A woman reeling from tragedy pieces together a horrific puzzle to discover a man named Jebediah Crone & his evil pastime.
Saw IV. 2007. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay by Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton.
Starring Tobin Bell, Costa Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Lyriq Bent, Athen Karkanis, Louis Ferreira, Simon Reynolds, Donnie Wahlberg, Angus Macfadyen, Shawnee Smith, Bahar Soomekh, and Dina Meyer. Twisted Pictures.
Rated. R. 93 minutes.
With Saw IV we’re experiencing a new era past the first three films, in the sense Leigh Whannell is no longer writing the screenplays. After James Wan departed following the first film, Whannell was sort of the anchor which kept things slightly grounded. Not to say things didn’t get a bit too much, or a little too forcibly wild at times, but I firmly believe Whannell writing the screenplays especially for the first and third film kept Saw in a space where I was enjoying things on a reasonable level. I do like this fourth film a bit, not near as much as the first and not quite as much as the third, however – I do find enjoyment in it. Darren Lynn Bousman’s writing in Saw II didn’t match up with his abilities as a director, which I think are pretty good. Moving over to solely working as director for the third, Bousman is back again directing here. Without Whannell, the writers of 2005 indie action/horror/comedy Feast – Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton – take over duties in an effort to try bridging the first trilogy of this series with this film, and the ones inevitably to come afterward.
Also, in an almost symbolic way Jigsaw himself has died and gone along with Whannell. At the same time, he still looms large over the franchise. No matter whether he’s alive or dead, John Kramer’s legacy affects everyone and anyone involved in the case.
So though I don’t think it’s as good as the entry preceding it, Saw IV has interesting things going on with character, the traps and situations are more interesting than certain stuff in the second film, and I thought the script did a decent job keeping up with the way Whannell had been especially during Saw III. By no means a perfect or great horror, there are some surprises as well as lots of horror to unsettle the viewer.
Saw IV begins as Jigsaw a.k.a John Kramer (Tobin Bell) lays cold and dead on a hospital gurney. A coroner opens him up, only to find a wax covered object in his stomach: a tape. Lieutenant Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is called in to listen to the tape, discovering Jigsaw’s games are not yet over.
As Agent Lindsey Perez (Athena Karkanis) and Agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) are brought in on the case after the discovery of Detective Allison Kerry (Dina Meyer) dead, due to events from the previous film, we discover they may know more than they’re letting on. Supposedly, two more cops are in danger, however, they don’t know exactly which two.
Soon, it turns out Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) is still alive in the clutches of someone carrying on the work of Jigsaw. And eventually Lieutenant Hoffman finds himself in the same predicament.
Being framed to look like he’s carrying on Jigsaw’s life legacy, Lieutenant Daniel Rigg (Lyriq Bent) has to go on the run while also trying to figure out who is doing all this to him and his friends in the police department. When Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), John Kramer’s former wife, is called in for questioning, everything becomes a little more clear.
Except that nothing is ever clear when Jigsaw is involved; dead or alive.
Part of why I really do enjoy this fourth film in the series is because we get more about the past of John Kramer. Not merely confined to Jigsaw and his relationship with Amanda Young, Saw IV involves John’s past, his wife and unborn child, everything which pushed him further into the darkness of his alter ego as Jigsaw.
The whole story of how his then wife Jill (Russell) ran a drug rehabilitation clinic of some sort was very interesting. I always enjoyed the way Kramer himself was an engineer, helping to explain the traps and all that, but adding this whole angle in is pretty good. When Jill ends up miscarrying her child after an encounter with one of the addicts, I was actually devastated for Jigsaw. You can clearly see how the events of his later life absolutely decimated him and his positivity, any kind of nice outlook on life. However, it’s obvious most people who suffer personal atrocities don’t go on to be savage killers like him. This is simply a real interesting way to put the hooks in and make you feel a bit of emotion for John Kramer. He becomes – even for the slightest, most brief moment in time – a sympathetic killer. Doesn’t last long, but still, there’s a second where you feel deeply for him and the never ending tragedies of his life.
Another interesting aspect of this film is how another character, like Jeff in the previous Saw III, is being forced into, essentially, playing the Jigsaw killer. Here we’re watching Lieutenant Daniel Rigg (Bent) being made to play the game, putting others – such as a rapist who got out on technicalities – into a life or death situation. While Jigsaw says he’s not a killer, he is because otherwise those people would not be in a trap; they might end up dying down the road, or who knows, but Jigsaw puts them in that position willingly. Therefore, a killer. In this same sense, Rigg (and Jeff before him) are also having to play God. Jigsaw is forcing them to be who he has become, the man he was forced to be.
One thing this film lacks, which I thought Saw III tried to replicate so well from the first film, is the same atmosphere and tone of those previous entries. There’s still an expertly dark, gritty tone throughout the film. However, I don’t feel as if the entire aesthetic holds up to what Saw and Saw III were doing so well. Everything here sort of looks aesthetically the same throughout the entire film. In opposition, the other two entries I mentioned sort of go for very different looks and feels during the different segments of the film. Not that there’s anything wrong with using one solitary style the whole way through – most times I commend a film for that, if done appropriately. I think it’s an aspect which is genuinely lacking here because of how well it served the other two films using that technique.
I still do enjoy the visual look of Saw IV, it simply doesn’t pack the interesting and also gritty punch as the first and the third, and to a lesser extent the second film, as well. What I do love about the aesthetic in this film is the return of Charlie Clouser as composer. His music fits the Saw series extremely well, very fitting. At times it’s like machinery, beating and chugging along with the intensity of certain times. In other moments, Clouser gives us the subtle and creepy electronic, iconic sound of the series music, that haunted, floating riff we hear over and over. There are many instances where his music draws us in – for instance, when John Kramer (Tobin Bell) uses his first trap with the knives on Cecil (Billy Otis), the one who caused his wife to miscarry, there’s this wonderful buildup in the score; it starts with bits of the little electronic riff, then pounds harder with percussion, steady drums, and heavy guitars. Really amps up the weight of this scene as it sort of runs away like a train with its intensity.
A few of the traps were impressive, mainly the first one we see with the two men on either side of a chain – one with his eyes sewn shut, the other his mouth. I thought that one was a fairly nasty and exciting trap to start with, as well as the fact the film didn’t open cold into a torture scene; we get a bit of a lead in, then after a few minutes there we have it.
What impressed me more than the obligatory Saw traps expected from each entry in the series was the end and its twist. Honestly, when I first saw this movie I’d not expected where things headed during the finale. Naturally, I was leery about completely resigning myself to one theory on what might be happening because this is a tricky series overall in terms of the writing.
But when the kicker comes, just after the final 15 minutes start to wind down, I was FLOORED! Really incredible writing and they went to such painstaking lengths to sort of sew everything together, as well as provide an amazing degree of continuity. For all its faults, the script for Saw IV has got some SERIOUS chops, honestly. Not all perfect, nowhere near, but there’s some inspired writing here and you really cannot deny that, at least not fully. I think the twists they incorporated here make up for the pieces of the film which aren’t up to the highest standards. Awesome, awesome ending and it’s up there as probably my second favourite to the ending of the first Saw film.
Definitely think this film is worth a 3.5 out of 5 star rating. This is the last of the Saw films I find truly worth it, and I didn’t like the second one really, so as it stands the first, third, and fourth entries are pretty much the only ones I’m a fan of in the end.
I love how the writers worked well with bridging things together after Leigh Whannell left the series. Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton definitely have the ability to write some decent horror. Not everything they do is solid, but who does perfect work all the time? They really got a kick-off with this film and have started to carve out good careers on their own away from Saw. Check this one out and I think if you give it a shot, instead of merely passing it off as “torture porn”, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how the continuity stretches out from the first three films of the series into this one, as well as the fact the finale is pretty exciting.
Saw III. 2006. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell.
Starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Donnie Wahlberg, Dina Meyer, Leigh Whannell, Mpho Koaho, Barry Flatman, Lyriq Bent, J. LaRose, Debra McCabe, Costas Mandylor, and Betsy Russell. Twisted Pictures.
Rated R. 108 minutes.
A reason I didn’t enjoy Saw II near as much as the first is due to how focused the film seemed on going for a shock rather than building up a genuinely creepy atmosphere and ratcheting up the tension like Saw did so well. Though I don’t think Saw III is nearly as amazing as that either, it’s definitely much better than the first sequel.
One major problem I had with the previous entry is how there were eight different characters stuck in the house. I mean, it just felt forced and all of the characters weren’t given proper time to be developed, even in the slightest sense. So that was something which detracted from the film’s story and the tension overall. Here in the third film, I think whittling the main focus of characters down to a couple – plus exploring the relationship between Amanda Young and Jigsaw further – is an aspect of Saw III I’ve enjoyed incredibly. There’s certainly a degree of shocking horror, for some, but I feel more so in this film than the one which came before the concentration has come back to character development and full blooded tension. Partly, I think this has to do with the fact Leigh Whannell is the sole screenwriter again, as it was in the original film, and Darrne Lynn Bousman sticks to directing as opposed to writing; as a team, I think they do a pretty good job on this film together.
Saw III tells two simultaneous stories – one concerns Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) who has become a rundown man after his little boy was killed in a hit and run car accident, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) subjects him to many various tests in order to reach what he wants so badly: revenge; the other tells of Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh), kidnapped by Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) who turns out to be Jigsaw’s helper, and made to perform surgery on the now dying John Kramer.
Rigged with a collar set to blast her head off should John flatline, Dr. Denlon is forced to do her best in order to keep the serial killer alive, all the while Amanda chomps at her like a little angry dog. And Jeff finds his sanity unravelling, confronted with the sick, twisted world of Jigsaw.
I’ve got to give it to Darren Lynn Bousman, he knows how to open a film with an exciting and grim sequence. He began the previous one with a pretty definite and impressive bang continuing to do so here. Saw III is no exception, as Bousman gives us a glimpse of Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) who has been reduced to destroying his own body in order to escape the clutches of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). This is merely the start. Much more horror is to come after this initial scene.
One of the BEST NASTY scenes is actually just a homemade surgery, essentially. That’s actually why they didn’t cut the scene down where Dr. Denlon performs surgery on Jigsaw’s skull, because it’s the same as anything you might see on television or in a medical documentary. And still, it is a brutish sequence, in the best kind of way. There’s an amazing sense of tension and you almost sweat alongside Dr. Denlon as she works away on the dying killer. Just – WOW! Great, great scene both in writing and execution.
There’s absolutely gory and also disturbing horror in this movie. Not in the same sense it was in Saw II, but it’s still there. No denying that. What I enjoy about the nastiness here, though, is that it isn’t the only thing the film relies on to carry its weight.
For instance, even just the story of Jeff’s character is better than most of what was going on in the previous instalment of this franchise. I like how Jigsaw’s method is switched up slightly here, as he’s essentially trying bring Jeff out of his revenge coma and into a reality, instead of merely dreaming of the act; now he is given the chance to actually HAVE revenge. So while there’s still traps and brutality, the characterization in this film is much better. Again, I’ve got the feeling most of the characters in the second movie came out of Bousman’s own script and then Whannell merely acted as a writer to flesh things out in order to connect it solidly with the Saw world he and Wan already setup (check out the history and you’ll understand). With Whannell back acting as sole screenwriter once more, his writing shines more and the characters are richer for that. You can see it easily in how things are trimmed down and each of the important characters ends up with sufficient screen time.
We’re also getting a great look at the character of Amanda, as well as her deep connection with John Kramer/Jigsaw. They’ve got a touching, emotional sort of relationship, but it’s most definitely an unhealthy, terrifying one at its most base. It’s nothing more than two psychotics bonding over psychosis.
That leads me to another point I’ve got to make, which is in regards to the atmosphere and tone. Bousman did a decent job on Saw II trying to hold onto what Wan did with the first, but I think in the third film he’s able to tap into more of what the first did so well. There’s a better gritty atmosphere in this instalment, as opposed to the second which lacked that aspect. Each of the rooms Jeff ends up in during Saw III sort of has their own feel, again similar to the style of the first Saw.
Better than that, I love every moment of the scenes where Dr. Denlon is in the impromptu surgical operating room with Amanda and Jigsaw. There are a bunch of intense and terrifying shots, as well as scenes in general. But mostly it’s the gritty tone and the macabre atmosphere like we got in Saw which sustains so much of what’s enjoyable about Saw III. These scenes visually and aesthetically all around remind me of the dirty bathroom scenes with Dr. Gordon/Adam from the original film; not in a copycat sense, merely it harkens back to the film series origins, providing that grittiness I find so effective.
What I like most is how the two parallel stories are happening – Dr. Denlon and Jeff – while Jigsaw himself is laid up in bed with his brain inflamed. I thought that was a genius touch because it’s not the typical type of horror movie one might expect. Of course, this is a hard movie to classify as you can’t truly call Jigsaw a typical serial killer, therefore this movie is not really a slasher. But regardless of how you want to type this into a classification, or a genre, a sub-genre, whatever, Saw III breaks the mould slightly in the way it presents its killer. We knew already once meeting Jigsaw up close and personal in the second film there’d most likely be some consequences to the fact he had a terrible disease. Now with this entry into the series, this big risk for Jigsaw actually gets enacted through its plot. At least I found it interesting, anyways. Not every day you see a film series show a whole movie concerning its killer basically dying – most of the time, the villains of the horror movies are INVINCIBLE, UNKILLABLE, UNSTOPPABLE MURDER MACHINES. Jigsaw, on the other hand, is a completely different breed of killer. Something I like about Saw and a reason I feel this is up there next to the original as one of the best in the series.
I don’t want to ruin any of the twists or anything concerning the ending. So I’ll just leave it with saying this: I think Whannell wrote a terrific script which focused on some interesting, complicated characters.
This is not as good as the first, but comes much closer than Saw II. Most definitely I feel this is a worthy 4 out of 5 star horror. There are some truly unnerving pieces of horror, though, Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannell together opt for more atmosphere and genuine scares rather than ALL shock. Just don’t let me misrepresent Saw III – there are some SICK moments here, especially the PIG VAT! Beware.
A lot of the other movies in this series degenerate into excuses for increasingly depraved and nasty trap designs. Saw III manages to include lots of disturbing bits while maintaining an impressive atmosphere using character, tension and some solid directing.
Saw II. 2005. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay by Darren Lynn Bousman & Leigh Whannell.
Starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Donnie Wahlberg, Erik Knudsen, Franky G, Glenn Plummer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Beverley Mitchell, Wil Burd, Dina Meyer, Lyriq Bent, Noam Jenkins, and Tony Nappo. Twisted Pictures.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
James Wan and Leigh Whannell created a brutal and mysterious horror film with 2004’s Saw, which went on to become a wildly successful movie at the box office, so there’s no surprise a sequel was coming. No surprise it went on to become an equal in series length to the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween. The second film in the series is a little less mysterious and more full-on horror – not that the original was shy on the gory, bloody moments – but it’s also got a bit of a crime-thriller feel to it at times as the police and criminals feature heavily in the cast of characters along for the sequel.
While Saw II goes for a slightly different feel, opting for more shocking horror than building a specifically cultivated atmospheric grimness, I do think there are truly excellent horror movie moments that cannot be disregarded. However, the beginning of the slippery slope into the silly label of “torture porn” begins with this sequel and amplifies as the series goes on. Getting a look at the Jigsaw character more is one of the aspects which ultimately saves Saw II from being only focused on the torture and nastiness. Even further, I do feel that Darren Lynn Bousman works well with the tone setup in Wan’s film, allowing this essential aspect to carry through and sustain other elements of this sequel.
Saw II sees Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) digging into the Jigsaw Killer case, along with Detective Allison Kerry (Dina Meyer). When they head to a crime scene, where several law enforcement officers are injured in the line of duty, they finally discover the killer himself, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), waiting for them. What begins is not only a game between the police and Kramer, a.k.a Jigsaw, it is also the fight for the lives of eight people whom the killer has trapped in huge house, stashed at some unknown location; one of which happens to be Daniel Matthews (Erik Knudsen), son of Eric.
Jigsaw reveals bits of himself, yet it’s always someone else and their transgressions which he is interested in. Things become even more confusing when Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) wakes up in the house alongside the other seven, discovering herself trapped in another Jigsaw game all over again.
There is no telling who will make it through and out of the house, nor is there any comfort in knowing the police have Jigsaw in their grasp.
Because he also has them in his own.
The opening sequences in this sequel is a whopper. There’s a guy alone in a room, naturally greeted by a video of Billy the Puppet with the voice of Jigsaw speaking to him. But it’s the contraption on his head which draws the most attention: like an amped up iron maiden medieval torture chamber except confined solely to the head. I thought this was a perfect way for Darren Lynn Bousman to set the tone for his film; it’s obvious, right off the bat, this one is trying to extend that grim and macabre atmosphere that began in the first. While I don’t think this one holds up exactly to the standard James Wan’s original film set, this opener and many other scenes in Saw II definitely fight to keep up with its predecessor on the level of intensity.
A benefit to this film is that we discover more about Jigsaw, but more than that we’re getting treated to a full dose of Tobin Bell. He is a really fantastic actor and I think this character was almost MADE for him, like destiny. Honestly, when I think of iconic horror villains he is absolutely on that last, and he’s a person who – 20 years down the road – I just can’t see not being Jigsaw, you know? Much like other roles, I find it hard to see anyone else playing this guy because Bell does such great work. For instance, even with all the makeup Freddy Krueger will ALWAYS BE ROBERT ENGLUND (sorry Jackie; love your acting though), while Michael Myers can be inhabited by several actors because the body language is what’s mostly key about his character, same goes for Jason Voorhees. Now that we’re seeing Jigsaw more face to face, as opposed to the first film where we only discover who he is within the final few moments, there’s no way I can separate Jigsaw and Bell.
Not only his looks, his voice is unsettling; calm and creepy, very calculated, with purpose. He also has this weird eye contact thing I love, where he locks eyes with someone he speaks to and sort of holds them in his gaze. Works great for the character because he’s all about the humanity of everything, so Kramer strikes me as the type of guy who is interested in the connection between humans, as well; eye contact being a very intimate connection, which many are not comfortable with, which I think is what interests me about a serial killer (if you can call him that technically) who holds fairly close eye contact with most people to whom they’re speaking. Just an example of why I find Jigsaw/John Kramer an already classic horror villain, little bits like his way of watching people as they’re in conversation really give what could be a one-dimensional character much more depth.
Part of me finds the ingenuity in some of the traps out of Saw II innovative, in terms of horror movies, there’s also a part of me which tunes out to some of the nasty stuff happening. Anyone who has read my reviews, or knows me, understands that I do love a good gore flick as much as other hardcore horror fans. More than that, I’ve been a fan of a few terribly vicious films for years – something sick in me gets a thrill out of Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, I recently discussed my enjoyment for cult classic Cannibal Holocaust, and then I love all sorts of other disturbing or gory movies, from American Psycho to Martyrs to Anthropophagous, and many more.
STILL – somewhere I draw a line to the limit of shock horror I find useful or sensible in one film. Certain movies can pull it off and there are many ways to do so. The aforementioned Anthropophagous is straight up madness, however, there are so many weird horror elements within it I find the movie underrated. In opposition, I think Saw II tries to simply go bigger on both plot and shock simply for the sake of it. Though I do find the premise of having Jigsaw throw these eight people into a house, there’s also the fact it’s a bit contrived, and that it seems at times like an excuse to amplify the amount of torture/traps shown onscreen. Saw went for a little more of a contained, smaller style all around from the gore and violence, most of which came offscreen and what didn’t relied on a tensely cultivated atmosphere. Just as I love how Saw III goes back to that dynamic; it still has plenty of torture and nastiness, but sticks with a more manageable amount of characters.
This brings me to my biggest problem with Saw II. I don’t think the acting holds up. Most of all, there are too many characters being tossed around in the script from Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannell. Not entirely sure, in my opinion, so many characters were required. As I mentioned, part of this I think comes entirely from the fact the filmmakers, and no doubt the studio, wanted to include more gore, more torture, more violence, so adding more characters only seemed natural. MORE MORE MORE!
But more is not always best. I’m not saying less is more, either. I’m just saying: more doesn’t work all of the time. While Bousman tries to hold onto the atmosphere and tone which Wan came up with in this film’s predecessor, part of what hinders their build-up is having too much time dedicated on the many characters included. Especially considering the fact this sequel is exactly 10 minutes shorter than the first. In my mind, this one could’ve benefitted greatly from being ten minutes LONGER than the original Saw, as I could’ve used more reliance on that atmosphere and tone than on the excessively expository dialogue at times and the mounds of additional characters amped up significantly here.
This sequel is only about 3 stars for me. It’s a little better than mediocre, only because I love Tobin Bell so much and I do feel as if Darren Lynn Bousman did a fairly decent job with his first feature working off bits and pieces of what James Wan did in Saw. Added to that, Shawnee Smith’s return is both wonderful in terms of the plot and also for the fact she does great with the role of Amanda Young. I like where everything went thematically, as well as how Jigsaw’s methods become more and more clear now with the people he chooses to put into his traps. My enjoyment of this sequel doesn’t extend much further.
Unfortunately this movie suffers from two incurable problems: 1) the need to include a bunch of extra characters who are frankly not written overly well, and 2) relying too heavily on trying to shock and repulse us with nasty horror/gore than actually genuinely, effectively SCARING US. These prevent this movie from rising above most other horror out there and it’s no better than most of the non-Saw films trying to imitate its style. I don’t suggest this one as a good addition to the series. Like I said, though, I’m a fan of the third particularly above this one; I feel it returns slightly to the simplicity of the first, while also opting for plenty nastiness. See this entry in the series mainly for Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith, as well as some grim trap designs.