Sunday, March 20, 2011

SAW IV (2007) - REVIEW

Jigsaw is dead, killed at the end of "Saw III". My initial reaction to that was one of shock, translated as "Damn, they killed off the most important character of this franchise !", followed by a very brutal and dissapointed "What the hell are they going to do now ?". The answer came quickly enough a year later, when "Saw IV" was released, in the form of a new team of screenwriters : Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, two up-and-coming writers who had previously exercised their grip on the horror genre with the 2005 creature feature "Feast".

The movie opens with John Kramer (Tobin Bell), aka Jigsaw, lying on an autopsy table. Two doctors begin performing what is probably the most explicit and nauseating autopsy scene ever commited on film. Believe me, you will cringe. Inside the deceased serial killer's stomach they find one of his trademark mini-cassettes. On it he vows that this is just the beginning. I cringe once again at the thought of more sequels. Then the story moves on to the protagonist of Jigsaw's next game, Lt. Rigg (Lyriq Bent), the SWAT officer who worked closely with the late Det. Kerry (Dina Meyer) and Det. Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg). Disturbed by the death of his colleagues, Rigg becomes the subject of Jigsaw's morality puzzle and by the end of the night he'll have to choose to let go of his obsession if he wants to save the lives of detectives Matthews and Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), the latter only recently kidnapped by a mysterious henchman. Either that, or he'll get a fancy new fail montage. The law this time is represented by two FBI agents, Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Lindsey Perez (Athena Karkanis), who chase Rigg, suspecting him to be Jigsaw'second apprentice (a quest which proves to be a plot hole once the final twist is revealed).

Nothing makes you appreciate life more, than
having your eyelids sewn shut.
I was in doubt regarding the future of the franchise when they killed Jigsaw at the end of "Saw III" and apparently I was right. Event the writers and director seemed to have used "Saw IV" to buy more time, so they could figure out where to go with these movies. Most of the trials Rigg has to go through seem bland when compared with previous tests and the purpose revealed in the end demonstrates how this whole movie was just one big diversion, plotwise. It's a good idea that the action is no longer confined to a singular location as in previous movies as Rigg travels to several locations to tackle his tests, but it's hardly enough to rescue this flick. The final twist gimmick borrows heavily from "Saw II" but with a different use of the parallel plot threads. The twist itself is pretty good, but the big reveal at the end is simply disapointing and safeguarded by several plot holes throughout, meant to throw the audience off. Not very nice of them.

"I hope I won't have to wear that !
Who knows where it's been. "
The gore is still there, but apart from the vivid autopsy, not much else registers as truly unbearable (apart from the plot). Don't be fooled though, the torture scenes are still filled with gushing wounds and ripped limbs. The acting is as stiff as ever. Scott Patterson attempting (badly) to chew scenery in a couple of interrogation scenes is the only thing that stands out in the bland landscape of mechanical emoting that is "Saw IV", and that says it all.

Creatively, the "Saw" franchise starts to hit its first bumps. First of all, even though it's still Jigsaw's game, the evident lack of a real villain is a drawback. Secondly, the desperation of the writers to add more backstory is poorly though-out. There's an origin story for John Kramer here that is disapointingly tedious. There was no need to give reasons or causes for Kramer's madness. Did we need anyone to spell out why John Doe was so freakin'nuts in "Seven" ? No. It's what makes these villains so damn fascinating. Not knowing. Here they manage to dispel Jigsaw's frightening aura by turning him into a sort of soap opera character.

What this movie does is prepare the stage for future sequel plot threads, but it's not a very promising start. Which is probably why this was the last "Saw" movie directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Even the studio probably wondered whether or not they could still salvage the plot after losing its iconic villain, a dubious decision so early in the series. In my humble opinion, the franchise died with Jigsaw.

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