SAW IV (dir. Darren Lynn Bousman)
It’s interesting how the Saw series has progressed since James Wan and buddy Leigh Whannel came up with their punk rock homage to Alfred Hitchcock and ‘80s horror. While Part 2 was nothing more than a puzzle box of gore, Part 3 gave audiences (and fans in particular) a nice bit of closure to end things proper. So when Saw IV was announced (a more or less certainty since each installment more than makes its budget back), the question for those in the know was – where could the franchise possibly go? The main character is dead, several of his cohorts on both sides of the law have also kicked the proverbial bucket, and Whannel specifically fashioned the last installment to tie up as many loose threads as possible. So how does this latest sequel deal with such narrative roadblocks? By taking things sideways and backwards, to be exact, broadening the movie’s mythology while laying the foundation for all future films to come.
As the movie opens, Part III has just ended. Jigsaw is indeed dead, and during his autopsy, a tape is found in his stomach. It indicates that the games are not over – in fact, they have only just begun. Almost instantly we meet dedicated cops Rigg and Hoffman. Investigating the death of fellow officer Kerry, who met her end at the hand’s of a deadly rib spreading device, they recognize that Jigsaw must have had help with his crimes – and Amanda was too petite to do the job. This means another accomplish is out there. Obsessed with catching this self-proclaimed ‘scientific terrorist’, Riggs is soon embroiled in the madman’s latest complicated puzzle. Meanwhile, FBI agents Strahm and Perez are called in to oversea the case. Their focus is Jigsaw’s ex-wife, a drug clinic director named Jill. While she may not have information on the continuing crimes, she can definitely shed some light on what made this one time celebrated civil engineer into an unhinged man obsessed with death.
If the original Saw was the kernel of a potential terror universe, Saw IV is, by this time, a series of satellites and lesser celestial bodies bound together by some of the best bloodletting in modern macabre. Call this the “fill in the blank” film, a movie made to specifically address the minor issues still hanging from the previous three installments. While Wan and Whannell didn’t leave too much to work with, new screenwriters Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (fresh from the Project Greenlight sleeper Feast) flesh out ancillary characters and simultaneous situations while going the prequel route to give returning actor Tobin Bell some intriguing origin scenes. Yes, Saw IV shows us how John Kramer cracked, and the reasoning is pretty intense. His goofy demonic doll is also explained, as is the pig mask and Jigsaw’s mechanical and monetary abilities. Without giving much away, he was a wealthy eccentric, obsessed with moral order and Eastern philosophy, who suffers such a devastating personal loss that he turns on a society he sees as not appreciating life. The devil, as usual, is in the details.
The secondary storyline brings back Swat team leader Rigg (a peripheral person whose been in the last two installments) as the latest catalyst in the main craven cat and mouse, and it’s a tad less successful. Like most of the movie, hints are dropped as to why this policeman is placed inside these brutal, efficient murder machinations, but the connections are cloudy and unclear this time around. In essence, obvious deviants and drug heads are presented to the peace officer in hopes that he will learn the “real” way of helping. Like Donnie Wahlberg’s Eric Matthews, it’s a lax lesson in patience and paying attention. Still, without these vile vignettes, we wouldn’t have many of the saga’s sensational splatter setpieces. It seems like, just when you thought the Saw gang had explored every possible way of folding, spindling, or mutilating the human body, the next sequel comes along and amplifies the sluice.
There is incredibly nauseating stuff here. Jigsaw’s autopsy is an over the top exercise in surgical swashbuckling, while the first few games are fantastically gruesome. Of particular note are moments as when our killer originates his automated tortures (it involves a dope fiend, a trick chair, and a spring loaded face gate made up of butcher knives – tasty!) and a couple connected by large rods penetrating both their bodies. It will be interesting to see how much more graphic the deaths will be come Unrated DVD time. As with the recent release of Saw III, director Darren Lynn Bousman always has some added atrocities up his sleeves. How the MPAA said “yea” to what’s already there is amazing in and of itself. It has to be noted that, unlike previous installments that he’s helmed, the filmmaker goes a little goofy here. Every game sequence is handled with shaky camera jerks and oddball editing beats. While it definitely gives this movie a different style, it can hinder some of the suspense.
In fact, Saw IV is much more of a police procedural whodunit than your typical slice and dice serial spree. The plot definitely wants to add further finishing moves on top of what Whannell did last time, and there are more clues and connections than in any edition since the first. This will definitely drive some audiences bonkers. The last thing you want from a horror film is a mandatory need for prior knowledge of personnel and context. This is not a sequel that can be enjoyed by people who’ve never seen the Saw films, and the casual viewer will definitely feel a sense of who/what/where/when/why whiplash. In fact, it’s pretty clear that this is a movie made exclusively for the obsessive and the fanatical. And let’s not forget the mandatory twist at the end. It’s the kind of reveal that takes a moment to sink in, one of those ‘hold on a minute’ instances that ask you to remember what you witnessed before and how it plays into the overall storyline. It’s not that the movie is complicated. Instead, it’s playing a trick on you, and some people don’t like being purposefully played with.
There are also some handy unanswered questions, issues left open and available for Saw V and VI (both already greenlit by Lionsgate). For example, someone gets puppet shrapnel in their face. They are not dead, though they are never addressed again. Someone with a connection to the crimes is given no explanation for their participation. During the first game, we see someone who is never properly introduced or explained, and several ancillary individuals are left stuck in the status quo, obviously positioned as pawns for placement later. Still, those smitten with this particularly potent scary movie monopoly will definitely enjoy Saw IV. It ranks third of the four movies made (Saw and Saw III besting it easily). By this point in the legend, we clearly know how Jigsaw works, what he hoped for with Amanda, and how his apprentice ended up violating his own rules for her own selfish gains. Where everything goes from here should be interesting – if not necessarily iconic. The original Saw series is officially DOA. Long live the new blood breed.