Last year, at about this same time, I wrote my first movie review here at the mighty TOWBAH. You might remember how it worked; spoiler-free thoughts, star rating (* to ****), then spoiler laden thoughts. That's what we're doing again today. Then, it was Saw III. Now it's, you guessed it...
The Saw movies are a guilty pleasure of mine, we established that last year. I don't get into the current crop of torture porn, to be honest I'm not crazy about the level of gore in the Saws either, but I like the story tricks they play. Last year's Saw III was high on gore and low on story tricks, making it a distant third in the series for me. I'm pleased to say Saw IV is the polar opposite, almost to a fault in the latter case.
Hmmm, that last sentence was a bit of a puzzler itself. Once you've figured it out, move on.
Let me say this at the outset, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is dead. That's not at all a spoiler for those who've seen Saw III (or that official poster up there^^^), but I think it's important to note this man is no Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers. You slash his throat with a circular saw, he dies. That's refreshing in the world of trashy horror flicks. So, once again, Jigsaw...dead.
But he's all over this movie.
As has become custom, Saw IV follows two plotlines. In one, S.W.A.T. Lt. Rigg (Lyriq Bent) has lost too many friends over the last two movies and is despondent. Fortunately, or unfortunately, for him, Jigsaw made arrangements to test Rigg's compulsion to save those around him and perhaps purge it from him. Rigg must scavenger hunt around the city, following clues to a series of victims, each snared in a Jigsaw trap and each, according to Jigsaw, deserving of their fate. Rigg is racing against the clock though, so he must decide first if Jigsaw's victims are worthy of savior and, if they are, exactly what saving them means.
Meanwhile, F.B.I. Agents Strahm and Perez (Scott Patterson and Athena Karkanis) arrive in the city to assist Forensic Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) in the investigation of Det. Kerry's death (as seen in Saw III). Kerry, it turns out, was in regular contact with the bureau about the Jigsaw murders and Strahm suspects scrawny Amanda was not the only one helping Jigsaw play his games. Before they know it, Hoffman has disappeared and Strahm and Perez are trailing Lt. Rigg through Jigsaw's traps. They also corral Jigsaw's heretofore hinted at ex-wife (Betsy Russell, last seen jiggling in the 80s) and Strahm questions her in a series of increasingly histrionic interrogations. Through these, we trace John Kramer's life before cancer, before Jigsaw, and his descent into both.
If Saw III was the apex of gore over story, this new one swerves the other way with a vengeance. The requisite gore is present here but, I don't know, it seemed far more tame than anything in the last movie. Make no mistake, Jigsaw's fourth batch of traps are by no means pleasant, but once you've slowly twisted a guy's legs until the bones splinter through his skin, there's really nowhere to go but down. Or perhaps up. In Saw IV, the script twists, turns and convolutes into something just satisfying enough that, by the time the The Big Reveal happens, I forgot how let down I was by the ending of Saw III and, to some extent, forgave that movie some of its faults.
Another thing I like about these movies is the continuity from flick to flick. Det. Hoffman and Lt. Rigg were tertiary characters in previous installments, they graduate to lead status here. Also, keep your eyes peeled throughout Saw IV; a Lost-level confluence of character overlap is emerging which informs the first three movies. You may even want to go back and watch them before you see this one.
One last note. Despite the series' consistent Halloween release date, these are not really horror movies, they're graphically violent suspense thrillers. There's nothing scary about Saw IV, especially as we learn the world of these movies is a lot more insular and incestuous than we thought even at the beginning.
There will be a Saw V and a Saw VI, that's already been decided. Back in the 80s, horror sequels meant more of the same. The exact same. With the Saw series, I can honestly say there are enough questions left at the end of part four that I'm interested in seeing at least part five. Obviously, these movies aren't for everyone but for me they're dirty fun, a pulp smear.
See you next Halloween.
Saw IV: * * 1/2
and, for reference...
Saw: * * *
Saw II: * *1/2
Saw III: * *
I figured out The Big Reveal for Saw IV months ago when I read this quote from producer Oren Koules on the official Saw website: "As you know, in the first three films, we mess with time a lot. It's not a prequel and it's not a sequel."
This movie addresses one of my biggest complaints about Saw III, the complete absence of the police. That's another hint toward The Big Reveal in case the one above wasn't obvious enough.
Definitely, definitely watch the scene in Jill's clinic waiting room closely.
Hey, who's that talking to John in his car outside the clinic? Isn't that...?
There's one huge question at the end of this movie that had better be at the core of Saw V. If it's not, we're in trouble.
There's also a big question from Saw III still unanswered at the end of this one.
Someone from Saw II has managed to survive this far, but no further.