Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Before we dive into this, I think it’s interesting to note that Saw is by far the most successful and popular horror franchise of the 21st century (or any century, for that matter). Truth is, there really isn’t any competition. All told, the four installments thus far have raked in nearly $300 million, with Saw V already scheduled for an October 2008 release.
Of course, if the 80’s taught us horror geeks anything, it’s that there are a lot of ups and downs in even the best franchise, and Saw is no exception.
I loved the original, but felt that the second had too many unrelatable, hastily sketched characters running around just waiting to get iced by the next gruesome trap. And while the third did attempt to trace its way back towards the dark territories mapped out so splendidly in Saw, it still fell far short of the heights scaled by the original.
Which brings us to Saw IV.

So, to get this out of the way: yes, Jigsaw is dead. He died in Saw III and he’s still dead.
Long live Jigsaw.

As I’ve mentioned ‘round these parts before, I was worked up about this fourth installment since the screenplay was written by the delightfully twisted wretches behind Feast, Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan.
So was my excitement justified? Yes, and no.
To begin with, and perhaps most importantly, after the original, this is the second best Saw installment to date. It manages to do a number of things in its 95-minute running time: delve into the pre-Jigsaw history of John Kramer; elaborate further on Jigsaw’s methodology; explain how all the heavy-lifting and legwork in previous chapters were done by a terminally-ill man and a mentally unstable girl; and tie in rather well to the events depicted in Saw III.
It’s clear that Melton and Dunstan understand what makes the franchise tick, and they serve up all that the fans have come to expect from a Saw movie, from the gore (and oh, so much of it) to the climactic twist (the same sort used in Saw II, though pulled off far more effectively here).

Opening with Jigsaw’s autopsy—quite possibly the most audacious on-screen post-mortem I’ve ever come across, something that should make even the most jaded CSI procedural hound squirm—Saw IV is also the bloodiest of the lot.
Which, of course, is one of the points of a Saw movie. But I’m just wondering where all this is going. How far can this franchise go? What celluloid atrocities will we witness in Saw IX?
And as wickedly clever as the script gets, it does have an annoying tic of pumping the audience with retroactive history in that by-now familiar Saw quick-cut editing style courtesy of Kevin Greutert. This method works for me when it’s used with a modicum of restraint, or when it’s used to fill us in on characters we’re already semi-familiar with.
In Saw IV, it just feels like this was done a tad too much, to the point where it becomes a lazy narrative cheat: why bother taking the time to establish a character when we can just stutter-strobe through their life history in nine seconds before we turn them into gobbets of mangled flesh?
And while Saw IV also—and perhaps belatedly—turns its attention to the other law enforcement types caught in the bloody wash of Jigsaw’s wake (notably Costas Mandylor’s Hoffman, introduced in the third installment, and Lyriq Bent’s Rigg, who’s been around since Saw II), it also sadly continues in the grand, bone-headed tradition of the franchise, to depict those same law enforcement types barreling headlong into dark rooms and abandoned warehouses without back-up, protective gear, or so much as a little Post-It to tell their other cop friends where they ran off to. Idiots.

As a microcosm of the franchise itself though, I suppose it’s only apt that Saw IV displays a range of ups (the traps are baroquely wicked and the bloodshed and mayhem suitably graphic, while the decidedly non-linear narrative pays attention to what came before, even giving us a cameo from one of Saw II’s cast of ne’er-do-wells; seeing Gilmore Girls’ Scott Patterson as FBI Agent Strahm is also a kick and a half) and downs (the most significant of which I’ve mentioned above).
Looking back, I guess this is probably the best case scenario, since I honestly don’t think I expected this installment to be better than Saw. I’m happy it’s continued to lift the franchise from the offal-filled pit it found itself in following Saw II. But the twisted point of Jigsaw, his hellish Hallmark life lessons, have been both hammered in, and hammered to death, over the course of four films.
While Saw IV not only reinforces that mindset, it also strives to lay out—in its own effed-up, helter-skelter way—Jigsaw’s idealistic past and his blood-drenched present, as well as offer up a tantalizing suggestion of the dark future. Given that achievement, this latest installment has certainly justified its reason for existence. (It’s also gone a long way in explaining why Saw III always felt like a story that had only been half-told.)
But as I pointed out earlier, where are we going with this? We already know what Jigsaw wanted to say, and we’ve seen a whole lotta blood shed to make that point.
So what will Saw V have to say that will necessarily be new and worth our attention (and money)?
Time will tell, I imagine.
Till then, I’m almost tempted to revisit Saw III for a neat (and bloody) double feature.

Parting shot: Reviews of Saw and Feast can be found in the Archive.

(Saw IV OS and images courtesy of

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