This is what I don't understand. How is it possible that the first Saw only came out eight years ago and they've already crapped out seven Saw films? I mean, Jeezus—these film studios hew pretty closely to the Strike While the Iron's Hot school of film production, don't they? I like to compare a profitable film franchise to a blowup doll that's been vigorously humped by a dogpile of paunchy, pinstriped studio execs until it's deflated, ripped to shreds, and soaked with melange of yellowing bodily fluids. When the doll is no longer recognizable as a doll (or ever having been one), they hit the pavement in their cum-splattered Bruno Maglis, with their noses to the wind—trying to sniff out the sickly-sweet musk of the next big thing.
But maybe I'm just too cynical. (Incidentally I think 'cynical' is just a derisive term invented by optimistic airheads to put the people who won't drink their Kool-Aid in their places.) But I'm not too cynical to realize that the original Saw shows a lot of promise and probably started out, innocently enough, with a small idea and a lot of enthusiasm from director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell. And it shows. In addition to scenes of provocative gore, Saw introduces a lot of compelling ideas—that could have actually been developed into a much deeper film—but Wan and Whannell choose to remain in the shallow end of the pool. They hint at the film's hidden psychological depths but never really set out to explore them.
For those of you who haven't seen it—the film centers on a mostly-unseen psychopath known as 'the Jigsaw Killer' who sets up elaborate, usually gory games for his victims. As the film opens, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam (the screenwriter Leigh Whannel) wake up to find themselves chained to pipes in a filthy, subterranean bathroom with a dead man lying on the floor between them. Lawrence and Adam don't (seem to) know each other and they have no idea how they got there. Soon, the Jigsaw Killer makes his 'appearance'—but only through cassette recordings—and gives them their instructions: Adam must try to escape the room—but Lawrence must kill Adam before 6:00 PM or his wife and daughter will be killed. Meanwhile, while this game plays out, an obsessed policeman on the outside (Danny Glover) tries to find the Jigsaw Killer before he claims more victims...
Yeah, I know. It's not exactly a revolutionary horror movie premise by any means—but if Saw chose to focus on the tough existential questions at the heart of Jigsaw's games, this could have been a psychologically intense film. It doesn't focus on these, however. It just kind of tosses them out there—as if hinting at them is enough—and, instead, spends way too much time on Danny Glover's fairly routine hunt for the killer and Lawrence and Adam's flashbacks. It's really strange how these two find themselves locked up and threatened with death, but they spend most of their time just sitting around trying to remember how they got there... and then—bam—all of a sudden it's almost 6:00 PM and they remember they gotta actually do something here.
I'm not saying Saw isn't a decent horror film—because it is—but it's also frustrating how much potential is squandered here. This is the only Saw film I've ever seen, and based on the rule of diminishing returns that prevails with 99.9% of sequels, I don't foresee that changing any time soon. When the original is only pretty good, I don't have a helluva lot of hope for Saw VII.