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.