Two men wake up in an old, run-down bathroom. They are shackled to pipes at either side of the room, and they both have no memory of how they got here. In the middle of the room is a corpse with a tape recorder in one hand and a gun in the other. Thus begins Saw, a twisted and captivating horror film that, if nothing else, will grab your attention and won’t let you go, even if you have to, from time to time, look away from what’s happening on-screen.

The first of these men is Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes), a surgeon who remains calm for most of the experience. The other is a younger man, Adam (Leigh Whannell, also one of the film’s writers). He is more emotional. Over the rest of the film, the two men are going to have to figure out a way of escaping from the bathroom, as well as an attempt to determine exactly why they were put there, and who was behind it. A parallel story involves a police Detective, David Tapp (Danny Glover), also attempting to track down the man behind the abduction, which we later learn is the latest in a long string of murders.

There are a lot of flashbacks in Saw, and they eventually annoyed me. When the movie is at its strongest, it focuses on the mounting tension between the two trapped men, as well as their attempts to escape from the situation in which they find themselves. When it’s setting up back story and showing us glimpses of previous events that took place, the constant exposition grows tiresome. I almost wished it would have gotten this out of the way at the beginning so we could get on with the real movie.

Saw is a movie that keeps you on your toes. It has a bunch of twists scattered throughout, a couple of really gory bits, and also a message, which is a little surprising. Yes, once we learn exactly why all of these people — both the two leads as well as all of the ones that came before — were put into these elaborate situations, you might just reevaluate the way you live your life. At least, that’s what Saw‘s antagonist, “The Jigsaw Killer,” who acts as the filmmakers’ voices, wants you to do.

The method used by the Jigsaw Killer to teach his characters is to set them up in situations which will often force them into making a choice. Both Adam and Dr. Gordon find a tape in their pockets, which explains to them what they have to do. Dr. Gordon has to kill Adam before the clock strikes 6:00, or else his family — consisting of his wife, Alison (Monica Potter), and his daughter, Diana (Makenzie Vega) — will be killed. An earlier situation forced a character to kill a man and remove a key from his stomach.

There are a few moments of true gore. Unlike many horror films, the best of which allow for a viewer to conjure up images in his or her own mind, Saw does not skimp on the blood and guts. Even though it was filmed on a very low budget, this is a film that is as gruesome as they come, but only in a few short bursts. The suspense it generates for the rest of the time keeps it worth watching. The filmmaking style verges on becoming an art house picture — although I have to wonder how much of that was done to help hide the low budget.

What I have to appreciate most about Saw is how fresh it feels, especially in comparison to many other horror films. The victims do the killings, the puzzles in which the victims are placed are elaborate and almost more interesting than anything else in the film — assuming a writer was creative, one could create films based solely on the situations — and a lot of the film focuses on solving the puzzle rather than scaring the viewer.

I wasn’t a fan of the way that the killer functioned, however. You know that there are going to be twists in regard to who he is, simply because the camera is placed behind him to hide his face. If the camera is already near the killer, why not show him in his full glory? Because it’s in service of a twist, that’s why. Eventually, Saw tries to be too clever and feels like it contains one twist too many … before throwing another three or four at us.

There are also problems with the two main actors. While this type of movie initially seems perfect for actors, because it allows for a raw performance that allows for an actor to go through the whole spectrum of emotions, it actually requires good actors in order for the performances to be good. While Cary Elwes, a character actor given a leading role, is generally okay, his American accent was very lackluster and the dialogue he was given wasn’t great. Leigh Whannell was worse, and considering he was one of the writers, one would have hoped he could have given himself some better lines to say

Saw is a good movie. It is captivating, gory, creatively scary, and has a clear message that it tries to impart upon its viewers. It’s also a fresh concept for a horror movie, and those don’t come along too often. Is it perfect? Not even close. The overuse of flashbacks, the numerous twists which give the impression that it wants to be more clever than it is, and a couple of leading performances that don’t live up to their potential keep it from being superb. It is, however, definitely worth watching, and I recommend checking it out.