The original Saw movie had some nice ideas - not least the elaborate set-up: two men, trapped in a room with a dead body, who have no idea why they are there and whose only method of escape involves some kind of self-mutilation. Other traps forced victims to hurt others in order to save themselves, but for the most part the damage was to themselves: put your hand in a jar of acid to get a key to unlock a trap before it pulls your ribcage open. Get the idea? The sick but insanely clever mastermind behind it all was a guy named Jigsaw, who appeared to have a grudge against quite a few people, cops and criminals alike. If you haven't seen any of the Saw movies then the first one is definitely worth checking out. Saw II was a little disappointing, mostly set in a house where the victims were picked off one by one, but Saw III attempted (with some success) to bring the franchise back from the dead. Now we have Saw IV... Can they really keep this up?
Don't want any spoilers? Don't read on, go and watch the other movies (buy the first and at least rent the others depending on how much you liked it). For those who have dared to go further, kind of a lot has happened in the last three movies. Jigsaw's dead. Long live Jigsaw. After fooling the authorities, slaughtering his targets and even picking up a young female protégé along the way, he finally died. And not from the cancer that was eating away at him, he was actually killed. And for those of you who were wondering whether his death was definitive enough, the movie kicks off with a gruesome autopsy to hammer home the point.
The Detective from last two movies is still alive, and it's up to volatile SWAT Commander Rigg to find him, all the while with two FBI Agents trying to discover the truth behind all these murders through piecing together the case history and interviewing Jigsaw's ex-wife. Rigg's journey is much darker than he expects, and he soon discovers that he is not only searching for answers, or searching to find the missing cops (from the previous instalments) but actually starting to see the world the way Jigsaw saw it. Put into some uncomfortable positions with some sick and twisted people, Rigg finds his morals tested and slowly evolves into more of an executioner than a man of the law.
Well, if I was to rank them, then the first Saw movie was the only one with a decent measure of originality and proper twists, the second was an utter disappointment, and the third and fourth movies, whilst having redeemed themselves slightly, are still somewhat flogging a dead horse. Sure, the ideas have become more twisted (if that's possible), the plots more convoluted, but enough is enough. Saw IV unsatisfactorily ties up some unnecessary loose ends from the previous instalments, creates a few new ones to perpetuate the franchise and gives us plenty of tortured bodies along the way. It does everything we have come to expect from a Saw movie, which is a shame considering the potential of the very first instalment.
There is a plus side. Fans of the first three will most likely enjoy this one, and it will appeal to those who were disappointed with the second but happy with the third. And although it occasionally feels little more than a DTV sequel, the torture set-pieces are still well done. The best aspect is easily the fleshing out of Jigsaw's origins, and it is almost a shame that they did not expand these into a full prequel movie because the Jigsaw's story is far more compelling than the main narrative.
This, of course, also means plenty more screen-time for Tobin Bell, especially considering this movie opens with his character's autopsy. I think they should have probably ended the franchise with his death (and told his origin story in a previous instalment) rather than continuing on 'in loving memory' as he was the heart and soul of the Saw franchise, and having a stream of unknown actors becoming his avid followers just does not compare to the real thing. Speaking of unknowns, Saw IV suffers slightly from having two very similar-looking unknown actors in prominent, similar 'police' roles - Costas Mandylor and Scott Paterson. Between them, Lyriq Bent as Rigg and some returning unknowns - Betsy Russell and b-movie actors Donnie Wahlberg and Angus Macfayden, the characters (with the aforementioned exception of Tobin Bell's Jigsaw) never really come to life. Wahlberg's, in particular, is a terrible extended cameo and I cannot possibly understand why he agreed to return for such roles in not one, but two of the sequels.
I know that by the end of the year there'll be another Saw movie hitting our screens - this is a great cash cow for the producers - but I cannot see them going anywhere but downhill from here. One was arguably enough, and even if three and four combined make up somewhat for the first sequel, there is absolutely no reason (but money) to make any more Saws. I'm tired of watching people fail at trying to come up with desperate solutions to impossible problems that have been set by a super-intelligent dead killer. Enough already.
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