Blades of Gory
Please be warned that this review of Saw IV contains big-time spoilers involving the ending of Saw III. Although a good chunk of the TV ads and other promotional information tell you what's going on, spoiler-wary readers might want to avert their eyes or leave the room now.
One of the main strengths of the Saw series has been its wily edge, its ability to whip up devious plot twists drawn from pre-established storylines. Unfortunately, even as part of a horror franchise famous for its blood-soaked, sleight-of-hand storytelling, Saw IV is a mighty big stretch. While a graphic and swiftly-moving movie like its brothers, Saw IV doesn't quite measure up to the inherently diabolical sense of smarts displayed in those earlier films.
This latest chapter of the Saw saga picks up in the aftermath of the previous flick's carnage. As Saw III viewers know, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), otherwise known as the murderous mastermind Jigsaw, met the business end of a band saw and now lies on a slab at the morgue. Although Jigsaw is dead, his legacy lives on. The discovery of a cassette tape in his stomach indicates that a new deadly game is afoot. The main player this time around is SWAT commander Rigg (Lyriq Bent), who's grown obsessed with Jigsaw after a good portion of his colleagues have fallen victim to the madman. Now, however, Rigg will have to step into Jigsaw's shoes. He's forced into choosing between saving or trapping individuals with dirty pasts in order to rescue a fellow lawman (Costas Mandylor) as well as a figure from the past who's all too familiar with Jigsaw's games.
I was extremely skeptical about how Saw IV would play out. After the third film ended Jigsaw's story on what seemed like a final note, my mind began racing with all the lame methods filmmakers might use to prolong the plot in the sequels to come. Thankfully, my worst case scenarios don't show up in Saw IV -- although the film's story often seems almost too big a pill to swallow. But let me get down to the bottom line: fans of the series' trademark gore and lethal traps won't be too disappointed. Director Darren Lynn Bousman and his team have kept alive the Saw tradition of devilishly clever traps designed to test those caught in them on how far theyll go to stay alive. The bloody highlights include a flashback to Jigsaw's first terror trap (a nasty set-up involving more knives than a steakhouse) and a couple speared together with strategically-placed rods -- whose removal will benefit one but leave the other in a decidedly icky state.
Indeed, fans of the series to date will be satisfied by Saw IV in this respect, but the plotting and twists are a whole other story. Along with Jigsaw virtually pushing daisies at the start of the film, viewers are treated to a bit more back story involving the motivations that turned him into the "non-murderer" he would become. These scenes aren't bad, but not everyone or everything in this feature turns out to be so lucky. The entire premise is airlifted from Saw III; instead of a father confronting confronting characters surrounding his child's death, it's a hothead cop having to choose whether to save some random sleazebags or leave them to endure Jigsaw's torturous tests. The whole movie reeks of repetition, from the recycled plot to the even more overused method behind Jigsaw's madness, which, after four movies, is getting more than a smidge tiring. The obligatory twists aren't even that exciting. Instead of being bowled over by an earth-shattering surprise, you'll be busy trying to figure out how all of the plot threads connect.
Because I'm a big admirer of complexity in horror movies, it's a pleasure to see something with at least a semblance of a brain instead of a lifeless slice of gore like Captivity. So what's the main problem with Saw IV? Although boasting the ambition and atmosphere of its predecessors, it lacks their collective panache, that ability to give you a cinematic punch in the gut and leave you begging for more.
MY RATING: ** 1/2 (out of ****)
(Released by Lionsgate and rated "R" for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture throughout, and for language.)