Saw IV could be the last Saw worth seeing

Sequel succeeds overall, but is getting stale

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Scott Patterson

Saw IV
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Tobin Bell, Scott Patterson, Lyriq Bent, Donnie Wahlberg

3 stars

Jigsaw and the gang are back for the fourth installment of the ever-successful Saw franchise.

Keeping with the tradition of near-Halloween releases, Saw IV follows the same ritual of suspense, gore, and nearly justifiable homicide. This time, the story follows two characters.

Sergeant Rigg (Bent) finds himself in one of Jigsaw’s (Bell) twisted games. He is given 90 minutes to change his life and possibly save the life of missing cop Eric Matthews (Wahlberg). The other story revolves around Special Agent Strahm (Patterson of Gilmour Girls fame) as he tries to unravel the mystery of who could be carrying on Jigsaw’s legacy.

As the story unfolds, more of Jigsaw’s past is revealed, generating greater sympathy for his character. Unlike the Jasons and the Freddys of the horror world, Jigsaw does what he does for a reason: to try to make lives better.

As expected, the guts and gore of the movie is mind-blowing. From the you-see-everything autopsy of Jigsaw’s body, to the various eye-gouging, wrist-slitting torture scenes, Saw IV lives up to the franchise’s famed brutality.

Unfortunately, as the fourth movie in the series, some of the story is difficult to follow without any kind of pretext. To put it simply, if the last Saw you saw was the first installment, you haven’t seen it all. The last 10 minutes don’t make a scrap of sense without an intimate understanding of Saw III.

The acting in the Saw franchise has never been a highlight (remember Cary Elwes in the first one?) but Saw IV’s cast is pretty solid.

Bell is especially captivating in the flashback scenes. The script " which is the first in the series not written by franchise creators Leigh Wannell and James Wan " is perhaps more intelligent than the rest of the trilogy.

While some characters, Strahm especially, are less believable than others, Saw IV still has a good story, hinging on the two-tiered major twist at the end.

The conclusion of Saw IV leaves the Saw franchise at a dangerous crossroads. Until now, the introduction and killing of new characters and the invention of creative traps has been enough to justify the sequels. In Saw IV, however, the staleness is starting to show, putting the series in jeopardy. Saw V and Saw VI have already been announced, but the usual formula is starting to falter.

Can Saw survive another two sequels, particularly with its main villain lying cold on a slab in the morgue? We will have to wait until Halloween 2008 to find out.

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