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John’s Horror Corner: Saw IV (2007), very ambitious story with lackluster execution and so-so death traps—my least favorite of the franchise so far.

September 23, 2017

MY CALL:  This franchise was always good about featuring characters in whom we invested…but this time I just didn’t care about any these characters. Easily my least favorite (and by far the most confusing) of the franchise so far (I-IV). But I’ll give credit where it’s due—the contributions to the franchise story-arc were ambitious.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Saw:  Well, after Saw (2004), Saw II (2005) and Saw III (2006) there are sequels up to part VIII, Jigsaw (2017). Subsequent torture porn for gory thrill-seekers would include Hostel I-II (2005, 2007; but not part III), Martyrs (2008; not the remake), The Human Centipede films (2009, 2011, 2015), and the I Spit on Your Grave series (1978 original, 2010-2015).  For more fun and innovative kills I’d also recommend the Final Destination films (2000-2011; but skip part 4).

The “where are we now” SIDEBAR:  When part II ended we learned that Amanda (Shawnee Smith; The Blob, Saw I-III/VI, The Grudge 3) had been Jigsaw’s (Tobin Bell; Boogeyman 2-3, Saw I-VII) disciple throughout the entire film, and as part III developed we learned her involvement extended through the majority of events of part I!  But something else was new.  Amanda’s death traps were unbeatable; designed to kill rather than challenge their victims to live. So, Jigsaw tested her (she failed, and died).  But she wasn’t alone.  Jeff (who we just met in part IV) failed, too.  Now on the fourth film in as many years, director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV, The Devil’s Carnival, Mother’s Day) and executive producer James Wan (The Conjuring 1-2, Insidious 1-2) continue Jigsaw’s intestine-exposing shenanigans.  Much to my dismay, this is the first film of the franchise not written by Leigh Whannell (Insidious 1-4, Saw I-III, Cooties).

After Kerry’s (Dina Meyer; Bats, Saw I-III, Piranha 3D) death and so many others, Lt. Rigg (Lyriq Bent; Saw II-III, Mother’s Day) remains to be tested by Jigsaw.  And so, he must save the apparently still living Detectives Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg; Dead Silence, Saw II-IV) and the recently captured Lt Hoffman (Costas Mandylor; Saw V-VII, The Horde).  But where’s Jeff (Angus Macfadyen; Saw III) in all this?  When part III ended Kramer’s tape instructed that Jeff would have to “play a game” to save his daughter…then the credits roll.  Curious.

The extensive gore and long-scened brutality persist beginning with an enduring autopsy which recovers the tape Kramer swallowed right before our eyes in part III.  However, these gruesome scenes simply don’t hit as hard as they did in the most brutal part III.  The “see no evil, speak no evil” opener really only felt intense during the painful stitch-ripping yell, the voyeur-rapist’s demise was bloody but unsensational, and the impaled marriage packed no punch behind its cleverness (although the actors playing the victims did well).  Just about the only time I was nervous for a victim and reeling over her torment was during the scalp-tearing hair winch scene.  I can’t tell if our director has grown uninspired and lazy, perhaps over ambitious and unable to keep up with his elaborate plot, or if he’s mourning the loss of the franchise’s great writer (Leigh Whannell).

Speaking of whom, I’m really feeling Whannell’s absence.  The story and exposition in this installment feels stale—clearly a lot of thought went into it, but it didn’t seem as proficiently and thoughtfully executed as we’re accustomed to in this series.  Before we were shown how things came to be and how Kramer’s pathology formulated.  Now we have the FBI spewing explanations at us viewers as if we sit in a lecture hall.  We learn more about Kramer’s marital problems, his ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell; Saw III-VII), and what they suffered that incited his motive and philosophy.  But, like the death scenes in this sequel, there is just no magic; no cultivated tension.  I’m not invested in any of these characters (as I once was in I-III) and I just don’t care like I once did.

It’s still pretty fun (though no longer awesome) watching the death traps unfold, but that’s all that’s fun.  The quality is just way down (except for maybe the hair winch).  Even the manner in which they are staged feels weaker, as if Riggs was just walking through a funhouse scavenger hunt, reading clues aloud, and then a judgy tape narration explains away the next death as Jigsaw tries to proselytize Riggs from the grave with mantras written on the walls in blood.  Oh, and the FBI agent (Scott Patterson; Saw V-VI) will bullet point everything in case you missed it the first time.  It’s somehow convoluted and cryptic yet simultaneously shallow.  I mean, in parts II-III we learn about Amanda’s involvement, we have no clue of Jeff’s (Angus Macfadyen; Saw III) whereabouts (even though part III ended implying he’d become Jigsaw’s new executioner), and it’s revealed that perhaps others are behind the scenes in one way or another.

There’s too much going on with too many people for me to start caring about any of them.  Dare I say it, but this may be the first of the Saw films during which I found myself just “waiting” for it to end.  It’s maybe kinda’ boring (for a Saw film, that is—not in general).  When we meet the great reveal at the end, I wasn’t exactly stunned. I absolutely didn’t see it coming (it was basically impossible to see coming), but I just didn’t have any reason to care.  That used to be a strong suit for this franchise.

This was easily my least favorite (and by far the most confusing) of the franchise so far (I-IV). But I’ll give credit where it’s due—the contributions to the franchise story-arc were ambitious.  Honestly, in hindsight I find myself “appreciating” this sequel more than I “liked” it.

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