Saw IV Review

Poster Art Country : USA
Year: 2007
Genre: Psychological/Slasher
Format: Cinema
Running Time:108 minutes
Distributor: Lions Gate

The legacy of Jigsaw and his apprentice Amanda lives on as two FBI profilers investigate the remains of earlier carnage and are thrust into a new game of terror....

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Written by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan and Thomas Fenton. Starring Scott Patterson, Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Costas Mandylor, Lyriq Bent and Justin Louis.

Every village has its dead horse just waiting to be beaten, and the Saw franchise is flirting towards becoming such an animal some day. Thankfully, that day is not today, and despite some confusing and haphazardly essayed story elements, Saw IV manages to come up a worthy installment in the horror genre which smarmy moralizers like to call "torture porn."

The film starts out on a suitably queasy sequence. The deceased Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), aka John Kramer, is being autopsied, while the camera lingers over various body cavities, cataloging his innards in loving detail. When his stomach is excised, a curious treasure is found within--why, it's that microcassette he was seen covering with hot wax during the last act of Saw III. Even post-mortem, the big lug's got some further monkeyshines to share. And with his now-expired apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith) out of the picture, there is some implication as to whether or not she was the only of his accomplices.

Saw IV

His latest round of games centers around SWAT officer Rigg (Lyriq Bent), introduced in the second film and this time under scrutiny for his obsessive nature about "saving" victims from crime and his inability to "get over it," so to speak. This shares an overlap with Jigsaw's indictment of Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) and his inability to control his rage in Saw II; not the only overlap with that film, as we will later find out. We do see the aftermath of Detective Kerry's (Dina Meyer) chesty demise, as well as an extended cameo from a still-alive Matthews.

FBI profilers Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Perez (Athina Karkanis) arrive to assist on the case, and it's not long before both Rigg and forensics expert Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) disappear and become interwoven in the current Jigsaw scenario. We also get to know Jill (Betsy Russell), Jigsaw's ex-wife who was briefly seen in flashback form in the previous film and whose insights may provide further clues. Meanwhile, we also get new characters and expositional story devices which clarify the impetus of Jigsaw's crusade.

Saw IV

All of this adds up to more trap scenarios, including a nifty one near the beginning of the film where a blinded man is chained to a geared device in tandem with a push-pull relationship to his fellow victim: a man whose mouth is sewn shut, so he can't verbally brief the blinded dude on their exact predicament. That means the two end up panicking and beating the shit out of each other rather than working together, resulting in the demise of one. Then there's another instant classic, a character who is bound to a device which is slowly grinding through his wrists, which should cause him to bleed out. How to get out of it? Simply push his face forward into a contraption lined with razor-sharp knives, which will eventually trigger a release mechanism. Talk about corrective surgery!

There's a showstopping setpiece late in the film with Matthews standing atop a mound of melting ice--with a taut noose around his neck. Nearby is Hoffman, gagged and made fast to a hotwired chair which is triggered to electrocute him should Matthews be hanged. Make no mistake, no shortage of imagination went into the trap concepts this go-around. Unfortunately, the plotting and revelations are occasionally erratic and difficult to follow, although by the final act all the pieces are in place.

Saw IV

Director Darren Lynn Bousman returns to the well of Saw II's timeline tomfoolery near the end, although it still feels fresh rather than reheated. There's a surprise appearance from even Jeff (Angus MacFadyen), the grief-driven dad from Saw III--and that's all I'm going to say, lest the film be spoiled. We do get the obligatory wrap-up montage of earlier scenes (replete with the melodramatic "DUHN-da-DUHN" music in D-minor) once the token M. Night Shyamalan moment comes, designed to make you sequentially rethink what you've been watching and ruminate, "Oh, now I get it...." Needless to say, the door is not merely left open for a Saw V, but seems to promise one.

With four consecutive installments in as many years, it's clear that the Saw series is this decade's answer to the Jason/Freddy/Michael franchises of twenty years ago. And thus far it's been entertaining. But if the makers want to keep the cycle fresh, it's time to move out of the claustrophobic delapidated factory settings. Been there, done that. It'd also be nice to introduce a plot device which brings better cohesion between the characters and events of all the films in the series, rather than letting the connections be convenient accidents. Alive or dead, bedridden or walking around, Jigsaw has proved to be a highly viable and memorable genre icon. You've done all right this time, boys. Now for Saw V, let's try to knock it out of the park again.


Review by Petch Lucas, for Pitofhorror.com

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