In my review of 2006's "Saw III
," the following was written: "The trio of movies as they now stand form a complete whole, with all of the principal characters of the series dealt with and their arcs completed, and all of the plot holes and most of the unanswered questions of the previous pictures now satisfactorily filled in. The only possible reason for a 'Saw IV' would be purely and distastefully monetary." Those words may only be twelve months old, but that was a more innocent time, when it wasn't immediately assumedthough should have beenthat a fourth film in the financially successful, savagely violent and meticulously constructed horror franchise would be seeing a release a mere three years after 2004's original "Saw
Sure enough, those instincts upon seeing "Saw III
" were correct. "Saw IV" is easily the worst entry in the series, and the first one that undeniably feels like a sloppily thrown-together rush job. Possibly the least gory of the bunch but seemingly the most gratuitous, the film starts out as unnecessary, moves into laughable territory, and then simply frustrates. Unlike the previous "Saw" pictures, which were plotted with organic and crafty complexity, the characters and their fates fitting together like puzzle pieces with each new sickly plausible revelation, "Saw IV" is a nightmare of haphazard scripting by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (2006's "Feast"), who inauspiciously take over for previous writer Leigh Whannell, and the kind of editing that could give any viewer a whiplash with the amount of flashbacks, flash-forwards and flash cuts that there are. The desperation and strain felt on the plot this time excessively stands out.
John Kramer (Tobin Bell), a.k.a. The Jigsaw Killer, is now dead, but when a wax-coated tape is found in his stomach during a routine autopsy, it is made evident that his games are only just beginning (insert long, defeated sigh here). Jigsaw's latest subject is Detective Rigg (Lyriq Bent), a workaholic officer whose personal relationships in life have suffered as a result of his obsession with saving other people. With ninety minutes ticking down, Rigg is forced to go on a chase throughout townfrom apartment to motel room to warehousewith each destination leading to guilty people whose survival appears to be in his hands. If he makes it through all the tests in time, captive forensic specialist Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) and long-missing cop Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg) will be set free. Meanwhile, two more detectives, Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Agent Perez (Athena Karkanis), call in John's ex-wife, Jill (Betsy Russell), for questioning when they suspect that someone else besides John and deceased accomplice Amanda (Shawnee Smith) is behind the devious games.
," "Saw II
" and "Saw III
" successively improved upon each other as more secrets were revealed and the creative lore within the series' premise and characters thickened and clarified itself. Sure, they were frequently gruesome and unsparingly bleak, but there was pleasure to be had from watching their labyrinthine plots work out. "Saw IV," directed (like the last two) by Darren Lynn Bousman, obliterates upon the smallest scrutiny, introducing gaping holes in the story that should never have been introduced to begin with. The film tests one's patience with a narrative that simultaneously goes off on at least four separate tangents, some of them within flashbacks and none of them developed or involving enough to have any positive impact. The scenes depicting the rocky road and dissolving marriage that lead to John becoming the infamous Jigsaw show promise from a dramatic standpoint, and could have possibly made for a surprisingly riveting prequel. Wedged uncomfortably between the other boring storylines battling for screen time, they lose their effectiveness.
With the exception of the excellent Tobin Bell as villain Jigsaw, so humanized in the script that he is no longer the least bit scary, and a game Lyriq Bent (2007's "Skinwalkers
") as Rigg, the acting is strictly amateur hour. As Strahm and Hoffman, Scott Patterson (TV's "Gilmore Girls") and Costas Mandylor (2001's "The Pledge
") too closely share a resemblance and don't display enough individuality for them to stand out. As for actually caring about their characters, that is an impossibility. Meanwhile, Betsy Russell is dreadful as John's/Jigsaw's ex-wife, Jill, acting out each scene as if she were a snooty prom queen who isn't getting her way. The rest of the main cast aren't worth mentioning; no one makes an impression.
With the misbegotten "Saw IV," even someone who has been an avid fan of the series and is highly familiar with the movies will be hard-pressed to figure out who everyone is supposed to be (especially when several of the male characters look alike and blend together), how they are related to each other, and why they are doing what they are doing. Constantly trying to make heads or tails out of a nonsensical slasher flick rather than get swept away in its pall of suspense and dread is no fun at all, and that is where "Saw IV" so shamefully fails where its predecessors did not. Mix all of that together with a line of new torture scenarios that, too, are inferior and lacking in innovationof them, only a trap made to slowly scalp its victim delivers the nasty goodsand what you have is a pointless and tedious motion picture that proves four "Saw" movies are, indeed, one too many.