Release Date: 2004
Nationality and Language:
Running time: 100 minutes
Distributor and Production Company: Lions Gate Films
Director; Writer: James Wan, wr. Leigh Whannell
Cast: Leigh Whannell,
Technical: Standard aspect
Relevance to doaskdotell site: Filmmaking
Review: Well, the title of this film is a literary device (onomatopoeia). Low budget (just over $1 million), this strikes me as a slick technical exercise in film school, script writing, and story telling.
Two men (a doctor (Cary Elwes)
and a private detective (Leigh Whannell, starring
in his own film, it seems—although the
The opening scene, with its sparse dialogue, seems like a stage play, or perhaps a filmed play in the “dogma” technique. The story, though, develops in layers. The doctor was a suspect as the “Jigsaw” serial killer, who sets up victims in traps and makes them practically commit suicide to escape, usually having horrible deaths. (“He figures out ways to make them kill themselves.”) One victim, for example, had his bod covered in grease so he would burn to death when he tried to escape. Another almost has her jaw blasted open (good maxillofacial surgery!). The killer has made a robot with a silly clown-mask that reminds one of Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs.
The police get involved, in flashbacks, and the doctor’s wife and daughter have been taken hostage. (Maybe the police are involved in the plot.) Why, then, does the doctor live a “normal” life of sleeping with hookers? Because he is red-blooded heterosexual? Maybe he isn’t. It all gets very complicated, and the viewer must play close attention to every detail. Oh, yes, finally he will amputate one of his own feet. I’ll tell you that much. And, a dead body rises. Actually more than one of them does.
I think people do see this as a magnificent, snazzy exercise in film for film’s sake. This is plot, brutally efficient, every scene holding the moviegoer down wondering what outrage happens next in such sparse (and low budget) settings. What is a bit lacking is characters who really matter. That helps Whannel get away with what otherwise is an implausible, though neatly complicated, plot. I say this in the spirit of someone who works sometimes with literary agents or screenwriting teachers (maybe one will read this) and they tell me—plot, plot… keep the reader or viewer wondering, what next. This film does that. There is one great line near the end, when the doctor says, “My family needs me.” That is why he can depart with one of his gams.
II (2005, Lions Gate Films, dir. Darren Lynn Bousman,
wr. Bousman and Leigh Whannell) is the sequel of what is becoming the Jigsaw
Franchise. In fact, the story follows on the heels of the first film. Jigsaw
is played by an Eastwood-looking Tobin Bell, and is dying of cancer, well
hooked up to iv’s to deliver his chemotherapy as he masterminds his horrors
in some isolated warehouse (in Toronto). The detective (Donnie Wahlberg) is his opponent, as his son Daniel (Erik
Knudsen) has been kidnapped at the end of a divorce-related visit. Several
other “victims” are trapped in the warehouse, where they are being infused
with nerve gas, which Jigsaw claims to be Sarin
The character of Jigsaw deserves more comment. He is something like a mix of Osama bin Laden and the Unabomber (and perhaps Tony Di Mera of Days of our Lives). He is a terrorist. And he has a cause. Namely, the hypocrisy and evil of everything around him. He is dying, and he wants to achieve “meaning” and “immortality” through his sacrificial deeds, pretty much like a typical terrorist. There is some kind of statement here about trying to justify doing bad by the good you think you are leaving.
III (2006, Lions Gate/Twisted Pictures, dir. Darren Lynn Bousman, 113 min, R) introduces “the apprentice” and
lives up to the name of its second production company, literally. In one
scene, “the apprentice” is tested as a man he has not forgiven is twisted
limb from limb by gears (rather like those of the Lions Gate trademark). Body
parts roll, all right. But the central story is also a twist. This time
Jigsaw kidnaps a female surgeon Lynn (Bahar
Soomekh) with the help of another apprentice (there
must be more that one team that can win and escape the boardroom here), and
sets up one of his traps. “Let us play a game.”
Saw IV (2007, Lions Gate/Twisted Pictures, dir. Darren Lynn Bousman, 93 min, R) starts in the morgue with the colorless hairy corpse of terrorist Jigsaw being dissected with a circular saw, and there is a tape in his stomach. The FBI gets involved in delving into the last clue, and soon a fibbie is kidnapped and taken through all of the grisly traps left by Jigsaw after his demise. “Feel what I feel.” “See what I see.” “Become the teacher…” Does all this mean that the sadistic, narcissistic Jigsaw is psychologically feminine (and subjective or unbalanced?) I love the line from one of his deserving “victims”: “I have no soul.” There are plenty of “moral” lessons in this gorefest, which is not very subtle. The first of these films is by far the best.
Saw V (2008, LionsGate / Twisted, dir. David Hackl, 96 min). Jigsaw’s murders continue, even though Jigsaw is supposedly gone. Maybe he isn’t, and maybe he has a successor, another Jeff Dahmer. Maybe Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) and Strahm (Scott Patterson) weren’t what they seem. The “special effects” get really grotesque. A man is slowly cut in half by a “sling blade” after his hands were crushed off. At the end, an agent gets crushed out of existence, literally. In the middle, five people get tested as to who will sacrifice. There is a lot of Marxist morality talk about people being born privileged and living off of the sacrifices of others. I love the line, “You call it karma, I call it justice!”
Saw VI (2009, LionsGate, dir. Kevin Geutert). The health care debate gets into this one. Tobin Bell as Jigsaw is alive and not well.. Blogger.
Reservoir Dogs (1992, Artisan/Dog Eat Dog, dir. Quentin Tarantino (a precursor—with its opening café scene-- to Pulp Fiction), R, 104 min) also contains a lavatory-like scene (actually a warehouse) with two characters facing off, one a police informant who has had an ear whacked off and almost been set on fire, the other bleeding to death. That scene probably helped inspire Saw. The film assembles strangers (a Mr. Orange [Tim Roth], a Mr. White [Harvey Keitel], a Mr. Blonde [Michael Madsen], a Mr. Pink [Steve Buscemi], and a Nice Guy [Chris Penn] to commit a perfect crime. Oh, yes, you know that they will go down in flames. This film has some famous violent scenes.
Seven (aka Se7en) (1995, New Line Cinema, dir. David Fincher) is the classic film of this genre. Here a serial killer knocks off his victims according to the recipes of the Seven Deadly Sins. For example, for “Gluttony” the victim is forced to eat himself to death, until his stomach explodes. For “Sloth” the victim is tied to his bed for a year—and suddenly gets up like a vampire—one of the scariest scenes in movies ever. Another victim (“Envy”) has his sides flayed. And so on. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt make a great tag team—Brad Pitt’s real life broken arm written into the script. There is one bizarre scene toward the end where both Freeman and Pitt shave their chests (as if there was anything there in the first place) in order to tape hidden microphones.
The Bone Collector (1999, Universal/Columbia, dir. Phillip Noyce) is another film with this plot outline. Two cops (Denzel Washington, as a quadriplegic and Angelina Jolie) track down a subway serial killer. One victim was tied down and eaten to death by rats, another was scalded by steam, a third would have been drowned. There is a hidden rune that forms an important clue.
The Number 23 (2007, New Line, dir. Joel Schumacher) once again plays with digits. But really that is just a ruse for a more clever idea. A dog catcher Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) becomes obsessed with a ratty red book that his wife (Virginia Madsen) finds in a used “make up your mind” bookstore. It is self-published and self-printed, and that doesn’t even mean Kinkos copied. Rather, it looks like a typewritten original. The book has 22 chapters that describe an unsolved murder, and Walter starts to notice more than coincidental similarities to his own life. It even is officially published. (I don’t know whether it has an ISBN). There is a lot of numerology about the mysterious number 23, that even his gifted teenage son (Logan Lerman, very much like “Bobby” in the WB series) picks up on. Walter visits the convicted murdered in prison, and the man maintains his innocence. Even his mother won’t visit him. Now Sparrow is trying to get it. In fact, that majestic pooch that he can never catch (and who bit his arm) is on to him. (Carnivores know everything – just as cats do.) It turns out that the last chapter of the book is handwritten underneath wallpaper, on toilets, even on his body. Get it? And all of this story takes place in the age of Internet and computers, that are completely ignored. (Why doesn’t the son Google the murders?) Yet, it is interesting how people will write and self-publish today, in blogs and on social networking sites, to be noticed, even incriminating themselves, or pretending to incriminate themselves (“dreamcatching”) to make a point. This movie plays on that point with a dark film noir genre picture that doesn’t quite work because it seems set up and clunky (although 8mm actually has a similar premise and works quite well), but why not make up a film with this premise based on Myspace?
Number Sleven (2006,
The Jacket (2005, WB/
Frank Miller’s Sin City (2005,
Miramax/Dimension, dir. Frank Miller, Robert Rodriquez, Quentin Tarantino,
based on stories of Frank Miller, R, 126 min) assembles an A-list cast
(including directors) to make a film that is essentially a commentary on
gangster/horror cinematography, especially the films of the 30s and 40s. Yup,
they call it “film noir,” and somehow this rondo romp reminds me of an early
50s series called “The Clutching Hand” on a series called “Movies for Kids.”
This movie is not for kids, however. Most of it is in black and white (sorry,
no CinemaScope), with garish colorizations in red,
blue, and sometimes yellow. A few scenes (such as in a bar) migrate toward a
subdued normal Technicolor. The non-linear story takes Marv (Mickey Rourke) on a journal of revenge for killing his true
love. But that does not really matter so much as the journey through other
characters like John (Bruce Willis), who more or less shares center stage (as
well as a prison cell), and then some villains like the elfish “Kevin”
(Elijah Wood, who keeps that Frodo look intentionally until he loses both
legs to the dogs), and Junior, who transforms into the Yellow Bastard (Nick
Stahl, normally handsome in most movies, whose body had to undergo
humiliating transforms for this role – after he gets shot in the balls –
well, you’ll get a gut and become hairless-of-chest if you don’t have
hormones any more, a ha). There are numerous amputations and decapitations,
not always fatal (sort of like in Kill Bill I but in black and
white—“heads roll, wrists roll” Hush Hush Sweet
Charlotte, thighs roll (Starship Troopers) check it out), a
latrine scene that reminds one of Saw, and some martial arts.
Since Dimension has been working on Feast as the Project Greenlight winner, I wonder if this is closer to what they really wanted from the contest—it just costs $45 million to make. The Weinstein brothers will go through a transition to new things, but they wanted to take this film with them.
The Spirit (2008, Lionsgate / Odd Lot, dir. Frank Miller, comic book by Will Eisner) is a moderately effective abstract sequel with Samuel L. Jackson as the “god” Octopus, a kind of Lex Luthor. Blogger.
Machinist (“El Maquinista”)
2004, Paramount Classics, Castaleo, dir. Brad
Anderson, screenplay by Scott Kosar [this was
apparently a film school project] USA/Spain, 102 min, R) is a slick
combination of genres and stories, particularly Memenot,
Insomia, and Jacob’s Ladder, with a
pulsating, Hitchcock/Herrmann like score by Roque Banos. The film, though made largely in
Dimension/Miramax/Intermedia/Outlaw, dir. Renny Harlin, 106 min, R) is a
“Lord of the Flies” type thriller set up on an island, specifically an island
fifty or so miles off Cape Hatteras (then why is it snowing so often?). Seven
FBI agents in training are dropped there for a maneuver in a fictitious town
that has one building that resembles
In May 2005 there was a bomb scare at a high school in
northern VA, which the perpetrator sent in an Instant Message from home to another
student, and claimed later that the words from his threat came from a movie
called “Mindreaders.” This was reported on NBC4 in
Three … Extremes (2006, Lions
Gate/Fortissimo, 126 min, R) is a triplet (or trilogy) of three spiffy Asian
horror films, all built around abstract concepts, all fascinating to look at
as film etudes. The first, Dumplings (dir.
Fruit Chan, based on a novella by Lillian Lee) has a woman (Bai Ling) in a
Night Watch (2004, “Nochnoi
Dozor,” Fox Searchlight Pictures, dir. Timur Bekmanbetov, 114 min, R)
superimposes the battle between angels representing Light and Dark over
A Scanner Darkly (2006, Warner
Independent Pictures, dir. Richard Linklater, novel
by Philip K. Dick, 100 min, R) is a sensational animated (by rotoscope technology) feature about the link between big
government, the war on drugs, the war on terror, and the twilight of
individual rights. Keanu Reeves plays Bob Arctor,
an undercover drug agent living with a few people who seem to be drug addicts
themselves (Woody Harrelson, Rory Cochrane, Winona
Ryder). But he has been unable to control his exposure to Substance D, a kind
of ecstasy derived from a blue flower that may have been introduced into
agriculture by terrorists. The authorities call him in for “tests” and they
find his hemispheric brain function is splitting, leading to a kind of
schizophrenia. Many of the agents wear “scramble suits” in public, or even in
private meetings, to hide who they are and make themselves into “Everyman.”
He will be challenged in various encounters, including one where Donna (
Silent Hill (2006, TriStar, dir.
Christophe Gans, wr.
Renaissance (2006, Miramax/Onyx, dir. Christian Volckman, R, 105 min, France/UK) certainly provides a
daring experience with animation. Cinemascope with black-and-white, mostly.
You have odd mixtures of 2-D and 3-D, with characters sometimes almost
stick-like and glaring, overlaid with blue-gray fluid but metallic
transparencies that in “motion capture” provide an effect of 3-D depth
without the glasses, and then realistic black-and-white mattes of Paris—up to
the point of stunning car chase scenes along the Seine, like those in a Jim
Clancy movie. Some people say that the movie reminds them of “Blade Runner,”
but to me it sounded like Metropolis. Effects like rain, snow, shower water,
and even light fixtures are stunning. Full spectral color appears only twice,
with the biology lessons. The plot is a bit of a set up for the moral, and
the storytelling is not that compelling. A 22-year-old girl is kidnapped, and
in the ensuring scramble a lot of witnesses turn up dead. But it is the older
story back in 2006 that has the moral. A company, Avalon, sells beauty and
Oscar Wilde-style eternal youth. But it seems like the grownups gave some
kids progeria and sacrificed them so that with some
kind of serum extract the grownups could live and stay young forever. Can’t
really imagine how this would happen. But the theme does play into the idea
that adults, in their own vanity, are sacrificing future generations—and
could one day become the last generation. The film, like “Scanner” above, is
a rarity outside
Stir of Echoes (1999, Artisan, dir. David Koepp, 99 min, R) gives us Kevin Bacon is a ripened young adult utility lineman, with pregnant wife, who lets himself get hypnotized at a row house party in Chicago. He gets communications from a girl’s ghost, as does his son, and soon his wife is in danger. The movie seems to play on the moral risk of idle curiosity, party chicks, the occult, whatever, when one has a family to provide for. In regular aspect, the film had a bit of a constricted look.
Vacancy (2007, Screen Gems, dir. Antal Nimrod, wr. Mark L. Smith, 80 min, R) seems to be where “Saw” and “Psycho” meet. A young married couple (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale) get stranded at a flea-bag motel, put on some porn video, and realize that they will be the next subjects of a snuff film if they don’t get out. Other than that, the film is rather minimalist (even with the unnecessary Cinemascope -- note that the film is shorter than either component of "Grindhouse"), and the denouement is rather unremarkable. It does leave a bookend open for a sequel. The most engaging part of the film may be the artsy credits, with a Psycho-like music score by Paul Halsinger. (When I was a boy, I used to pronounce the word without the first ‘c’ when I saw it on roadside motels.)
Nevertheless, it’s not so much the horror that is striking as the
conceptual layering. The movie was marketed in the previews as a kind of steroidal
version of “Vacancy” from a competitor of Screen Gems. The old idea, you
check into a hotel room, you die. It surely has been done before. But what we
gradually discover is that Enslin has real
problems. At one point, the manager says, “You’re a writer, you don’t believe
in anything.” Indeed, the character sounds like a self-indulgent soul who
likes to travel the country stirring up dangerous controversies to write
about. We only learn about his questionable marriage and daughter some way
in. He does have real problems. The movie starts with Mike as somebody like
me – I identify with him (when he goes into the room he talks to himself) –
and it diverges into some dangerous personal stuff – but I guess that I could
have. OK, he is heterosexual, and that is one difference. Finally, we are not
sure what “reality” is. Is it
I’ve spent many nights alone in motels and hotels around the country, and
Regent/Penthouse/SneakPreview, dir. Paul Etheredge-Ouzts, 85 min, R) seems like a gay version of
“Saw” but with a little style and class, and a little of the campiness of the
soap opera “Passions” thrown in. Dylan Fergus, well known as the ambulance
driver Noah Bennett in the NBC soap, is pretty much the same character, here
named Eddie, with the same demeanor and same Greek looks (including smooth
chest) except gay. He trained to be a gay cop in
Severance (2006, Magnolia / Qwerty /
Mustang Sally’s Horror House (2006, New
Line American World Cinema, dir. wr. Iren Koster, 88 min, R). “It’ll never get any better than
this.” That’s a great line from Mustang
Sally, the owner of a whore house that is not the best in
Mark Parrish reportedly broke his leg with a motorcycle accident near the set, and appears in a cast in the last hospital scene. That works out. A similar incident happened with Brad Pitt in filming Se7en. Koster wrote a great disco theme song for the movie, that might start appearing on dance floors.
The film was originally called just “Mustang Sally.”
Warner Bros./Sony TriStar, dir. William Malone,
story by Moshe Diamant, hard R).
Untraceable (2008, Screen
Gems / Lakeshore, dir. Gregory Hoblit, 100 min, R).
An unstable young man (played by Joseph Cross), angered when the local
television station exploits his father’s suicide, tracks down an kidnaps
workers associated with the incident and rigs them to killing machines,
viewed on the Internet from a webcam, with sensors do accelerate the death of
the victim according to the page requests from visitors. Yes, it’s
Of course, everyone by now knows that the title of the
movie refers to anesthesia awareness. So you can guess the plot. Not only is
there excruciating pain, he overhears the doctors talking about their plot to
kill him in a transplant operation that supposedly is necessary for
idiopathic cardiomyopathy (which may happen to
teenagers because of unknown viral infections). There is a bit of a problem
with the whole setup. Christiansen looks way too vigorous to be a heart
patient, in and out of bed (and why does he smoke). Even in the OR you see
those great hairy legs draping. He sort of looks like he could stand in for
Jared Padalecki as Sam in Supernatural, even if his
build is slighter. The doctors shave his chest while he is still awake,
literally (they haven’t started the anesthesia yet, and in real surgical
practice they would have), and he complains about the lack of shaving cream.
(This has happened on camera in a couple other films, like 21 Grams and All that Jazz). Then the “torture” starts, and the film
apparently does a technically good (and graphic) job or what open heart
surgery and transplant surgery really look like (with the clamps and
spreaders – and “saw”) – I assume with a mannequin and some nifty
The Coen-like story, of course, is that the docs and others have conspired to kill him for a little bit of money. Yup, that’s right, all for a little dough. Surgeons get tired of 24 hour shifts. In fact, Terrence Howard plays the chilling part well. The screenwriting trick for Joby Harold is to show how Clayton can save his life while immobile (the anesthesia makes you as immobile as if you were given curare – a theme of some other 50s horror film that I can’t remember now). Well, there’s only one way, go out of body with that near death experience, and contact other loved ones (his mother (Lena Olin – somehow I wanted Meryl Streep here), who must be sacrificed. The movie uses flashbacks and second images of Christiansen in surgical smocks, undamaged (though with smooth chest in a couple shots), as if he were still alive and intact. In the end, as the script says, he is still awake. But some other people won’t stay out of jail.
When I had pelvic surgery for an acetabular
fracture, I went out while being wheeled into the OR, after the sedative
started, and woke up six hours later in my room when the nurse turned me. My
scar is so small and hairline that I would have trouble finding it. The
surgeons did a masterful job, in
In the end, this is a horror film. The Weinstein brothers should have used their Dimension brand. It is like what you might see from Lions Gate or Screen Gems.
Open Cam (2005, Wolfe / Lil Coal’s Big
Pictures LLC, dir. Robert Gaston, 100 min, NC-17) is a multiple murder
mystery set within Washington DC ‘s gay male community, where gay men are
shown advertising themselves to each other with webcams over their own social
networking sites. It shouldn’t surprise anyone too much that such antics
could attract a serial killer. What makes this film, very intimate and
explicit in some scenes, work is the “love story” between the likeable artist
Manny (Andreau Thomas) and the DC Police gay
detective Hamilton (Amir Darvish). Manny can take
care of himself, as when he and his boyfriend Maurice (a most handsome Ben
Green) beat off a carjacker with a lead pipe, a scene where he meets
Hamilton. (It sounds like a libertarian argument for self-defense, and it is.)
By the way, the carjacking attempt starts when the two characters are driving
down an alley near
The Strangers (2008, Rogue, dir. Bryan Bertino, 107 min, R). A couple (Liv
Tyler, Scott Speeman) with dubious prospects for
their upcoming marriage goes to the guy’s father’s rural
Teeth (2008, Roadside Attractions / Lions
Gate / Dimension Extreme / TWC, dir. Mitchell Lichtenstein, 88 min). This
little horror film has half of the indie corporate world behind it, and has
snuck in to very limited platform release and been rushed to
The Haunting of Molly Hartley (2008, Freestyle Releasing, dir. Mickey Liddell). Haley Bennett and Chace Crawford star in this horror setting that looks at the afterresults of a “Rosemary’s Baby” event, as a prep school girl approaches her 18th birthday and learns she will become captured by Satan. Blogger.
Twilight (2008, Summit Entertainment, dir. Catherine Hardwicke, novel Stephenie Meyer). A teenage girl falls in love with a classmate who turns out to be a vampire and who is transformed by the love. Blogger.
The Deaths of Ian Stone (2007, LionsGate / Odyssey /
Dead Serious (2005, Logo / Modude, dir. Joe Sullivan) Right wing “Christian Action Network” and “the Decency Channel” raid a gay bar and kidnap the patrons to change them – into vampires. Blogger.
Red (2008, Magnolia, dir. Trygve Allister Diesen and Lucky McKee, 90 min, R). Brian Cox plays a business owner who tries to get justice after three punky teens try to rob him and kill his 14 year old dog; this little film mixes genres. Blogger.
The Haunting in
Bug (2006, LionsGate
/ LIFT, dir. William Friedkin, 105 min, R,
The Horsemen (2006, LionsGate/Platinum Dunes, dir. Jonas Akerlund, 100 min, R, Canada) A detective, taking on serial murders, finds horrifying connections to his own family, and maybe Biblical prophecy. Blogger.
The Alphabet Killer (2009, Anchor Bay, dir. Rob Schmidt). A female detective thought to be mentally ill tries to return to work to solve a serial murder case in Rochester NY. Blogger.
Thr3e (2007, Fox Faith/Namesake, dir. Robby Henson, based on the novel by Ted Dekker, PG-13) A seminary student is stalked by a serial killer and by demons from his past; a police psychologist and girl friend round out a bizarre triangle. There’s a lot about the “knowledge of good and evil”. Blogger. The film borrows from the Saw films for some of its plot techniques and tricks, so it’s an unusual combination of religion and horror, and unusual offering from Fox Faith.
Shutter Island (2010, Paramount Vantage, dir. Martin Scorsese, novel by Dennis Lehane) Leonardo DiCaprio thinks he’s a US Marshall when he visits an island mental institution, and finds that he may be a “god damn MP”. Blogger.
Related reviews: Taking Lives Memento Insomnia Smallville The Fountainhead Pulse Kingdom Hospital Gay films Passions Unknown The Host The Ring Hostel 21 Grams All that Jazz The Signal An American Haunting, Bugcrush
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