Tagged Shawnee Smith

Saw III Gets Personal

Saw III. 2006. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell.
Starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Donnie Wahlberg, Dina Meyer, Leigh Whannell, Mpho Koaho, Barry Flatman, Lyriq Bent, J. LaRose, Debra McCabe, Costas Mandylor, and Betsy Russell. Twisted Pictures.
Rated R. 108 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
saw_iii_ver2_xlgA reason I didn’t enjoy Saw II near as much as the first is due to how focused the film seemed on going for a shock rather than building up a genuinely creepy atmosphere and ratcheting up the tension like Saw did so well. Though I don’t think Saw III is nearly as amazing as that either, it’s definitely much better than the first sequel.
One major problem I had with the previous entry is how there were eight different characters stuck in the house. I mean, it just felt forced and all of the characters weren’t given proper time to be developed, even in the slightest sense. So that was something which detracted from the film’s story and the tension overall. Here in the third film, I think whittling the main focus of characters down to a couple – plus exploring the relationship between Amanda Young and Jigsaw further – is an aspect of Saw III I’ve enjoyed incredibly. There’s certainly a degree of shocking horror, for some, but I feel more so in this film than the one which came before the concentration has come back to character development and full blooded tension. Partly, I think this has to do with the fact Leigh Whannell is the sole screenwriter again, as it was in the original film, and Darrne Lynn Bousman sticks to directing as opposed to writing; as a team, I think they do a pretty good job on this film together.

Saw III tells two simultaneous stories – one concerns Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) who has become a rundown man after his little boy was killed in a hit and run car accident, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) subjects him to many various tests in order to reach what he wants so badly: revenge; the other tells of Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh), kidnapped by Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) who turns out to be Jigsaw’s helper, and made to perform surgery on the now dying John Kramer.
Rigged with a collar set to blast her head off should John flatline, Dr. Denlon is forced to do her best in order to keep the serial killer alive, all the while Amanda chomps at her like a little angry dog. And Jeff finds his sanity unravelling, confronted with the sick, twisted world of Jigsaw.
scr-9I’ve got to give it to Darren Lynn Bousman, he knows how to open a film with an exciting and grim sequence. He began the previous one with a pretty definite and impressive bang continuing to do so here. Saw III is no exception, as Bousman gives us a glimpse of Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) who has been reduced to destroying his own body in order to escape the clutches of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). This is merely the start. Much more horror is to come after this initial scene.
One of the BEST NASTY scenes is actually just a homemade surgery, essentially. That’s actually why they didn’t cut the scene down where Dr. Denlon performs surgery on Jigsaw’s skull, because it’s the same as anything you might see on television or in a medical documentary. And still, it is a brutish sequence, in the best kind of way. There’s an amazing sense of tension and you almost sweat alongside Dr. Denlon as she works away on the dying killer. Just – WOW! Great, great scene both in writing and execution.
1193224_1363647264662_fullThere’s absolutely gory and also disturbing horror in this movie. Not in the same sense it was in Saw II, but it’s still there. No denying that. What I enjoy about the nastiness here, though, is that it isn’t the only thing the film relies on to carry its weight.
For instance, even just the story of Jeff’s character is better than most of what was going on in the previous instalment of this franchise. I like how Jigsaw’s method is switched up slightly here, as he’s essentially trying bring Jeff out of his revenge coma and into a reality, instead of merely dreaming of the act; now he is given the chance to actually HAVE revenge. So while there’s still traps and brutality, the characterization in this film is much better. Again, I’ve got the feeling most of the characters in the second movie came out of Bousman’s own script and then Whannell merely acted as a writer to flesh things out in order to connect it solidly with the Saw world he and Wan already setup (check out the history and you’ll understand). With Whannell back acting as sole screenwriter once more, his writing shines more and the characters are richer for that. You can see it easily in how things are trimmed down and each of the important characters ends up with sufficient screen time.
We’re also getting a great look at the character of Amanda, as well as her deep connection with John Kramer/Jigsaw. They’ve got a touching, emotional sort of relationship, but it’s most definitely an unhealthy, terrifying one at its most base. It’s nothing more than two psychotics bonding over psychosis.
2006_saw_3_008That leads me to another point I’ve got to make, which is in regards to the atmosphere and tone. Bousman did a decent job on Saw II trying to hold onto what Wan did with the first, but I think in the third film he’s able to tap into more of what the first did so well. There’s a better gritty atmosphere in this instalment, as opposed to the second which lacked that aspect. Each of the rooms Jeff ends up in during Saw III sort of has their own feel, again similar to the style of the first Saw.
Better than that, I love every moment of the scenes where Dr. Denlon is in the impromptu surgical operating room with Amanda and Jigsaw. There are a bunch of intense and terrifying shots, as well as scenes in general. But mostly it’s the gritty tone and the macabre atmosphere like we got in Saw which sustains so much of what’s enjoyable about Saw III. These scenes visually and aesthetically all around remind me of the dirty bathroom scenes with Dr. Gordon/Adam from the original film; not in a copycat sense, merely it harkens back to the film series origins, providing that grittiness I find so effective.
SawIII_Skull_1200_673_s saw-iii1What I like most is how the two parallel stories are happening – Dr. Denlon and Jeff – while Jigsaw himself is laid up in bed with his brain inflamed. I thought that was a genius touch because it’s not the typical type of horror movie one might expect. Of course, this is a hard movie to classify as you can’t truly call Jigsaw a typical serial killer, therefore this movie is not really a slasher. But regardless of how you want to type this into a classification, or a genre, a sub-genre, whatever, Saw III breaks the mould slightly in the way it presents its killer. We knew already once meeting Jigsaw up close and personal in the second film there’d most likely be some consequences to the fact he had a terrible disease. Now with this entry into the series, this big risk for Jigsaw actually gets enacted through its plot. At least I found it interesting, anyways. Not every day you see a film series show a whole movie concerning its killer basically dying – most of the time, the villains of the horror movies are INVINCIBLE, UNKILLABLE, UNSTOPPABLE MURDER MACHINES. Jigsaw, on the other hand, is a completely different breed of killer. Something I like about Saw and a reason I feel this is up there next to the original as one of the best in the series.
scr-8I don’t want to ruin any of the twists or anything concerning the ending. So I’ll just leave it with saying this: I think Whannell wrote a terrific script which focused on some interesting, complicated characters.
This is not as good as the first, but comes much closer than Saw II. Most definitely I feel this is a worthy 4 out of 5 star horror. There are some truly unnerving pieces of horror, though, Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannell together opt for more atmosphere and genuine scares rather than ALL shock. Just don’t let me misrepresent Saw III – there are some SICK moments here, especially the PIG VAT! Beware.
A lot of the other movies in this series degenerate into excuses for increasingly depraved and nasty trap designs. Saw III manages to include lots of disturbing bits while maintaining an impressive atmosphere using character, tension and some solid directing.

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Saw II Proves Bigger Is Not Better

Saw II. 2005. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay by Darren Lynn Bousman & Leigh Whannell.
Starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Donnie Wahlberg, Erik Knudsen, Franky G, Glenn Plummer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Beverley Mitchell, Wil Burd, Dina Meyer, Lyriq Bent, Noam Jenkins, and Tony Nappo. Twisted Pictures.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Horror

★★★
saw_two_ver2_xlgJames Wan and Leigh Whannell created a brutal and mysterious horror film with 2004’s Saw, which went on to become a wildly successful movie at the box office, so there’s no surprise a sequel was coming. No surprise it went on to become an equal in series length to the likes of A Nightmare on Elm StreetFriday the 13th, and Halloween. The second film in the series is a little less mysterious and more full-on horror – not that the original was shy on the gory, bloody moments – but it’s also got a bit of a crime-thriller feel to it at times as the police and criminals feature heavily in the cast of characters along for the sequel.
While Saw II goes for a slightly different feel, opting for more shocking horror than building a specifically cultivated atmospheric grimness, I do think there are truly excellent horror movie moments that cannot be disregarded. However, the beginning of the slippery slope into the silly label of “torture porn” begins with this sequel and amplifies as the series goes on. Getting a look at the Jigsaw character more is one of the aspects which ultimately saves Saw II from being only focused on the torture and nastiness. Even further, I do feel that Darren Lynn Bousman works well with the tone setup in Wan’s film, allowing this essential aspect to carry through and sustain other elements of this sequel.
f99fd3d686884025aa85ea7513171b45Saw II sees Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) digging into the Jigsaw Killer case, along with Detective Allison Kerry (Dina Meyer). When they head to a crime scene, where several law enforcement officers are injured in the line of duty, they finally discover the killer himself, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), waiting for them. What begins is not only a game between the police and Kramer, a.k.a Jigsaw, it is also the fight for the lives of eight people whom the killer has trapped in huge house, stashed at some unknown location; one of which happens to be Daniel Matthews (Erik Knudsen), son of Eric.
Jigsaw reveals bits of himself, yet it’s always someone else and their transgressions which he is interested in. Things become even more confusing when Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) wakes up in the house alongside the other seven, discovering herself trapped in another Jigsaw game all over again.
There is no telling who will make it through and out of the house, nor is there any comfort in knowing the police have Jigsaw in their grasp.
Because he also has them in his own.
image03 still-of-dina-meyer-and-donnie-wahlberg-in-saw-ii-(2005)The opening sequences in this sequel is a whopper. There’s a guy alone in a room, naturally greeted by a video of Billy the Puppet with the voice of Jigsaw speaking to him. But it’s the contraption on his head which draws the most attention: like an amped up iron maiden medieval torture chamber except confined solely to the head. I thought this was a perfect way for Darren Lynn Bousman to set the tone for his film; it’s obvious, right off the bat, this one is trying to extend that grim and macabre atmosphere that began in the first. While I don’t think this one holds up exactly to the standard James Wan’s original film set, this opener and many other scenes in Saw II definitely fight to keep up with its predecessor on the level of intensity.
SawII_Knudsen_1200_673_sA benefit to this film is that we discover more about Jigsaw, but more than that we’re getting treated to a full dose of Tobin Bell. He is a really fantastic actor and I think this character was almost MADE for him, like destiny. Honestly, when I think of iconic horror villains he is absolutely on that last, and he’s a person who – 20 years down the road – I just can’t see not being Jigsaw, you know? Much like other roles, I find it hard to see anyone else playing this guy because Bell does such great work. For instance, even with all the makeup Freddy Krueger will ALWAYS BE ROBERT ENGLUND (sorry Jackie; love your acting though), while Michael Myers can be inhabited by several actors because the body language is what’s mostly key about his character, same goes for Jason Voorhees. Now that we’re seeing Jigsaw more face to face, as opposed to the first film where we only discover who he is within the final few moments, there’s no way I can separate Jigsaw and Bell.
Not only his looks, his voice is unsettling; calm and creepy, very calculated, with purpose. He also has this weird eye contact thing I love, where he locks eyes with someone he speaks to and sort of holds them in his gaze. Works great for the character because he’s all about the humanity of everything, so Kramer strikes me as the type of guy who is interested in the connection between humans, as well; eye contact being a very intimate connection, which many are not comfortable with, which I think is what interests me about a serial killer (if you can call him that technically) who holds fairly close eye contact with most people to whom they’re speaking. Just an example of why I find Jigsaw/John Kramer an already classic horror villain, little bits like his way of watching people as they’re in conversation really give what could be a one-dimensional character much more depth.

Part of me finds the ingenuity in some of the traps out of Saw II innovative, in terms of horror movies, there’s also a part of me which tunes out to some of the nasty stuff happening. Anyone who has read my reviews, or knows me, understands that I do love a good gore flick as much as other hardcore horror fans. More than that, I’ve been a fan of a few terribly vicious films for years – something sick in me gets a thrill out of Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, I recently discussed my enjoyment for cult classic Cannibal Holocaust, and then I love all sorts of other disturbing or gory movies, from American Psycho to Martyrs to Anthropophagous, and many more.
STILL – somewhere I draw a line to the limit of shock horror I find useful or sensible in one film. Certain movies can pull it off and there are many ways to do so. The aforementioned Anthropophagous is straight up madness, however, there are so many weird horror elements within it I find the movie underrated. In opposition, I think Saw II tries to simply go bigger on both plot and shock simply for the sake of it. Though I do find the premise of having Jigsaw throw these eight people into a house, there’s also the fact it’s a bit contrived, and that it seems at times like an excuse to amplify the amount of torture/traps shown onscreen. Saw went for a little more of a contained, smaller style all around from the gore and violence, most of which came offscreen and what didn’t relied on a tensely cultivated atmosphere. Just as I love how Saw III goes back to that dynamic; it still has plenty of torture and nastiness, but sticks with a more manageable amount of characters.
still-of-emmanuelle-vaugier-in-saw-ii-(2005)-large-pictureThis brings me to my biggest problem with Saw II. I don’t think the acting holds up. Most of all, there are too many characters being tossed around in the script from Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannell. Not entirely sure, in my opinion, so many characters were required. As I mentioned, part of this I think comes entirely from the fact the filmmakers, and no doubt the studio, wanted to include more gore, more torture, more violence, so adding more characters only seemed natural. MORE MORE MORE!
But more is not always best. I’m not saying less is more, either. I’m just saying: more doesn’t work all of the time. While Bousman tries to hold onto the atmosphere and tone which Wan came up with in this film’s predecessor, part of what hinders their build-up is having too much time dedicated on the many characters included. Especially considering the fact this sequel is exactly 10 minutes shorter than the first. In my mind, this one could’ve benefitted greatly from being ten minutes LONGER than the original Saw, as I could’ve used more reliance on that atmosphere and tone than on the excessively expository dialogue at times and the mounds of additional characters amped up significantly here.

This sequel is only about 3 stars for me. It’s a little better than mediocre, only because I love Tobin Bell so much and I do feel as if Darren Lynn Bousman did a fairly decent job with his first feature working off bits and pieces of what James Wan did in Saw. Added to that, Shawnee Smith’s return is both wonderful in terms of the plot and also for the fact she does great with the role of Amanda Young. I like where everything went thematically, as well as how Jigsaw’s methods become more and more clear now with the people he chooses to put into his traps. My enjoyment of this sequel doesn’t extend much further.
Unfortunately this movie suffers from two incurable problems: 1) the need to include a bunch of extra characters who are frankly not written overly well, and 2) relying too heavily on trying to shock and repulse us with nasty horror/gore than actually genuinely, effectively SCARING US. These prevent this movie from rising above most other horror out there and it’s no better than most of the non-Saw films trying to imitate its style. I don’t suggest this one as a good addition to the series. Like I said, though, I’m a fan of the third particularly above this one; I feel it returns slightly to the simplicity of the first, while also opting for plenty nastiness. See this entry in the series mainly for Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith, as well as some grim trap designs.

Saw: Raw Modern Indie Horror

Saw. 2004. Directed by James Wan. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell, from a story by Whannell & James Wan.
Starring Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer, Mike Butters, Paul Gutrecht, Michael Emerson, Benito Martinez, Monica Potter, and Shawnee Smith. Twisted Pictures. Rated R. 103 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★1/2
Saw_posterThere are plenty of people who say Saw is so-called “torture porn”. I can most certainly see how, as the series progresses, someone might find the movies a bit heavy on torture, fetishized torture almost. But here? There’s definitely a good heaping portion of horror, no doubt. What we get most of all here, as opposed to the other films afterward (a couple of which I do actually enjoy though), is mystery.
Granted there are certainly problems. I can’t say this is a perfect horror movie. However, I think that what Saw lacks slightly in logic at times, it more than makes up for with the atmosphere and tone James Wan creates in the film’s 103 minutes.
We also can’t ignore how Wan’s film, working off a grimly fun and intense script from Leigh Whannell, spawned an entire flock of copycat movies attempting to capture a glimmer of the success of Saw by focusing heavily on torture horror aspects to drive their stories. Not many, if any, were able to come close to what Wan and Whannell accomplished here, and it’s because – as I mentioned already – the horror is peppered in nicely amongst a primarily dark mystery story. There’s more than enough to satisfy many of the gory horror hounds out there, but Saw pays its dues as a great horror mystery that changed the game in 2004 by not being everything typical we expect from most horror movies. While it’s not perfect, I do think the first film in this series is worth its weight in BLOOD.

Saw begins as two men, Adam Faulkner-Stanheight (screenwriter Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), wake up trapped in a small, dark, dirty room together. Each man is held by a thick metal chain to a large pipe in opposite corners of the room. When they get the lights on, a fairly fresh dead body is laying in the middle of the room, gun in hand, brain blows out on the floor. Over the course of their time together in the room, Adam and Dr. Gordon begin to discover a serial killer named Jigsaw wants to… play some games with them. Gordon is a doctor who was recently brought in for questioning, Jigsaw having planted an item of his for the police to find; Adam is a photographer, his own past revealed throughout the film, whom Jigsaw captured. Each of the men have their own demons to face, as the mysterious man named Jigsaw is less a killer and more a judge who places the job of executioner in the individual’s hands: his traps put the victim’s life at their fingertips, begging the question of how far will a person go to live?
Would you walk through Hell to come back to the light?
saw1There are numerous creepy things about this movie, so I’ll start first with the tone. One thing I’ve always enjoyed, which I found set this apart from so many other horrors of the early 2000s, is the atmosphere of Wan’s film. To start, there’s an excellent colour palette to the entire movie. For instance, I love the scenes when we’re seeing the flashbacks to Amanda (Shawnee Smith), the junkie, when she finds herself locked into the bear trap puzzle by Jigsaw; everything has a green hue, this wonderful tint and it puts you in that grimy headspace exactly where Amanda found herself. Works perfectly at some many different points. Even just the interrogation room itself where Detective Tapp (Danny Glover) is talking with Amanda, while Dr. Gordon (Elwes) watches on the other side of the glass, it has this blue filter that makes everything feel very stern, tense.
Then we have the majority of the film where Dr. Gordon and Adam find themselves stuck in that dirty room. That has a more clear look, however, the set itself (not sure if this was an actual location or a set; forgive my ignorance) has this palpably filthy feeling to it, so this plays the part of the filter, through a totally real aesthetic.
I find each of the different segments in Saw have their own aesthetic, even the flashbacks Dr. Gordon has to his family life; the house itself gives things a very dark, vibrant look. Wan could’ve easily gave each and every scene a similar look, instead they all find their own which adds something to the perspectives of the different characters and their respective situations. Even the camerawork itself is different, with Gordon’s scenes being much more steady while Adam had a more handheld, chaotic style feel. Something I love about this movie, which I think not enough people recognize. Much of what I find Wan did with this film did not carry over to many of the others, in the sense they went more for shock and awe while Wan builds up a macabre atmosphere and dark tone which gets under your skin with every passing scene.
Saw1_01Saw2MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD: for anyone who hasn’t actually seen the movie, you may want to not read this next bit.
The character of Zep Hindle, played by Michael Emerson (most know him as Ben Linus from Lost), works so perfectly as a red herring. Not that he’s a particularly innocent man, however, he has obviously been manipulated by Jigsaw. In that sense, he’s the killer’s own red herring, put in place with his own hand.
An intensely creepy scene happens as Zep takes Dr. Gordon’s wife Alison (Monica Potter) and daughter Diana (Makenzie Vega) hostage. The tension is thick while Zep puts a gun to Alison’s head, then puts a stethoscope against the daughter’s chest to listen to her heartbeat get faster and faster, thumping hard; I thought this was so disturbing in a way, there’s a sick pleasure Zep gets out of the act. Also, out of so many horror movies I’ve seen that’s a moment I can’t remember seeing too often – maybe it happened in Dr. Giggles or something equally horrible, but I think this little scary moment is a unique bit, albeit brief.
No more spoilers should come after this one.
LawrencePromisesAdamAnother awesome part about Saw is the fact this doesn’t rely on a ton of CGI effects in order to make the scares work. We get the scares, the strange creepiness of it all, then there are great practical special makeup effects that drive home all those feelings. My problem with so many modern horror films, even many which tried to capitalize off the success of Saw, is how the build-up to the scares, the blood, the gore, always gets spoiled by CGI; and the bad stuff, at that. With this film, Wan delivers on all the tension and suspenseful moments by giving the audience worthy practical effects on which they can gorge.
Added to the nice effects work, Charlie Clouser (who I know most from his work with my favourite musician Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails) gives everything an even creepier feeling with an at times brutal and other times unsettling score. His work is great and I’m surprised he doesn’t do more horror than he’s already done. Even on the lacklustre sequel The Collection he does some fascinating work with its music. Mostly, I love the unbelievably weird and scary intro music he did for American Horror Story. Here, there are times where the score just pounds relentlessly (think the scene where the detectives meet Jigsaw face-to-mask for the first time), others Clouser gives us that iconic Saw music with the little electronic riff which sort of floats around and haunts you after awhile, and there’s an overall great sound design too filling in the gaps between his individual pieces. Most certainly a huge aspect to the atmosphere in this film is his composing. Can’t get enough of the work he does here.
Saw (2004) Screenshot 3I think the performances are decent enough to hold all the tension, the suspense, and the horror together as a cohesive and effective unit: I’m always game for Cary Elwes, in anything, even when he’s not totally spot on there’s something interesting about his acting; moreover, surprisingly Leigh Whannell was good as you don’t often expect a screenwriter to also act well.
Above all, the atmosphere Wan is able to bring out, the bloody effects, and the mystery of the script carry this into the realm of a modern classic. There’s no doubt the rest of the Saw series strays into a ton of needless nastiness, regardless if I do like one or two of the half dozen sequels, but Wan uses atmosphere, ton, and the excellent screenplay Whannell wrote in order to make this a PURE horror film.
I can honestly say that, for me, this is a 4.5 out of 5 star film. There is enough solid creepiness that the screenplay feels well written, as well as the fact James Wan’s directing takes this to a higher level. As a team, Wan and Whannell have proved since this film, time and time again, they work wonderfully together and have the same horror movie sensibilities. Their projects usually try to challenge what’s happening in horror at that moment in time, Saw merely being their first big success (I’m a huge fan of the Insidious series), and I think that while many try to pass this off as “torture porn”, it is far more than that every step of the way.