It’s hard to write something frightening. The act of sitting down and coming up with a story that can make people afraid is tough due to the fact that most writers aren’t going to get the heebie jeebies from something they wrote. This seems to have led to film writers taking easier and easier options when scripting horror, the escaped killer for a teen slasher for example, or in recent years the notion of Torture Porn.
Torture Porn, as I’ve said before, is a sub-genre of horror that basically puts people you don’t care about into situations you don’t care to watch. The style is marked by only a passing interest in story, no attention to character development, and an over-dependence on techniques that film students would be reluctant to use. There are a few notable examples of TP and last nights flick is one of the leading lights of this particularly crass type of film.
The main action in Saw (2004) is set in a manky bathroom where two lads are chained by their legs to opposite walls – a photographer called Adam and a Doctor called Gordon. Neither of them know how they got there or why, nor do they know each other. Lying in the middle of the room is a dead body, a man who appears to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The corpse is still holding the gun in one hand and in the other a small tape recorder. Both of the boys find tapes in their pockets and manage to get the recorder to play them. The tapes contain a recording of a man giving each of the bucko’s a mesage, one must escape, the other must kill or his family will be murdered.
The lads think really really hard about why they might be there and over the course of the film they figure out that they the victims of a killer who kidnaps and puts people into situations where they ultimately kill themselves. While they’re figuring this out they find different things in the room that may or may not help them, including the saw of the title that turns out to be useless on chains but ideal for cutting off feet. Meanwhile, a police investigation into the killer is on-going and as we see that progress it becomes apparent that the two lads in the bathroom are part of a much bigger picture and may not be the total strangers they claim to be…
I’ve never seen a film that didn’t have a narrator depend so much on exposition to tell the story as Saw. All the way through the two boys remeber things that they explain to each other that moves the story along a little, but it’s just so ham-fisted as to be laughable. If only that was the only problem with the film.
Saw takes some people you know nothing about and shows them being subjected to tortures. The reasons for the torture are meaningless, the character of the killer is underdeveloped and really only exists because somone has to be behind the murders. The motivation given for the killer doing what he does is outlandish to say the least, as many people must go through the ordeal he did and not come out the far side wanting to preach via torture, even if they had seen Seven once too often. How he had the time and money to do what he did is never explained either.
The violence isn’t the only shocking part of Saw, the terrible performances from the leads are the real horror. Danny Glover is appalling as the cop and Cary Elwes is totally unbelievable as the Doctor, which is a shame as he can actually act, as anyone who stuck with the X-Files until the last few seasons (like me) can testify.
Saw is a big part of the torture porn phenomenon and has become the most financially successful horror franchise in cinema history, beating out classics like the Nightmares on Elm Street and the Fridays the Thirteenth. I’m not sure why people flock to the cinemas to see this stuff, maybe it’s the gross-out violence or maybe they enjoy laughing at the victims (while giving thanks that it’s not happening to them). Whatever the reason, and it’s probably a pretty base one, audiences have enjoyed watching people getting badly hurt and killed to the tune of about $670 million.
I’m not one of them.
Two Thumbs Down for Saw.