"Devil's Advocates: Saw" Book Review
Written by Joel Harley
Published by Auteur Publishing
Written by Benjamin Poole
2012, 128 pages, Reference
Released on March 22nd 2012
It's to writer Benjamin Poole's eternal credit that his Devil's Advocates entry really made me want to go and watch Saw again. Following six years of those movies, I had sworn off the Saw franchise for a long time. But no, Devil's Advocates: Saw had to go and make me want to give it a second (or third – maybe fourth) chance.
I'm of the occasionally unpopular opinion that James Wan's incredibly popular Saw is very overrated and little more than a slick Se7en remake, disposably enjoyable, but in no way deserving of even one sequel, let alone the other six. Poole describes Saw as a “game changer”. That may be true, but I'm not entirely sure I like this new game. I certainly don't like Jigsaw and his repetitive, morally superior games. But that's the point of a Devil's Advocate – to challenge opinions and offer an alternative perspective. With that in mind, Poole does an excellent job.
With this, the Witchfinder General and Let the Right One In books, the Devil's Advocates brand have a very special set of texts on their hands. Obviously written by real film buffs and fans (Poole, like his fellow writers, teaches film studies and loves horror) the books are a joy to read, even when you don't completely agree with a writer's opinions. Poole's Saw is a drier read than Ian Cooper's Witchfinder General analysis, but that could just be due to my own indifference to the Saw franchise. At times, it does feel more like an educational textbook than something you might read for fun, with Poole repeatedly referring to the film as a “text” and taking a very teacherly approach to the proceedings. He tends to re-use the same words over and over again too, which becomes a little distracting upon the umpteenth appearance of the phrase mis en scene. It's a great phrase, but you really don't need to use it in every other sentence. I also took issue with his repeated use of the phrase 'torture porn' – namely his lack of quotation marks in its use, which seems to lend the derogative term some authenticity and suggests that Poole agrees with its use. I personally find it to be reductive and unhelpful – after all, the dictionary's a big place, full of plenty of other words you can use to describe a bad film, without dismissing a whole subgenre as a result.
The book provides an in-depth mix of synopsis, history, criticism and analysis of the first movie (although the sequels are briefly covered too). Despite Saw not being all that old, there's a lot to be learned. The book covers Saw's origins as an Internet short, before documenting the first film's plot and behind-the-scenes goings on. It also reveals a lot of subtext I had missed in my blank dismissal of the film, from specific shots to scriptwork and imagery. Poole's reasoned defence of Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell's bad acting almost rings true. Almost – and then you remember what a shoddy performance Elwes gave in Saw. Some of his analysis then, reads a little like wishful thinking or reading too much into things, but ultimately, it's an entertaining read.
Like the other books in the series, Saw comes loaded with plenty of pictures from the film and some great further reading. The Devil's Advocates truly are a lovely series of books – a welcome addition to any film fan's collection. I may not have always agreed with Poole's high estimation of Saw, but it was always a pleasure to read. Fans of the series may appreciate it more, but even this detractor found it to be enlightening and personable.
For better or worse, Saw has earned the discussion which surrounds it. If only the film itself was as good as the author suggests it is.
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