And remember how fucking stupid it was? Well, there’s a lot of that here. Without a decisive visual style or consistent tone, flourishes like graphic gore, talking puppets, and and histrionic acting bounce off the viewer like spitballs, never causing any real damage.

After about an hour of random elements and telegraphed plot twists, everything starts to become very funny. In fact, even though I called the ending at the opening setup, things got so far off-track and preposterous as things went on that I completely forgot about it, so I at least had a pleasant surprise waiting for me at the conclusion. I seriously was so confused with the insanely bad performances of Elwes as the morally faulted Lawrence (a man who is so deeply moved by the abduction and possible murder of his wife and child that he is reduced to a community-theatre Stanley Kowalski) and Glover as an obsessed ex-cop (who grunts his way through the film like a Gorillagram – without the gorilla suit) that I watched the last 30 minutes with my jaw on the floor. And while the ending is clever and consistent with the setup (it’s not a cheap trick), the admittedly ingenious script is so muddled by misexecution that the coherent ending seems more like a door-prize than a satisfying conclusion.

I’m hoping that director James Wan and writer/actor Whannell are able to take what they’ve learned from making Saw and apply it to their next film, because they certainly aren’t lacking in energy, enthusiasm, and passion for the genre. In Showgirls, our tattered heroine Nomi is known to blurt out, “I’m not a whore, I’m a dancer!”. In such plain terms, Saw is certainly more of a whore. But with a little discipline and some restraint, Wan and Whannell may still have a dancer in them..

Rating (out of 5):