Outside of the Baby Geniuses pictures, I can't think of a more joyless, humorless, lifeless movie series than the Saw films. I watched the previous three alone at home, and each just sucked the life right out of me. But since I'd be seeing Saw IV with an audience, I expected to finally understand why people love these grisly flicks so much. I thought I'd hear yelling, cheering, people shouting "Gross!". I thought it would be fun. But the crowd remained completely silent until the credits rolled. Then everyone quietly got up, quietly walked to the doors, and quietly headed for their cars. How has this become the most successful horror franchise of all time?
Jigsaw is dead, and the film opens with his naked corpse laid out on a slab. Yes folks, I don't know why this hasn't been mentioned more in the marketing, but you do get to see 65 year-old Tobin Bell's genitals. That oughta sell some more tickets! What follows is an autopsy scene so astonishingly graphic that I removed the organ donor sticker from my driver's license. Seriously, if you had trouble with the brain surgery sequence in Saw III, get to Saw IV 15 minutes late. A new cassette recording is found in Jigsaw's stomach, and the games begin all over again. Two FBI profilers (played by Scott Patterson and Athena Karkanis) join Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) to put together the Jigsaw puzzle (nice little play on words there, if I don't say so myself). SWAT Commander Rigg (Lyriq Bent) is abducted and has 90 minutes to overcome the usual series of traps and save an ex-New Kid on the Block (Donnie Wahlberg). In other words, it's exactly like the other Saw flicks.
The Saw series does have one major strength in Bell, who is seen here (fully clothed) in flashback. No matter how ludicrous things get in the movies around him, Bell always commands your attention. In Saw IV, we learn a lot about his back story, and he makes those scenes a lot more interesting than they deserve to be. Aside from Bell, the makers of Saw always seem to conduct nationwide searches for the blandest actors imaginable. Saw IV is certainly no exception. It's a "who's who" of "who cares." Bent can barely muster the energy to say his lines audibly. Mandylor does a lot of grunting. Former scream queen Betsy Russell adds nothing in what should have been a revelatory role as Jigsaw's wife. Patterson (a long way from Gilmore Girls) fares a little better, at least he appears to know he's in a movie.
Darren Lynn Bousman directs, as he did the previous two entries. It is time for some new, ahem, blood. The guy shoots every single scene in the same dark, dank, murky style, and clearly doesn't have a way with actors. Though it's hard to blame actors when the screenplay is as utterly ridonkulous as Saw IV's. Written by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (Feast), it seems the script was made up on the spot. And considering a new Saw is rushed out once a year, it probably was. The events of this film overlap with the events of Saw III in ways that never really add up. We see characters from the previous film walking around in this one, characters from this film walking around in that one, and the story just keeps doubling back on itself until you half expect Marty McFly to come strolling into frame. The plot has more gaping holes than an orgy in a donut factory.
But you don't care about that, do you? You really want to know about the traps. I will say that nothing here made me gag like the pig scene in Saw III. That will be a comfort to some of you, and a disappointment to others. The opening trap sequence is genuinely exciting, creative, and refreshing. It's not someone sitting in a chair yelling, it's a full-on action sequence. Two men, one with his eyes sewn shut and the other with his mouth sewn shut, are chained to opposite sides of a device. The "eyes wide shut" gentleman has the key to their freedom attached to the back of his neck, but is unaware. They have weapons, and they fight to the finish. The sequence got me really charged up, but the feeling didn't last. Everything else trap-wise is more of the same, people sitting and screaming as they get scalped or stabbed or ripped apart. There is nothing as creative or disturbing here as in the previous films.
And I know you've heard that there's a mind-blowing twist to be had in Saw IV. Like Public Enemy said, "Don't believe the hype." The original had a really neat ending, I'll give you that. The twist in Saw IV is one of those utterly random "surprises" that is forced upon the film for no other reason than the desire to have a surprise. Like everything that came before it, the finale doesn't make a lot of sense.
What can I tell you? If you liked the other movies in the series, you'll probably like Saw IV. As for me, I wish I had Saw something else.