Saw IV
By: Julian on October 30, 2007  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Tobin Bell, Lyriq Bent, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Justin Louis, Athena Karkanis, Simon Reynolds
Screenplay: Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan
Country: USA
Year: 2007
Australian Release Date: October 25, 2007
OFLC Rating: MA15+ (Strong horror violence, graphic autopsy scene)
Yes… they will capitalise.

When the two Melbourne horror maestros James Wan and Leigh Whannell came together in 2004 to conceive the fiendish ultimate in torture-porn sensibilities, the finished product – the evocatively titled Saw – was unexpectedly successful. So much so, in fact, that it made Wan and Whannell into horror darlings, made over $100 million dollars (from a budget a hundredth of that) and generated a veritable franchise. Fast-forward three years, and we're three sequels down. The glory and sheer inventiveness of the films wore off almost as quickly as they were produced – Saw IV is merely an exercise in visual excess, far less inspired than any of its predecessors and a colossal disappointment.

Jigsaw (Bell), the psycho extraordinaire who masterminded the events of the first three films, is dead, and Saw IV opens with his deliciously graphic autopsy. When the morticians discover a wax-coated tape in Jigsaw's stomach, they notify detectives. The tape is played, with a voice-masked Jigsaw letting the police know that 'the games have just begun'. We rewind as two police officers – Detective Hoffman (Mandylor) and Sergeant Rigg (Bent) – are investigating the aftermath of the traps set in the previous film. When two Feds played by Patterson and Karkanis take the investigation over, both Rigg and Hoffman feel powerless in the investigation, with the former delving into a quasi-obsession. His obsession quickly attracts Jigsaw's attention and Rigg and his girlfriend are kidnapped, flinging them into a game of their own.

Director Darren Lynn Bousman cuts between scenes of Rigg and his torment and the FBI investigation, where we a treated to some vital insight into Jigsaw's life, including his tantalising first game and the twisted testimony of his ex-wife. This psychological insight is probably the only truly competent flourish to this film– originals Whannell and Wan moved aside for scripting duties and were replaced by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstun, the duo responsible for the screenplay of the Project Greenlight monster flick Feast. This is definitely the franchise's most significant mistake – Whannell and Wan knew where to stop, and the misanthropic death finale of the vastly superior Saw III was a logical closure point. A resurrection is inane and, more vitally, totally unnecessary. But a cash cow is a horrible thing – Saw IV grossed $30 million in Canada and the US alone in its opening week, tripling its original budget despite a plethora of negative reviews. A fifth and sixth instalment have also been greenlit, to which Tobin Bell as Jigsaw is attached. Thankfully, though, it looks as if Bousman has decided to keep what's left of his career and pass on the sequels, with David Hackl (a production designer and second-unit director for the previous films) slated to direct.

Visually, Saw IV is striking enough. The torture set pieces are particularly sadistic this time around, a fact that is probably reflected by the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification originally awarding this an R18+ rating, making it the most restricted film of the series. However, the proceedings quickly wear thin. Originality isn't exactly Saw IV's strong point, and the traps have all really been seen before in one way or another. And the twist – the raison-d'etre of the entire franchise – is spoiled in a flood of inept, amateur writing that completely disregards the 'fuck, of course!' mechanism employed by the previous three pictures.

But, ultimately, what does the punter buy a ticket to a Saw film for? Wan and Whannell's plot intelligence is thrown out the window in favour of soppy justifications and extended sequences of sub-par gore. It would be prudent to remember that the seminal original wasn't an excessively violent film – the claustrophobic atmosphere and mystery was what made it a classic. Bousman's follow-ups relied heavily on spilling claret however, until this latest entry, it was justified with an elaborate trademark twist and inventive traps. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Saw IV. Wan and Whannell are definitely the missing link here, though the fact that their post-Saw lives have been exemplified by the likes of Dead Silence admittedly screams 'fluke'.

While it isn't a totally lost cause, Saw IV is merely a companion piece to its predecessors, and is tentatively recommended for those looking for closure in the series. It's capitalist ambitions are obvious, and it showcases little of the substance that we have come to know and love of the Saw series. A disappointment.
Movie Score
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