Archive

Posts Tagged ‘2004’

Van Helsing (2004)

04/22/2011 2 comments

Here’s a story
Of a man named Stoker
Who wrote a monster story just to scare
And because every great monster needs a hunter
He also wrote Van Helsing in there.

And here’s a story
Of a man named Sommers
Whose monster movies often entertained
He wanted to refurbish old Van Helsing
To make a brand-new franchise self-contained.

Van Helsing is an action horror film written, produced, and directed by Stephen Sommers, intended as an extended homage to the old Universal Studios monster films of the 1930s and 1940s. It starts Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, and Kevin J. O’Connor.

Van Helsing is an amnesiac vigilante monster hunter working for the Knights of the Holy Order, stationed at the Vatican. After returning from a mission to capture kill the murderous Edward Hyde, he is given two new tasks: Kill the fabled vampire Dracula, and while doing so prevent the last of the Valerious family from being trapped in Purgatory due to a vow one of the Valerious ancestors made. With the assistance of Q Branch Friar Carl, Van Helsing loads up on the cool toys he will need to take down the powerful vampire and sets out for Transylvania. When he arrives, he discovers that, with the recent death by werewolf of Velkan Valerious, the sole remaining heir is one Anna Valerious, who is determined to fulfill her family vow to kill Dracula. When Dracula and his three brides attack the village, they are forced to team up, and make a few chilling discoveries: 1. Velkan is Not Quite Dead, having been transformed into a werewolf under Dracula’s control. 2. Dracula has been trying to bridge the gap between life and undeath and bring hordes of little vampire babies, his offspring, to life. 3. He might be close to finding a way, if he can just get his hands on the Monster created by Dr. Frankenstein. 4. Dracula also remembers Van Helsing from a past encounter, and may hold the secret to unlocking his lost memories. Now Van Helsing is torn between stopping a cunning monster and discovering his own past, between his mission and his growing love for Anna, as he seeks a way to end Dracula’s menace once and for all. Again.

I found Van Helsing to be a neat little reimagining to a character who, in the original novel, was an old professor who had studied the ways of vampires in order to figure out how to kill Count Dracula. Here, he is a younger action hero who studies the ways of all monsters in order to determine the best ways to kill each. When you add this inventor sidekick Friar Carl, this vision of the vampire hunter becomes somewhat of a steampunk James Bond (complete with Bond Girl Anna Valerious). Like the Bond movies, this movie is mainly about the action sequences and the charmingly evil villain, and less about Van Helsing’s hinted-at background or, indeed, any meaningful character development. However, Van Helsing does manage to come off as a complex character. His mysterious past and the way he chafes at the rules and regulations of the Knights of the Holy Order echoes with Jackman’s other role at the time, Wolverine, but it heads in a slightly different direction here. Van Helsing grows cynical with his work, particularly as he recognizes that not all monsters are necessarily evil, and as he is set up as a fall guy when he kills otherwise innocent people who happen to have a monstrous alter ego. Unlike the antihero Wolverine, Van Helsing appears to be a genuinely good man whose implied horrible past seems to have trapped him in this role. The comic relief character Friar Carl balances out Van Helsing’s angst with much needed breather moments, particularly when his High Intelligence Low Wisdom antics result in explosions (to be fair, one of the explosions did save Van Helsing and Anna from a whole mess of vampires). Unfortunately, Anna Valerious manages only to be a typical Bond Girl, for despite her apparently tragic background she has about the emotional depth of a puddle, something for which I fault the writers less than the actress.

The plot of the movie, fortunately, was overall engaging, both as a standalone story and as the extended homage to classic Universal and Hammer Horror films that it clearly was. It hits all the traditional notes, with the mad scientist and his Igor, werewolves (which looked… just okay), Count Dracula and his three brides (whose flying forms were original and harpylike, but rendered in laughably bad CGI), all set in Transylvania, the place from which all European monsters hail. It’s a rule, that’s why. Most of the monsters are as expected, though they did try hard with the man-wolf forms of the werewolves, and a very steampunk take on Frankenstein’s creation. In essence, this is a reimagined crossover of classic monster movies, and it works mainly because the result is so much fun to watch.

If you want a fun, fresh take on an old character and classic monsters, I recommend Van Helsing. It’s a typical Stephen Sommers film, which means you can expect monsters and excitement, and a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Advertisements

The Butterfly Effect (2004)


If you could go back and change any event in your past, would you? Can you imagine the consequences of doing so? What if your every effort to make things better only makes things worse? What if fate is just a sadistic bastard?

The Butterfly Effect is a drama-sci fi film co-directed and co written by Eric Bess and J. Mackye Gruber. It stars Ashton Kutcher, Melora Walters, Amy Smart, and Elden Hensen, andthe Director’s Cut sports one of the most depressing endings I’ve ever seen in a movie that wasn’t about the Holocaust.

Evan Treborn has long suffered stress-related blackouts during traumatic events in his childhood and adolescence. In an effort to get a handle on what is going on during the missing periods, he has kept a series of journals over the years from the age of seven to the present day. By age 20, it has been seven years since his last blackout, but he discovers that he can use these journals to mentally travel back in time to these traumatic events, thereby causing the blackouts in the first place, and in doing so he tries to alter his own past for the better. However, each time he tries to change things, he causes an unintended ripple effect to the present with unintended and unpleasant consequences for everyone involved.

So. Ashton Kutcher. Ashton “Dude, Where’s My Car?” Kutcher, in a dark drama about a guy’s messed-up past and progressively more mess-up present. Yeah. Fortunately, Kutcher does drama well, which can cause a bit of whiplash considering he was in three comedies immediately before this and went on to host Punk’d, but hey. Not many comedic actors can pull that off. I consider this movie to be the evil counterpart to Frequency from four years earlier, considering how much fate seems to enjoy kicking Evan in the balls every single time he tries to improve things. The overall plot is well-crafted, though, with only a few question marks left in the end that resolve themselves cleverly with some though. However, the way it steers him to his final depressing decision smacks of borderline sadism, as his intentions are perfectly selfless and there is no indication that Evan “deserves” his fate.

On the positive side, it is refreshing to see a time travel movie that doesn’t invariably work out for the better. Nearly every time travel movie I’d seen up till The Butterfly Effects release offered a happy ending as a consequence of playing with the timeline, even if the initial effects were nearly disastrous (like Marty McFly nearly writing himself out of the timeline in Back to the Future). This movie is well-written and well-acted, with none of the goofiness that might have completely ruined the effect. However, the ending is so far down in the shadows of Depression Land that I almost needed to watch Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure to cheer myself up.

If you want a time travel movie with plently of mind screw and darker consequences for timeline manipulation, I suggest renting The Butterfly Effect, but keep some antidepressants or a comedy handy for afterwards.

Alien vs. Predator (2004)


Over the centuries, an ancient race of alien hunters known as Predators have travelled across galaxies, seeking out the most dangerous prey on which to hone their hunting skills. In the last two Predator movies, the most dangerous prey they have chosen has been on Earth, in the form of the cunning, dangerous beast called humans. Dark Horse Comics would set up the xenomorphs of the Alien franchise as another chosen quarry, an idea which the books and comics of the Alien vs. Predator print franchise would take and run with after a scene at the end of Predator 2 showed a xenomorph skull in the trophy case of a Predator ship, to the tune of a book series, several comics crossovers, 37 licenced video games, a trading card game, a tabletop miniatures game, and even a set of action figures (which rocked, BTW). Now the crossover goes back to its film roots with the movie Alien vs. Predator.

Alien vs. Predator, also known as AVP, is a sci-fi action movie co-written and directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It stars Sanaa Lathan, Lance Heriksen, Raoul Bova, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon, three dudes in Predator costumes, and lots of CGI Aliens.

It is the year 2004. When a satellite detects a mysterious heats ource beneath the ice of Bouvetøya, an island one thousand miles north of Antarctica, wealthy industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland (Henriksen) gathers a team of experts to investigate the heat source and claim it for Weyland Industries. Among them are Sebastian de Rosa (Bova), an archaeologist, Graeme Miller (Bremner), a Scottish explorer with two kids and no survival instinct, Maxwell Stafford (Salmon), Weyland’s assistant, who bears a passing resemblance to the Old Spice Guy, a group of mercenaries in case shit gets real, Chuck Weyland himself (Henriksen), who appears to be suffering from an unspecified degenerative lung disease, and Alexa Woods (Lathan), a guide specializing in icy terrain. As they’re preparing to go to the site, a Predator ship shows up and blasts a path straight through the ice in preparation for their hunt, leaving a shaft which the human explorers find, briefly comment on, and apparently dismiss as harmless, using this helpful pathway as a direct line to the site, a step pyramid from an ancient civilization that combines elements of Egyptian, Aztec, and Cambodian cultures. As they’re exploring the pyramid, one of the dumbass mercs activates something that starts up a chain of events leading to the hunt, like waking the trapped Queen Alien in the bowels of the structure, shocking her eggsac to stimulate egg production onto a device that carries the eggs up to the potential hosts waiting above. Then the Predators show up, and things just keep getting worse and worse, until the rapidly dwindling group of human survivors are forced to choose a side in a war that has spanned centuries…

This movie had promise. It really did. With the momentum of a huge franchise behind it, with tons of material to build from, it could have been something epic. It, uh… wasn’t. It did try, though. I will give them that much credit. By setting it in 2004, it offers half an explanation for why Weyland-Yutani would be interested in the Xenomorphs during the original Alien movies, and introduces us to one of the founding members of that company (… I think) in the form of Charles Weyland. It also built on the premise that Predators have been hunting here for centuries, by having an ancient human civilization worship them as gods, offering themselves willingly as hosts for the Great Hunt, during a time when Antarctica wasn’t under a mile or so of permanent ice. This all makes sense in the Predator franchise. The introduction of Aliens into this engineered hunting ground also makes sense, as Xenomorphs make a logical Ultimate Prey for a ritual adulthood hunt..

Now for the bits where the gears of the two franchises don’t quite mesh. First: Preds like to hunt in hot environments, as established in the previous two Predator movies. Unless those hunts were just “whatever” hunts, it doesn’t make sense for a heat-loving species to go back to a hunting ground locked under permanent ice, which even heated is still cold enough for the human protagonists to need protective clothing. Second: the Alien gestation period is too damn short. The first movie established about a day on the face, another day in the abdominal cavity, and then OHAI. The humans were in the pyramid for a few hours before shit went down. Unless the Preds figured out a way to accelerate this as well (and it’s not like they needed to), the timeline doesn’t fit. Third: Antarctica is really annoying to get to. Unless Weyland knew for a fact that other companies were bearing down on the site as they spoke (and he didn’t seem to know any such thing, he was just speculating), they would have had plenty of time for Alexa to train the team properly to get them ready. If they had, probably 75% of all the carnage wouldn’t have happened. And why the Hell is Alexa allowing Weyland, who is hacking up a lung half the time, to go with them to Antarctica? None of this is made clear, so it all falls together into a clumsy pile of plot points. On the topic of redeeming qualities, through, the CGI Aliens looked passable, the Predators looked great, and the Queen herself looked positively badass.

So… good idea, good concept, clumsy execution. This could have been such an awesome movie if it had been longer and they had time to iron out all the wrinkles, but in the end it looked like they just tried too hard. Rent it for completeness’ sake, but don’t make any special effort to acquire it.

The Incredibles (2004)


“WHERE. IS. MY. SUPER. SUIT?”

Being a superhero is tough. You need to be everywhere, to do everything for everybody, and you need to maintain a civilian identity in order to protect yourself and your loved ones. Sometimes you make mistakes – unforgiveable ones.

Being a retired ex-superhero can also be tough. You need to be everywhere, to do everything for everybody, and you need to maintain a full-time civilian job to keep a roof over your head and to support your wife and 2.3 kids. And sometimes mistakes come back to haunt you…

The Incredibles is a computer-animated superhero comedy produced by Pixar and directed by Brad Bird. It features the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Jason Lee, Elizabeth Peña, and Samuel L. Jackson.

In a world where people called “supers” possess metahuman abilities, Mr. Incredible (Nelson) used to have a good thing going. Using his super-strength, he would save lives in his old stomping grounds of Municiberg, with enough time left over afterwards to court and eventually wed a fellow super named Elastigirl (Hunter), who can stretch her body into any shape. (I think there’s a fetish for that in Japan.) Mr. Incredible also has fans, among them a high-Intelligence low-Wisdom fanboy calling himself Incrediboy (Lee), who has no innate superpowers but builds James-Bond-like gadgets in the hopes of becoming Mr. Incredible’s sidekick. Mr. Incredible rejects his attempts, however, stating that he works alone. Eventually, though, frivolous lawsuits from injured bystanders make the world hostile for superheroes, forcing all of them to retire and take up civilian lives.

Fifteen years later, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl live unhappily in suburbia as Bob and Helen Parr. Of their children, Violet (Vowell) can produce forcefields and turn herself invisible, and Dash (Fox) can run faster than the eye can see, but the newest addition, baby Jack-Jack, appears to be an average child. They are all forced to hide their abilities and masquerade as normal humans, a restriction that is starting to chafe on all of them, particularly Bob, who rankles at his desk job at an insurance company, has gained weight, and must sneak out with his best friend Frozone (Jackson, as himself), likewise forcibly retired and married to a woman only identified as “Honey”, to fight crime on the sly. When Bob’s boss refuses to let him aid a pedestrian getting mugged right outside their building, Bob loses his temper, causing him to get fired from what appears to be only the latest in a long series of civilian jobs. Before he can tell his wife that they will have to move again, he is contacted by a mysterious woman named Mirage (Peña), who offers him a chance to return to his old life as a superhero. He jumps at the chance, never suspecting that this decision will send him hurtling into a collision course with the fallen Incrediboy…

This affectionate deconstruction/reconstruction of the superhero movie was quite enjoyable, exploring the difficulties of being a superhuman in a mundane world, trying to live a normal family-oriented life when forced to turn your back on something you enjoyed. The respective powers of the Parr family make sense for their family roles: Bob is superstrong, allowing him to protect his family; Helen’s elasticity allows herself to stretch across the respective roles of homemaker, wife, and mom, as well as keeping up with her kids; superspeedy Dash is your typical hyperactive kid turned up to eleven, and the initially shy and insecure Violet uses her invisibility powers to hide from a male classmate on whom she has a massive crush. And Jack-Jack… boy howdy. When his powers finally manifest every mom watching the movie will be smiling and nodding.

The plot is also darker than Pixar’s previous films, coming right out and telling the viewer that being a superhero can really, really suck. It doesn’t shy away from the possibility of death; rather, Helen Parr comes right out and tells her kids that Syndrome’s minions will not hesitate to kill them, even though they’re just kids. Add to this the number of supers either killed on-screen or whose deaths are mentioned, and you’ve got what amounts to Watchmen, with a brighter palette. Syndrome is utterly psychotic, better filed with villains like the Joker than, say, Megavolt from Darkwing Duck, and his plan to make the supers obsolete, while smacking of disproportionate restribution, does have a genuine foundation in his past rather than being, “Hey, I’m a villain – I’m supposed to act like this!” Fans of DC and Marvel comics will find a lot of oblique references sprinkled throughout this movie as well, not least of which is a correlation between the Parr family and the Fantastic Four.

If you like self-referential, deconstructive superhero movies but don’t have enough anti-depressants for Watchmen (or if you have kids), try The Incredibles. It’s fun and serious in turns, but ultimately satisfies any superhero fan.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)


People tend to be very visually oriented. With all the recent talk about impending global climate change due to human activity, naturally people wanted to see for themselves what the possible consequences would be. You could trot out all the graphs, charts, and theoretical projections you wanted, but none of those seem really concrete. Then a director came along who decided to show people what disastrous global climate change might look like.

Naturally, it was Roland Emmerich. And lots of shit gets broken along the way.

The Day After Tomorrow is a sci fi disaster movie directed by the reigning king of disaster movies himself, portraying the Earth thrown into a second Ice Age as a result of global warming. (Stay with us, here.) It starts Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jay O. Sanders, Dash Mihok, Emmy Rossum, Ian Holm, Sela Ward, and Sasha Roiz.

Jack Hall (Quaid) is a paleoclimatologist whose job often keeps him away from his wife Lucy (Ward), a physician, and his teenage son Sam (Gyllenhaall). While collecting core samples for the NOAA, the ice shelf he and his colleagues Frank (Sanders) and Jason (Mihok) are working on suddenly breaks off and slides into the sea, taking half the camp with it. The core samples they have collected point to a possible second ice age approaching, and Jack presents his findings at a United Nations conference in New Delhi, but he is blown off. I mean, if his models are accurate, nothing will happen for the next 100 to 1000 years, so what’s the rush. However, Jack’s findings get the attention of Professor Terry Rapson from the Hedland Climate Research Center in Scotland. Two buoys in the North Atlantic have simultaneously shown a drastic drop in temperature there, and Rapson concludes that the melting of the ice caps from global warming are disrupting the North Atlantic current, which keeps the Northern Hemisphere temperate. Rapson contacts Jack, and the two put their heads together to figure out what is likely to happen. They soon figure out that a Roland Emmerich movie is about to happen, as violent changes in weather begin to cause worldwide destruction, from a snowstorm in New Delhi to a series of Tornadoes shredding Los Angeles, including the laser-guided tornado that takes out the Hollywood sign. Just because, that’s why. And all evidence points to things getting a hell of a lot worse before they get better, with the predicted Ice Age coming in a week rather than years down the road.

Meanwhile, Sam Hall is in New York City for an academic competition, after a really hairy plane ride. During the competition, violent weather bears down on the area, halting trains, closing the roads, and shutting down airports. When a massive tidal wave floods the streets and the temperature starts plummeting, Sam and his fellow competitors take shelter in the New York Public Library to ride out the storm. When the President of the United States order the evacuation of the southern U.S. to escape the storm, Jack embarks on a desperate journey north, into the same storm that he just told the President would instantly kill anyone out in it, to search for his son. He has experience travelling in Arctic conditions, but can he reach his son in time?

The Day After Tomorrow follows closely in the footsteps of Emmerich’s other disaster movies, namely in the tradition of destroying or defacing recognizeable landmarks in the most spectacular ways possible. The Hollywood sign is obliterated. The Statue of Liberty is covered in ice. Manhattan gets turned into a winter wonderland an icy hell. And along the way, lots of slightly dodgy science is used to justify it, though not on the same scale of audacity as demonstrated in 2012. While much of the mayhem demonstrated here isn’t quite possible by the current climate patterns, if those patterns were to change… Well, you know. The sequence with Sam & Co. outrunning an oncoming flash-freeze in the eye of the storm did stretch even the willing suspension of disbelief necessary for watching a disaster movie, though, and the wolves escaping from the New York zoo seemed to only be there to give the Manhattan subplot one more avenue of danger for its own sake. And the Kyoto hailstorm seems to only confirm my belief that filmmakers do not know how to simulate realistic hail, ever.

The acting was surprisingly good here, with A-Lister Dennis Quaid playing the estranged family man and frustrated scientist trying desperately to prove that Bad Things are on the way, but Vice President Dick Cheney Raymond Becker blowing off his findings out of hand seemed a bit clunky, like Emmerich just felt the movie needed a naysayer in the same vein as Secretary of Defense Nimzicki in Independence Day. He did remedy this trend in 2012, I’m happy to say. My only complaint was the number of times Jack’s subarctic expedition to Manhattan took their gloves off in supposedly deadly cold. Jake Gyllenhaal as Sam also did well, trying to get the situation under pseudo-control and keep his friends alive, and volunteering to go out to the icebound ship outside the library for penicillin did feel like warranted desperation rather than, “I’m one of the heroes, I must go outside to scout around because that’s just what I do! *dramatic pose*”. The guy who wanted to hang on the the Gutenberg Bible in order to preserve that element of civilization needed a good shake, though. I mean, seriously – civilization might be on the verge of collapse. Let it go. Seriously.

While the science is tilted slightly to the left to make the story work and the lesson of GLOBAL WARMING BAD is pretty much beaten into our heads at awkward intervals, overall The Day After Tomorrow works as a climatological disaster movie. Roland Emmerich takes the usual frame work of OMG TORNADO or OMG SNOWSTORM and scales it up into a hemisphere-wide disaster. If you like your disasters huge and your destruction spectacular, The Day After Tomorrow won’t disappoint.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

02/08/2011 1 comment

Some believe that a zombie movie should be philosophical, offering some form of deep social commentary on the state of humanity, how we treat our fellow man, consumerism, the evils of this or that common social ill. Others believe that a zombie movie should be terrifying, menacing us with the creeping horror that is our own animated dead, tirelessly pursuing us with the simple goal of eating our flesh.

Then there’s these guys.

Shaun of the Dead is a romantic zombie comedy (technically, a zom-rom-com) directed by Edgar Wright, starring Simon “Hot Fuzz” Pegg (who also co-wrote), Nick “Hot Fuzz” Frost, Kate “This Little Life” Ashfield, Lucy “Sex Lives of the Potato Men” Davis, Dylan “Run, Fatboy, Run” Moran, Peter “Run, Fatboy, Run” Serafinowicz, and Bill “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” Nighy.

Shaun (Pegg) is a loser. He fails in his career (a sales manager who gets no respect from his co-workers), his home life (his housemate Pete (Serafinowicz) is annoyed by Simon’s best friend Ed (Frost) living on their couch and selling marijuana), his family life (his relationship with his stepfather (Nighy) is… rocky at best), and his love life (his girlfriend Liz (Ashfield) is sick of going to the Winchester pub every night, and wants to do something – anything – with Shaun that doesn’t involve dragging Ed along). After yet another romantic failure (forgetting to reserve a table at a posh restaurant for a romantic couples’ evening like he promised Liz he would), Shaun’s life seems to be falling apart. With all these personal problems hanging over his head, he doesn’t even notice the zombie apocalypse happening around him for a full half day.

When he does notice, Shaun realizes he has to man up and save the day. Why him? First of all, he’s the hero, and second of all, the only other protagonist nearby is Ed. Think Ed will save the day? Didn’t think so. A plan is hatched that will allow Shaun to pick up Liz from her friends’ flat, rescue his parents from certain doom, reconcile with his stepdad, redeem himself with Liz, and all hole up at the Winchester until the whole thing blows over. Sounds simple? Of course it does. Think it will go off without a hitch? Of course it won’t.

Shaun of the Dead is a tongue-in-cheek take on the zombie apocalypse movie, acknowledging once and for all how hard it is to make a scary zombie movie anymore by simply not trying. The humor is subtle and dry, with a lot of missed important events happening in the background while the oblivious main characters go about their business, and piles of shout-outs and nods to previous zombie movies. Shaun and Ed are unapologetic losers, in sharp contrast to the instant competancy many zombie movie heroes scratch up, and they spend a lot of the movie just trying to get back to the baseline loserhood that they call normal.

The zombies, of course, are the classic Romero “slow zombies”, staggering and shambling patiently towards you with the goal of eating your flesh, though they do show signs of remaining humanity (at one end of the spectrum, they can be fooled by the living heroes pretending to be zombies, while on the other, they mindlessly go about their daily habits in the tradition of most of the Romero zombies and occasionally seem to have dim memories of how things “should” be). The zombie gore can be hilariously jarring when compared with the tone of the rest of the movie, but the whole thing works as an affectionate parody of the whole genre.

So, if you like zombie movies but are sick of the ones that take themselves too damn seriously, pick up Shaun of the Dead. It’s quirky, shambling, flesh-eating fun.

Saw (2004)


Hello. I want to play a game.

What would you do to survive? If you had to kill a complete stranger or mutilate yourself to save yourself or a loved one from a horrible fate, would you? How much do you value your life? How willing are you to survive?

Jigsaw wants to know. And he’s willing to put you to the ultimate test.

Saw is an Australian-American horror movie directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell, based on an idea by Wan. It stars Cary “Dread Pirate Roberts” Elwes, Danny “I’m getting too old for this shit” Glover, Tobin “Mississippi Burning” Bell, Shawnee “The Desperate Hours” Smith, and Leigh “The Matrix Reloaded” Whannell.

The primary plot revolves around two men, photographer Adam Stanheight (Whannell) and oncologist Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Elwes), who wake up in a dilapidated bathroom, each man chained by the ankle to a pipe at opposite ends of the bathroom. Lying between them is a corpse in a pool of blood, with a revolver in one hand and a tape recorder in the other. Adam and Dr. Gordon each have a cassette tape in their pocket; using the tape recorder, they learn that Adam has been tasked with escaping the bathroom, while Dr. Gordon must kill Adam before six o’clock or his wife and daughter will be killed. Congratulations, guys, you’ve been taken by the Jigsaw Killer… you’re both screwed.

As the movie progresses, we learn more about the mysterious Jigsaw Killer. Believing that people don’t truly appreciate their lives, Jigsaw places them in elaborate, poetic deathtraps and challenges them to escape. The only known survivor of one of these traps is Amanda Young (Smith), a heroin addict who had to cut open her dealer’s stomach to retrieve the key to a device locked onto her head, designed to tear her lower jaw off when time ran out; in her statement to police she asserted that the experience “helped” her. Jigsaw would frequently observe these games, directly or otherwise, apparently enjoying having a front row seat. Dr. Gordon’s heard of him, having briefly been accused of being him when his penlight was found at the scene of one of the traps.

Meanwhile, Gordon’s family is being guarded in their home by a man who is watching the prisoners’ plight through a camera behind one of the bathroom mirrors. The Gordon house in turn is being watched by Detective Tapp (Glover), who became obsessed with finding Jigsaw after viewing Amanda’s testimony, but an illegal raid on one of Jigsaw’s hideouts left his partner dead from a shotgun trap and Tapp himself discharged from the force. As Adam and Gordon learn what their connection is to each other and to the mysterious Jigsaw, they are forced to come to a dire conclusion: Play Jigsaw’s game, or suffer the consequences.

While Saw has been credited with inspiring the “torture porn” subgenre of movies that subsequently became popular, this first movie actually contains very little gore, and most of the violence is offscreen. Others have compared Saw to other psychological thrillers like Se7en, both favorably and unfavorably. I found Saw to be a tight little suspense movie that gave you every reason to sympathize with the subjects of Jigsaw’s experiments. They are real, flawed people who may have made a single mistake that landed them in this mess, but none of them seemed unrealistically whiny about it.

The traps themselves are cruel and efficient, and the traps were often “real” devices: the reverse beartrap of Amanda’s test, for example, was made of metal and fully functional. The gritty, rusted appearance of all the traps, as well as the used, “abandoned” look of the rooms made them look inherently more dangerous than a sterile setting with clean, polished traps might have been.

Saw holds a special place in my dark little heart. While the rest of the franchise has become largely hit-and-miss, the original introduced me to a truly demented villain in Jigsaw, and I enjoyed putting the pieces together as the ending came from a surprising direction. By all means, see this movie. You won’t be sorry.