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Movie Review: Saw IV

Saw IV
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan based on a story by Melton, Dunstan, and Thomas Fenton

I’ve long stopped hoping for my personal ultimate Saw film.  This would pit Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) against someone smart, and fun, macabre puzzles would rule the two hours I sit in the auditorium.  In 2003, the premise as laid out by writer/director James Wan and his writing partner Leigh Whannell was exactly that, except it was weighed down by some unnecessary filler.  Still, it was a good premise and I was able to forgive that; I just wanted it to be made better the next time.

Saw II lowered the bar, allowing Jigsaw to kill extremely dumb people who had no chance, an entire setup for a surprise ending.  Saw III was a little better, getting back to basics in general.  And so the question for me was, going into this new installment, how was the twisting storyline of Saw going to translate under a new writing team, in this case Project Greenlight’s third season script winners Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan of Feast fame?  And how was Jigsaw going to wreak havoc after having his throat ripped open at the end of Part 3?

Well, it should come as no surprise that Jigsaw planned well in advance before his death to set up some new nasty surprises.  Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) receives a tape embedded inside Jigsaw’s stomach, telling him the games have just begun.  Next thing you know, he and a team of cops are stumbling on a new victim and wondering who the hell could be following in Jigsaw’s footsteps since he offed his assistant in the last film.  One guy in particular is a little too driven in his work, a little too anxious to bring down bad guys at any cost.  This guy is Rigg (Lyriq Bent) who becomes our main puzzle guy as Angus Macfadyen was in the third movie.

Jigsaw is trying to teach Rigg a lesson, and knowing the members of Saw past, he will likely ignore everything he’s told.  He’s told that he needs to save two cops: Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg), who has survived from the previous Saw films, and his chief, Hoffman.  He has ninety minutes to find them.  But Jigsaw lays out a bunch of other people that Rigg thinks he needs to save and wastes his time.  Yeah, he’s missing the point, all right.

Meanwhile, another investigator, Agent Strahm (Gilmore Girls‘ Scott Patterson) believes that Jigsaw’s ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell) has something to do with all this, and we get the complete backstory as to why Jigsaw does what he does.

Surprisingly, it’s more interesting to see the explanation in Saw than in most horror sequels that try to explain way too much about the psycho raison d’etre.  Because there’s always been some moral righteousness in his character, a bloodier version of John Doe from Seven.  This is the most interesting part of the film, however, because once again the movie is way, way more interested in getting to that gotcha ending.

And yes, it’s clever like all the other endings have been.  But the trip in getting there is woefully unclever.  Saw has become all about someone dumb moving from puzzle to puzzle without any sense of adventure or, even taking the first step: taking Jigsaw seriously enough to take his challenges.  The world of Saw is filled with people who, apparently, have taken him seriously and have become his worker bees (like Amanda), but we never see their story.  I’d like to see someone who wants to match wits with Jigsaw.  When he says something like, “You’ll want to save this person, but you don’t see what I see…” I’d like to see the guy actually take his word and play the game correctly.

Alas, we may never see anyone accept the challenge whole-heartedly, and Jigsaw, a great character, will have died without meeting his match.  And thus, Saw IV is only a movie of promise much like its predecessors, and the series stalls in neutral.

Sam Loomis’s review of Saw IV

Follows: Saw III

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