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Movie Review: Saw IV

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

The big problem I have had with all of the Saw films is the overall mystery that the screenplay writers always present is so much more intriguing and exciting than any of Jigsaw’s puzzles for his intended victims. In the end, they’re not even really puzzles; it’s always some sort of rusty and ridiculous torture device that serves only one purpose, to get as much blood splatter as humanly possible. At one point in Saw IV, the cops show up at a mess of a crime scene where a convicted rapist has been literally torn apart by one of these crazy devices, and one of the cops asks: “How would you get this device into a hotel room?” That’s a good question, but don’t expect any answers worth the time or patience you’ve spent sitting through the film.

Saw IV literally opens up on Jigsaw’s (Tobin Bell) “Junk.” You laugh, but it’s true. Jigsaw is laid out on the autopsy table; if you’ve seen the last film you know that his throat was slit open. And trust me on this, if you’re going in to Saw IV without the knowledge of the other films in the series, you might want to brush up. In order to follow this film, you will need to remember a lot about the other ones.

During the autopsy, a tape is discovered in Jigsaw’s stomach. Officer Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) shows up to hear it, and he soon learns that even in death, Jigsaw’s game is still being played whether people like it or not. Shortly after, the cops are lead to the grisly death scene of fellow officer, Kerry (Dina Meyer), who died in one of Jigsaw’s deadly games in Saw III. At this juncture two FBI agents show up unexpectedly. From the facts laid out by Saw III, everyone thought that Kerry’s death was not the result of Jigsaw, but by the hands of his trusty colleague, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). However, as one of the FBI agents points out, to lift Kerry up and put her in the device would take more strength than the wiry Amanda or cancer-stricken Jigsaw had to offer, so there is thought that a second accomplice might still be out there.

A S.W.A.T. commander by the name of Rigg (Lyriq Bent) is soon drawn into Jigsaw’s newest game where he finds out he has ninety minutes to save the lives of Officer Hoffman and the thought-dead Officer Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg), who played a big part in Jigsaw’s games from Saw II. In the ninety minutes he must complete a series of tasks that will lead him to where Hoffman and Matthews are being held.

Meanwhile, the FBI agents are close behind trying to figure out if Riggs is in fact Jigsaw’s other accomplice or being led by the dead maestro to possibly become one. They decide to look deeper into Jigsaw’s past which includes bringing in his ex-wife, Jill (Betsy Russell), to hopefully shed some light on what they are truly dealing with.

My personal feeling toward the Saw films is that they’ve always gotten better as they go along. The first Saw was decent for the first two-thirds and was almost completely ruined by a ridiculous ending; all of the bad acting didn’t help matters either. Saw II was kind of a double-edged sword. On one hand you had an interesting dynamic between Matthews and Jigsaw, and on the other hand you had a bunch of annoying stereotypes stuck in a house. And the end of this film actually made it better than it had any right to be. Saw III was the most complete of the first three, in which it actually told an interesting story, and didn’t rely so much on buildup to a big twist at the end.

So would Saw IV continue this upward trend or blow up under its own confusing subtext and prove worthless? I’m leaning more toward the latter, but I think this film is going to offer up a lot more mixed opinions and cause more discussion than a fourth film in a series of silly slasher films should ever get the satisfaction of.

My first big problem with Saw IV is the back story. Patton Oswalt has a great comedy bit where he discusses how if he could he would go back in time and kill George Lucas before he made the Star Wars prequels. His main point is that he doesn’t want to know how the things he loves got their beginning. He just wants to love the things he loves. I don’t want to know how bad Hannibal Lecter had it as a child; I don’t care why the slaughterhouse closed down in Texas Chainsaw Massacre; I don’t give two shits about Michael Myers being led by a fucking constellation. And now I sure as hell don’t care that Jigsaw and his ex-wife had a free clinic helping the underprivileged and in one night a stupid junkie ruined their dreams of having a baby. I just don’t care.

None of the back story is presented in an interesting way; it’s all kind of glossed over as quickly as possible so we can get to the next asinine torture device sequence. Well, here’s Jigsaw giving his wife a creepy doll, now let’s go to the present where a girl’s head is being scalped because she’s an evil hooker.

The acting as usual is pretty shitty. Mandylor does a great job giving his two expressions that he’s had since his work on Picket Fences. Bent infuses his character with so many annoying bits that I could really give two shits what’s going on with him. Really, besides Bell, there isn’t a whole lot going on in the acting department, and even he is stuck in such a remedial role that there is little to derive from him either. Even Wahlberg, the other good actor who has been in these films, is stuck hanging from a chain the entire film; he does a wonderful job hanging though, I have to admit.

In the end, this is also the least interesting of the stories. Patrick Melton and Marcus Dustan, the Project Greenlight winners who wrote Feast, got the screenplay writing duties here. Basically, they didn’t write a terrible script, just an overly complicated one. They do a terrible job for the most part of setting up Riggs’ tasks, and by the end they’ve lost interest in the clues that lead him to the next one. I seriously have no idea how he figures out what he’s supposed to do after the first couple of scenarios. I think they were hoping by that point we wouldn’t care, so they decided to be lazy about it, and it shows.

Darren Lynn Bousman proves once again he’s a better director than these films allow him to be. This has some of the coolest transitions I’ve ever seen in a film, but when you’re calling the transitions the best part of a film, something is seriously wrong.

The end will be the point where you will either say “Fuck You” or “Hell Yeah.” I haven’t seen a film play this much with the concept of time frames since Lynch’s Lost Highway. But Saw IV is no Lost Highway. I have no issue with a screenplay writer throwing me a “Whammy” at the end of a film. In fact, I like being challenged; I love the hell out of movies like The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense for their ability to surprise the hell out of me by the end of the film. The difference is in those films I can go back and watch them over and see all of the setups and clues that were presented to make the payoff work.

Saw IV, however, cheats like a son of a bitch. I’ve only seen the film once, but I can think back ninety minutes and realize that this movie is not playing fair. It is obvious more time was spent on the payoff and less on the setup, and don’t even get me started on the characters and their motivations. Usually films with a twist like this try way too hard in the early going to make it all work. However, Melton and Dunstan don’t even try that hard; they’ve basically just written 85 minutes of gross-out sequences and exposition to get us to what was probably the idea that got them the paycheck.

So, by the time you get to the crazy-ass ending, everything that’s come before it matters even less, and it already doesn’t matter that much. There are some interesting kill sequences, but nothing that hasn’t been done before in this film series. You always see the result of the trap coming from a mile away at this point. Hell, even Lionsgate let you know with their tagline how lazy and pointless this whole thing was going to be. “It’s Halloween, so it must be Saw.” That’s the best way to describe this film because if you’re like the Doc, when it’s all over you’ll just kind of shrug your shoulders and think, “Well, that happened.” If the people behind the scenes didn’t care enough to give us something new and different then why the hell should we care about the outcome? This might not be the worst movie of 2007, but you’ll have a hard time finding one more pointless.

The Projectionist’s review of Saw IV.


Sam Loomis

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