Dir: James Wan. US. 2004. 100mins.

Saw is a sub-Se7en B-movie serial killer chiller with more high concepts stuffed into its 100 minutes than it can handle. Riddled with plot holes and with a final twist which aficionados of the genre will spot a mile off, it nevertheless possesses a hankering to scare with style reminiscent of recent Asian horror like The Eye, The Grudge or The Ring. Lions Gate Films which bought worldwide rights just prior to the Sundance Film Festival last month (where it played as a midnight movie) has a lucrative video title on its hands.

First-time director James Wan, who also conceived the story with Leigh Whannell, shows promise, orchestrating some effective suspense scenes and grisly shock moments. Ultimately, his grand ambitions for a mythic horror a la Se7en or Silence Of The Lambs are undermined by his lack of resources and a labyrinthine plot structure which does not warrant too much scrutiny.

International buyers will certainly see value in Saw, even if its theatrical potential is limited. Audiences can see better production values and grisly murders, if not such high energy levels, on an episode of CSI these days, and will feel they're getting more bang for their Euro or Yen by seeing it on a small screen than a big one.

The first 'high concept' on show is the locked room. Two strangers wake up chained to opposite walls of a locked bathroom with no idea how they got there. One is Dr Lawrence Gordon (Elwes, now a bona fide B-movie star), the other a young man called Adam (played by Whannell, who also wrote the screenplay). Between them lies the dead body of a man, his head in a pool of blood, a gun in his hand. A sinister voice on a tape recorder which Gordon discovers in the room tells him that he has to kill Adam by 4pm that same day or his wife Allison (Potter) and child Diana (Vega) will die.

Gordon quickly understands who is behind their abduction. In flashbacks, we see that he has recently been questioned by the police in a series of horrific murders being committed by an ingenious serial killer known as Jigsaw. The killer sets up bizarre and complicated deaths for his victims (high concept number two) - a woman must cut open the stomach of a drugged man to find the key which will free her from a large metal trap attached to her head, for example. At each of the murder scenes, being investigated by Officer Tapp (Glover), a tape recording is found of the same voice as the one in the bathroom.

As the day goes on, Gordon and Adam become more desperate, especially when a mobile phone rings and Gordon hears the voices of his wife and daughter who have been captured and tied up. Meanwhile, Tapp, who has been discharged by the police after a traumatic encounter with Jigsaw but is still pursuing the case, intervenes to rescue Allison and Diana.

The final 10 minutes, in which Gordon is forced to cut off his foot with a saw, Adam's true part in the story is revealed and Tapp pursues the killer to the secret site of the bathroom, are nail-biting and absurd in equal measure.

Prod co: Evolution Management
US dist:
Lions Gate Films
Int'l sales:
Lions Gate Films International
Exec prod:
Stacey Testo
Gregg Hoffman, Oren Koules, Mark Burg
Leigh Whannell, from a story by James Wan & Whannell
David Armstrong
Production des:
Julie Berghoff
Kevin Greutert
Charlie Clouser
Main cast:
Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Leigh Whannell, Michael Emerson, Tobin Bell, Ken Leung, Makenzie Vega