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Characters, plot lift thriller past mediocre acting

Mark Bemenderfer | Monday, November 22, 2004

A woman awakens in the middle of a room. She is disoriented, but quickly finds out that she has a giant mechanical device on her head. A television flickers on to show a grotesque mannequin staring back at her. It calmly informs her that the device will kill her in a painful manner unless she can find a key, which happens to be hidden in a person’s body. This is one of the scenes in the recently released thriller, “Saw.” If that scene doesn’t sound interesting, then there is relatively little reason to continue reading. This independent hit is filled with similar scenes, and is not for people looking for a light, entertaining movie. Not since David Fincher’s “Seven” has a film taken such a bleak view on human existence. The movie is centered upon a serial “killer” that doesn’t quite fit the definition. Technically, he isn’t a killer as he never directly killed anyone. He finds ways for his victims to kill themselves or each other. The movie begins with two such potential victims finding themselves locked and chained within a decrepit bathroom in some forgotten factory. They are told that they have been chosen to participate in the killer’s game, and if they can figure out how to win they will be allowed to live. A ripple is tossed in when Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), one of the two victims, is told that his family is in the killer’s possession, and will be killed if he does not kill his cellmate by 6 p.m. Here the two cellmates are left to their own devices and the movie begins to unfold. Written by Australian-born James Wan and Leigh Whannell, this movie is not the typical fare from the Land Down Under. It’s not exactly a horror movie, and certainly not a slasher. This film could at best be described as a dark thriller. There are the obligatory jump scares within the movie, but most of the tension is created through the use of suspense within the movie. Sadly, at times that suspense is not well developed by the actors themselves, but rather the characters that are developed from the film’s suspenseful plot. The screenplay writer, Whannell, plays the central figure of Adam and may not have taken a single acting class in his life. He graduated from a film school in Australia, but from his acting in this film, it would appear that he spent the majority of his time behind the camera rather than in front of it. He did appear in “The Matrix Reloaded,” but didn’t have the central role he does in “Saw.”Elwes, a figure better remembered from “The Princess Bride,” is the other main lead, Dr. Gordon, and does an only slightly better job. His voice and demeanor is fitting in more light-hearted movies, although his acting does improve towards the end.The poor acting could be explained through the fact that none of the actors received any compensation for the film. However, this could also be the reason why the writer was also one of the main stars.But the majority of the movie’s draw comes from the characters, and the situations they are put into. Even with the poor acting, the movie draws the viewer in as it progresses so that by the very end, the viewer is completely immersed within the film.