Please excuse the enthusiasm that will inevitably bubble over throughout this review, as I am about to give my first "horror" five-star rating. James Wan's psychological thriller, Saw, is an absolute masterpiece, made even more impressive by the fact that it is his first film.
Two men, seemingly strangers to each other, awake, each chained to a separate pipe in a disgusting, large bathroom. They are Adam (Leigh Wannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), the latest victims of a serial killer known as "Jigsaw", due to the diabolical puzzles that it (keeping the killer gender neutral here) forces its victims to solve if they want to stay alive. The predicament that Lawrence and Adam are faced with is that if Lawrence does not kill Adam, Jigsaw will kill Lawrence's wife and daughter. Materials at the victims' disposal are hacksaws (that will not cut the chains), a bullet, and an ominous audio cassette.
This premise, which is laid out for us very early in the film, forms the basis for a narrative that continually twists, both in terms of plot development and temporality. Flashbacks are used to build suspense and generate comprehension. Montage sequences jar you, as a viewer in your chair, literally taking your breath away. You are never CERTAIN where the film is situating itself, and it is made even more confusing, ominous, and suspenseful by the fact that there is an insane former detective (Danny Glover) who is intent on hunting down Jigsaw for murdering his partner.
Saw, in case you couldn't tell by its title, is not for the squeamish. Fans of the horror genre, however, will delight in the sadistic pleasure the film takes in leading you through the past "puzzles" that Jigsaw has put its victims through. As much as the film disorients you in terms of time and space, what you think you know about the plot and characters is just as volatile.
When I mentioned earlier that there are moments that literally take your breath away, this is not a throwaway remark, but a literal statement. Even as I sit here typing this, the affect of Saw is still within me. Often painful to watch and to listen to, the characters exhibit terror and psychosis through histrionic performances that never seem counter to the horrific environment that Wan has created for them (and us).
Saw is truly an amazing film, and although I have just seen it a couple of hours ago and am still in a euphoric state that may fade come morning, it may be the best horror film I have seen.