They come out from under the rocks, mostly late October, and mostly slink back there forgotten by Thanksgiving. Screamers, mashers-slashers-bashers-crashers long on gore and short on brains but aimed at the bowels, anyway, they are for the young and are, some say, good date movies (depending, naturally, on your partner). Of the hokey hockey goalie-slash-Hallowe’en masked meanie slant, this season’s Saw would attempt a whosdoinit detective overlay like David Fincher’s intelligent Se7en while also squeezing in a bit of sophomoric philosophizing about the lengths to which men and women will go to remain aboveground and upright. In this “grim morality tale,” there is as well lip service about teaching each ungrateful victim the true value of life, preferably his or her own.
Guffaws as the thing went along could, of course, have been the laughter of bravado nervousness. Once more, publicity requests that the ending not be revealed to the as-yet uninitiated, but by the time we get there, no one cares, for this tittering has in fact been a reaction to half-a-dozen too many twists, turns, false solutions, implausibilities and impossibilities, with acting so overbaked it simply has to be tongue-in-cheek.
Proclaimed a combination of grit and surreal, a mix of Dario Argento with David Lynch, the script by Australians James Wan and Leigh Whannell supposedly began with a sort of gladiator situation of two trapped men, one of whom must kill the other to survive. Wan’s first feature as director opens with these two, chained in opposite corners of a grotty abandoned institutional bathroom, not knowing how they got there, with a suicide’s bloody body sprawled in the middle. The younger of the two is photographer Adam (Whannell), the slightly older a blonde medical doctor, Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes).
In what purports to be real time but is not -- i.e., screen minutes and clock coincide -- the doctor receives taped instructions that he kill the other in order to go free himself, along with added threats against his wife and daughter (Monica Potter and Makenzie Vega). Observed and filmed through a two-way mirror, as a new wall clock ticks in the filthy tiled room, the two men spar mentally, testing each other out, not trusting yet having to do so, filling in via flashbacks.
Outside, a bizarre serial maniac is loose in the city. Code-named Jigsaw for the puzzle-clues dropped (and inadvertently appropriate for the cutting tool designated, as well), he does not personally kill but, to raspy directions, puts captives in predicaments where to come out alive they must either murder another or else mutilate themselves with razor wire or dull hacksaws. Insulted and obsessed, Police Detective David Tapp (Danny Glover) and partner Detective Sing (Ken Leung) had at one point suspected and interrogated Dr. Gordon, then allowed him via two-way mirror to hear testimony from the sole survivor, traumatized junkie Amanda (Shawnee Smith).
Until the very last moment, just about anyone could have turned out to be the time-obsessed madman running around on a tricycle and a wheelchair and resembling a Chucky Child’s Play face. The material gets out of hand and deteriorates into Grand Guignol cell-phone screaming, unbelievable foolish current and ex-police officers, slow-acting poisons, lined video surveillance and alive dead men. A door closes, forever, as finally comes and time has run out. Not a moment too soon, either.
(Released by Lions Gate Films and rated "R" for violence and language.)