The film kicks off with a blood-soaked scene in a morgue, where two pathologists are performing an autopsy on Jigsaw, the late engineer of a collection of deadly traps that claimed many lives over the past three films. After removing his brain and cracking open his chest, they work their way down to the stomach, where they make a shocking discovery: hidden inside is one of his trademark audiocassettes, which proves that just because Jigsaw’s life is over, doesn’t mean his games are.
The central victim this time around is SWAT Commander Rigg (Lyriq Bent), who is involuntarily thrust into a gruesome game which leaves him but 90 minutes to work his way through a series of perilous traps if he wants to prevent two of his colleagues from facing a cruel death. Also involved are FBI agents Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Perez (Athena Karkanis), who struggle to uncover the identity of Jigsaw’s new apprentice.
Hardcore horror fans may be slightly offended by the reduction in numbers of traps and gore, but for those wanting to learn more about Jigsaw’s psyche, “Saw IV” is quite an enlightening experience. Instead of following the same simplistic plot structure from the previous installments, the movie switches between Rigg’s struggle to save his friends and past episodes from Jigsaw’s life, back when he was known as John Kramer, a successful engineer.
The focus on Jigsaw’s past and the events that pushed him to become the ruthless killer we’ve known since the first “Saw” movie introduces a new freshness to the franchise, which after the third film was on the verge of dropping into dreadful boredom. But as interesting as it is for us to find out why he trapped people to teach them the value of their own lives, it’s also the only positive of “Saw IV.”
Trashy dialogue, only a few intriguing traps and less blood than before dominate the rest of the movie, and offer even less suspense than we are used to. While the three predecessors fed off a stronger sense of intensity via a more claustrophobic atmosphere, this chapter is set wide in the open for the most part. Returning director Darren Lynn Bousman doesn’t change much in his way of shooting and editing the scenes either. The short cuts and shaky camera movements annoy more than they impress.
By and large, the script by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan is standard “Saw” material, with the exception of the subplot dealing with Jigsaw’s past. The film also brings back or at least refers to many characters from the previous films, which creates moderate confusion all throughout. And the showdown, as expected, is overloaded with twists and turns that at least try to help answer the horde of questions that pop up during the first two thirds of the movie. Nothing new here either.
Tobin Bell delivers a surprisingly solid performance as John Kramer in the film’s numerous flashback sequences. Always unpredictable and creepy to the fullest extend, he’s the perfect actor for the role of a twisted villain like Jigsaw. Also noteworthy is a short appearance by Donnie Wahlberg (Mark’s brother), who played the lead detective in “Saw II.”
“Saw IV” is in no way superior to the original movie, but unlike many other sequels, including its two predecessors, it opens up to new ideas without completely detaching itself from the style of the first three films. But the thrill doesn’t last long enough, because as inventive as some aspects of the movie may be, others are just plain ridiculous. News broke last week that a fifth and sixth installment in the series might be shot back-to-back, so I’ll warp this up with Jigsaw’s infamous warning: “You think it is over, but the games have just begun.”
Review by Franck Tabouring