October 26, 2007 (U.S.)
Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan and Thomas Fenton
Darren Lynn Bousman
Tobin Bell as Jigsaw/John
Costas Mandylor as Hoffman
Scott Patterson as Agent Strahm
Betsy Russell as Jill
Lyriq Bent as Rigg
The Saw franchise started out a whirlwind. This was a new and original kind of horror movie with gruesome games orchestrated to teach the victim (or pupil) a lesson about appreciating their life and living for honorable reasons. The mastermind behind the deadly games, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) has risen to the upper echelon of horror movie villains…and he doesn’t even wear a mask.
As the series progressed the budgets got larger and the productions got slicker. Still, co-creator and writer Leigh Whannell (also starring as Adam in the original installment) provided consistency and ingenuity through parts two and three and the core elements of greatness remained. Saw IV is the first of the series not written by Whannell, but he and co-creator James Wan remain as executive producers and the director of Saw II and Saw III, Darren Lynn Bousman provides continuity.
Saw IV begins where its predecessor left off – Jigsaw is dead. As the autopsy is performed the technician discovers a small cassette tape encased in wax inside the cadaver’s stomach. Hoffman, the forensics agent from Saw III (Costas Mandylor) is called to the scene and listens to the tape. The Game, it seems, is not over after all.
What follows is a signature intricate tale of tests and manipulation, created by Jigsaw, to teach each participant a life-lesson that Jigsaw himself finds valuable. Through multiple flashbacks and subplots the lines between the past, the present and the next room are blurred. All the while character after character awakens in a dark place connected to some kind of deadly contraption with a cassette tape of their own, and a lesson to learn.
The first installment of this series was pretty low budget ($1.2 Million) and subsequently was pretty gritty and stark. Ultimately it is these qualities that add a mood to the film and perfectly complements the complex and masterfully played story. As the sequels gained more budget dollars, the basic production and creative components remained intact, but with a new-found slickness, betraying the new-found wealth.
Somehow Saw IV brings us back to the basics. The scenes have the grit, the cuts are abrupt and each piece of the story meshes with the other (partly through some great scene and editing work) giving the film the quality of being a train of thought instead of a collection of scenes.
Then there is the gore. The Saw franchise is known for over the top, “yell out loud” gore scenes. Gore-hounds will not be disappointed with Saw IV, but there is a difference between this and the previous sequels. Is it subtlety? It is difficult to characterize heads being crushed between blocks of ice and a scalp being ripped from a living head subtle, but somehow it applies…the gore seemed, somehow, less gratuitous…but not less graphic. I don’t know how else to explain it.
Saw IV suffers slightly from the loss of Wannell at the writing helm, but not fatally. The direction of Bousman mostly compensates for any writing shortcomings. This is a strong continuation of the story of Jigsaw with plenty of the signature twists and turns, and is a worthy addition to the Horror Freak repertoire.