Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring Tobin Bell, Scott Patterson, Lyriq Bent, Angus Macfadyen, Betsy Russell, Athena Karkanis
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Jigsaw lovers can breathe a sigh of relief. Saw IV is a perfectly serviceable sequel to a series that, for all intents and purposes, should’ve gone to outer space by now. You could argue that this whole thing should’ve stayed a trilogy, but it’s also fun to see prolific horror that hearkens back to crazed Eighties franchises like Friday the 13th. And while this installment won’t win over any new fans, Saw lovers will get plenty more of what they crave — creative traps, ample doses of gore, and more insane plot twists than a season of 24.
The screen runs red straight from the opening scene where we witness the uber-graphic autopsy of Jigsaw. In true Saw fashion, the coroner pulls a tape from the contents of the old man’s stomach that starts a whole new game in motion. From there, all the bit characters from the series (i.e., the only ones left alive) find themselves as mice in the latest round of Jigsaw’s twisted moral experiments. A word of advice for aspiring actors: Become an extra in Saw V. By the time Saw X or XI rolls around, you’ll be a leading man.
Encompassing all the same strengths and weaknesses of the series, Saw IV is about on par with the last installment, relying on more flashbacks and psychological traps as well as knowledge of the previous films. In fact, casual viewers would do well to go back and watch Saw III if they even hope to wrap their heads around the numerous twists and turns dished out in this flick. Is it a stretch to believe a dying man can concoct all these elaborate plans? Of course, and there are several more things in Saw IV that defy logic. But since the original film (arguably the greatest offender of all these movies) the filmmakers have ground their world in a hyper-reality that allows them to go nuts in true pulp fashion.
This is the first installment that doesn’t feature the original creative team, but it hardly matters. Feast writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan have taken over, replacing series scribe Leigh Whannell, and their twisted minds make for a darker, leaner script with welcomed moments of black humor. Add director Darren Lynn Bousman back at the helm, and you have a sequel that doesn’t skip a beat from its predecessors.
And then there’s Jigsaw, who remains one of the most fascinating villains in the horror genre. Tobin Bell, appearing through many flashbacks, has truly made this character his own, and all the best moments still belong to him. Sequels have always reduced their villains through overexposure, but the Saw franchise has had the exact opposite effect. As long as we keep discovering new things about him, there will always be an interesting element to these movies.
Unfortunately, the god-awful hyper-editing style is back and worse than ever before. Several visceral moments are robbed by masturbatory music video editing, while every scene is cut like a race to get to the next. No doubt a lot of it was deliberate to avoid the MPAA, but even the quieter scenes don’t have any time to breathe. By the time the last act hits, it becomes a real struggle to figure out what is happening where and when. Hopefully we’ll see a better paced film when the inevitable Director’s Cut rolls out on DVD this time next year.
Another year, another Saw. If you’re a fan, you’ll love this film. If not, then you probably don’t even care at this point. It’s really that simple. But as long as Jigsaw is still around and the traps are fresh, chances are people will keep coming back for more.
Until next Halloween …
3 1/2 out of 5
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