Saw IV (2007)
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Tobin Bell, Lyriq Bent, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Athena Karkanis, Justin Louis, Simon Reynolds, Donnie Wahlberg, Mike Realba, Marty Adams, Sarain Boylan, Billy Otis
1/2 (out of 4)
Warning: Slight spoilers ahead
At the beginning of Saw IV, an extended, gratuitously graphic autopsy is performed on the recently dead John Kramer (Tobin Bell) which reveals an audio tape in his stomach. The contents of the tape, played back by Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), informs him (and us) that “the games have just begun.” He’s proven correct as Lt. Rigg (Lyriq Bent), with all his officer friends dying or disappearing, finds himself an unwitting participant in a new game/test that appears intended to recruit him as Kramer’s new apprentice. It becomes apparent later on that Rigg has competition for the position. Before it’s over, you’ll see some gory new traps intended to teach lessons to the lost souls who haven’t figured out how to “cherish their lives.” You’ll be surprised to find out that after all the unspoken motivations and red herrings, people’s lives ultimately depend on the inability of one person not to break down unsecured doors. You’ll also be fooled into believing that things happen in sequence – they don’t.
Saw 4 is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who also directed the previous 2 movies. Bousman has figured out, at this point, what audiences want to see in a Saw film – death traps, gore, twists – so this entry doesn’t disappoint on any of those levels. However, it’s a step down from the other two films for a few reasons – it’s too hyperkinetic (with too many MTV-inspired flashes and jump-cuts) and too unfocused; there are so many multiple plot strands, characters, and flashbacks that it starts to become a confusing jumble. While Saw 3 focused on the relationships between a grieving husband, his wife, and deceased son (not to mention Kramer’s own father-like relationship with protégé Amanda), Saw 4 doesn’t have time to focus much on anyone, including Rigg who, despite the film’s attempts to define his character flaws, still ends swept up in the constantly moving plot along with everyone else. Basically, Saw 4 suffers from plot overdose, reintroducing Detective Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) and sticking him in a Jigsaw trap alongside Hoffman, run by another Jigsaw victim (Justin Louis) in the same manner that the first film made use of the character of Zep Hindle as an unwilling accomplice. This film is most like the first Saw, also, in that it’s all over the map.
Riggs finds himself running around town finding new Jigsaw victims that he has been “chosen” to “help” along in their particular traps – a sleazy rapist/voyeur is forced into his trap by Riggs at a motel; a woman and her abusive husband are discovered speared together in such a way that if she removes them her wounds will heal while his will not – both sequences pushing the limits of believability, even for a Saw film. Could somebody really sneak into a rundown motel room and set up such a complicated trap without being noticed? Could Kramer, as a cancer patient, possess the proper surgical skills or physical fitness to set up the husband/wife trap, and if one of his accomplices did it, can I see their medical degrees? The driving force behind Riggs’ actions is to find Eric Matthews before he dies, but he still seems too willing to help Kramer along as judge, jury, and executioner. This guy is supposed to be an officer of the law, after all. When we’re not following Riggs around, we are following FBI agents Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Perez (Athena Karkanis) as they run back and forth between crime scenes and interviews with Kramer’s ex-wife Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), who delivers back-story information (via flashback) about how Kramer came to be Jigsaw, which involves a clinic for drug addicts, a miscarriage, car wreck, cancer (Take Note: his doctor was Dr. Gordon), and his first victim Cecil, the junkie responsible for the loss of his child. As character development goes, John Kramer fares the best – Tobin Bell’s performance gives him some humanity. Agent Strahm comes off as an asshole, but the script gives him no opportunity to be human; his job is to run around and yell at everyone. As for the ethical quandries and moral issues surrounding the Jigsaw games – well I think you can read my reviews of the first three films for that; anything more and I’m being redundant.
I still liked Saw 4 – still enjoyed it more than the first film, even. It really does deliver its scenes like puzzle pieces, and not in chronological order, so it’s up to the viewer to figure out how they fit. I noticed a few bits of sloppy writing (for example, if Detective Kerry was surprised to see Amanda as her killer, how can the cops know about her only 4 days later?), and the final few twists are suspect (running two major “games” at the same time seems like overreach, the reveal of Jigsaw’s other accomplice seems tacked on) but the film does move fast and has a lot of confidence in its own bizarre, self-contained universe. Far be it for me to be too down on a movie that tries to be ambitious. The film also is not as mean spirited as the last one (unless you concentrate on the plight of poor Detective Matthews), and I liked that the hero’s undoing lied in the fact that he tried to be a hero. Saw 4 presents itself as a torture porn movie for mystery and soap opera lovers – on that level it works fairly well, but you’ll get more enjoyment if you just accept the revelations as they come without questioning the details too much. The biggest question I had on my mind after watching it is how John Kramer was able to acquire such supernatural abilities – he can create complex Goldberg devices, properly read everyone’s psyche, predict events with almost 100% certainty, and convince more than a few people to follow him in his mad schemes. The guy’s certainly got game.
- Bill Gordon