You can expect a few things from a Saw movie. To quote the franchise’s serial killer, Jigsaw, there will be blood – lots of it. The franchise definitely doesn’t hold back on the gore factor, which is kind of cool in an era where so many movies shoot for the PG-13 crowd. There will be lots of indulgent traps - well planned out machinations that are always timed perfectly to deliver a killing blow to the poor victim at just the right time. Finally, there will almost always be hyper-edited sequences during heightened plot moments, leading into some sort of dizzying wrap up sequence that explains all the twists and turns of the movie by replaying the last hour and a half in just under two minutes. The only thing missing is the old guy yelling, “And I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids,” to make it a perfect Scooby-Doo plot device. Yet, the movies can be a fun, albeit mindless form of entertainment.
All of the above holds true for Saw IV, the latest chapter in the ongoing Saw franchise. The movie opens with coroners performing an autopsy on Jigsaw himself (Tobin Bell) and, true to the producer’s word, the killer is unquestionably dead. To keep there from being any lingering doubt, the first gore of the movie comes from watching as Jigsaw’s skull and chest cavity are opened in a graphic yet precise sequence. Eventually this leads to the beginning of the movie’s story: a trademark mini-cassette tape is found inside the corpse that proves that, although the killer is dead, the games aren’t over with.
This time the action follows Detective Rigg (Lyriq Bent), who has survived life as a supporting character in the previous two Saw films only to become the target of Jigsaw’s game himself. While Rigg is dealing with a gambit of traps and games, two visiting FBI agents are on a separate course, attempting to figure out how Jigsaw is still operating considering his ex-living status along with the death of his assistant Amanda. The solution: Jigsaw had more than one helper, and the remaining aid is still on the loose.
Standard Saw fans may be a little disappointed in the latest installment because the traps and gore seem to take a back seat to plot and exposition. Instead of just laying on the traps that parallel the moral shortcomings of those involved, the movie offers a glimpse behind the method and madness of Jigsaw and explains how the killer was created. Unlike poor backstories like Hannibal Rising and Rob Zombie’s Halloween, the story doesn’t demystify Jigsaw as much as just explain how a brilliant architect named John became the killer, extending the mythos around the character.
The flashbacks explaining Jigsaw’s past (courtesy of the FBI agents interrogating his ex-wife) intertwine beautifully with Rigg’s storyline. Instead of being placed in different traps like Jigsaw’s normal victims, Rigg is exposed to other victims in traps or forced to put them in the traps after seeing the killer’s rationale behind the selection of prey. It’s an interesting way to give some insight to both the audience and the detective, although that doesn’t make some of the traps any less disturbing. As always, the creativity of the killing devices makes me question the sanity of letting the movie’s writers run free.
As creative as the traps might be, the one downfall for the movie is the writing. I can get past the intense gore at times and the seizure inducing editing of the film at key moments, but some of the dialogue of the movie is absolutely horrific. Even worse, the writers feel the need to point out that Rigg is being indoctrinated into Jigsaw’s mentality throughout the picture. Frankly, that sort of thing could have been left unsaid, and yet the FBI Agents offer it as part of their investigation at every crime scene.
As Saw movies go, Saw IV is probably one of the better in the series, although the plot-heavy story might turn off those who look to the franchise just for the interesting slayings. Then again, I’ve always been intrigued by the moral justification Jigsaw offers for his killing, and it’s great to see that expanded without demystifying the character to a point of banality like other franchises. If we must get a new Saw movie every Halloween, at least the franchise is evolving and not just regurgitating the exact same formula every year. Eventually, enough will be enough, but if Saw keeps this kind of storytelling up, it could have another few years ahead of it before getting old.