Saw IV (7/10)

SPOILER WARNING: Do not read this review unless you have seen the previous three Saws.

The Saw series has been interesting, to say the least. It has morphed from a low budget homage to slasher flicks into a cash cow for Lionsgate, one that has consistently delivered, racking up increasingly bigger profits each year for the past three years, and when serial killer Jigsaw perished at the end of the last film, many questioned how it would be possible to continue the franchise with the main bad guy dead, but fear not! Jigsaw is alive and well (sorta kinda) in this new entry that is actually better than the splatter fest that graced theaters last Halloween.

The film opens with an over-the-top scene in which we see a couple of doctors performing an autopsy of Jigsaw’s body. Everything is revealed to us in explicit detail, and by the time the doctors have found a tape buried in Jigsaw’s stomach that reveals that the killer is not yet done with his games, we have been so desensitized to blood that unfortunately the traps later on in the film don’t surprise or gross-out that much. It’s obvious Bousman, the director, wanted to start out with a disgusting gore-fest as we see the famous killer (literally) taken apart piece by piece, but it doesn’t help the film in the least. It’s as bad as last year when Bousman though “scary” meant “brain surgery.” Nope, not gonna work.

Detective Hoffman is brought in to investigate the tape, and along for the ride as well is SWAT member Rigg, who has made cameo appearances in the past two films, and FBI Agent Strahm. Rigg’s wife has been kidnapped and Jigsaw has left a trail of clues behind for him to find her; Agent Strahm is using Jigsaw’s ex-wife to find clues into the mind of the killer; and Hoffman is in a trap with a familiar faced detective the whole film. None of the performance are worth mentioning (except for Tobin Bell as Jigsaw, which I’ll get to later) – they all reek of B-movie scream-as-loud-as-possible

-while-grimacing-weirdly cliches, but they do their job just fine and aren’t very distracting.

So what about the plot, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. Except for the line that we all knew was coming, “You thought I was dead, but the games have just begun,” this is an outing that actually manages to be better than the previous film, not only because it successfully tackles the problem of what to do after Jigsaw is dead, but also because it manages to be an intriguingly psychological thrill ride along the way, looking more like the first movie, with numerous flashbacks and flash forwards, and an ending that will have more than one viewer saying, “wait, what?” The saw films have always been distinct from other horror flicks because of how before you see each film it’s practically a guaranteed necessity that you see the ones before it. With this movie, you will be completely lost from the first frame if you have not seen all three Saws. And because it’s a film that does not need to take about fifteen or twenty minutes to tell us about backstory, it can spend that much more time weaving a labyrinthine path of clues, death, and traps. Saw IV is the most confusing of the foursome, and with new writers at the helm, their inexperience is shown as they sometimes clumsily try to tie in too many threads to what came before. At times it felt like the movie would fall apart because every single piece is somehow tied to what came before, but that is precisely what I liked about it.

Most of the characters in this movie are ones that we’ve seen before, especially Jigsaw. Though we do get to see even more Jigsaw backstory in this, it’s a mixed blessing. In my review of the third one, I said that seeing Jigsaw lying on a table with tubes poking into him practically completely removed his threat, and as we see more and more into all of his backstory in this, it has a very humanizing effect in that it almost takes away his threat too much. Giving the villain greater layers is always a good idea, but the writing is not strong enough here to do it competently enough. However, the mistakes in this are fortunately saved because of the very fact that Jigsaw is dead. Seeing Jigsaw’s body lying on a sterile autopsy table in the first few minutes raises him to a mythological level, the kind that only corpses can achieve. Jigsaw is now untouchable, and because of that, his terror has reached a new high.

The storyline of this movie is also sometimes a little too confusing for its own good. I’m a viewer who understood Pirates 2, Pirates 3, Matrix 2, and Matrix 3, all upon the first viewing, and I’m still scratching my head after seeing Saw IV last night. I feel like these newbie writers were too pressured to give the film the trademark rug-out-from-under-you type of ending, and thus inserted the final flourish almost as an afterthought. Half of the surprise is telegraphed, and the other would have worked better if it had been tweaked, but combined they are better than the weak half-surprise that Bousman gave us at the end of Saw III. And because these are new writers, it almost feels as if they have a paint by numbers kit, adding in stuff here and there that is a trademark of Saw films, but not really being particularly creative. The gore is the lowest we’ve seen since the first movie, with only a few traps here and there and nothing that really bests what we’ve seen before, but it was a welcome break from the blood-soaked joke that the third one was. Much of the third one felt like it was just trying to top itself with each subsequent trap, but with this one, the traps are more carefully thought out, even though they are fewer and farther between. The only exception to this rule is a victim hanging from a noose in the ceiling standing on a block of ice, which just seems lazy, taken right out of the classic riddle.

The best thing about this film is that it sets the stage for Saws V and VI, with numerous plot threads dangling all over the place begging to be resolved. With Saws V and VI already greenlit by the studio, and a potential two-year break before the next one, the writers are intentionally setting up a trilogy, rather than just building upon what came before as best they could. Though this installment is wobbly and very frayed around the edges, my money’s on the fifth one being much better, possibly even as good as the second. With two years to work on the script, it also won’t feel like it’s as much of a rushed job as this one was. I’m very excited to see what direction they take this series in.

Oddly enough, killing Jigsaw at the end of the third film was probably the best possible thing that could have happened to the franchise, a coup de grace that seemed like the triumphant final flourish to a complicated web of interconnected storylines, but one that revealed itself, upon further inspection, to merely be the clicking on the mini cassette recorder that signaled that raspy, inimitable creepy voice to start telling us that he’d like to play a game. Well, I quite enjoyed this most recent game that Jigsaw gave us, and I’m quite willing to play a fifth, and maybe even a sixth time. And who knows? At this rate, Saw VII doesn’t seem like an impossibility.


One Response to “Saw IV (7/10)”

  1. thankyou for your detailed review of saw 4.. before i read this i didn’t want to watch it, now i cannot wait.

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