OCTOBER 27, 2007
Christ, thank God I watched Saw III just a few hours before sitting down for Saw IV, or else I’d probably be pretty baffled as to what the hell I just watched. Despite a new set of writers, the film is probably the least accessible of the entire series, and I can’t imagine how someone who had never seen the last film would react to the finale (let alone someone who had never seen any of the others).
See, despite their intertwined nature with the previous films, II and III were fairly stand alone in terms of basic plot understanding. Sure, some of the references and revelations would be a little confusing, but you’d get the jist of it. But how anyone would be able to understand what the hell was happening at the end of IV is beyond me. A character from III (I wish these movies had subtitles!), who hasn’t even been mentioned in the new film yet, suddenly stumbles out of a room and begins interacting with the new characters, never introduced by name or given any sort of real introduction (there are some flashbacks, but they serve as reminders for the Saw faithful, not Cliff's Notes for newcomers). Granted, I am sure they don’t expect that someone would begin with part IV, but the filmmakers were actually quoted on claiming that IV would be totally accessible to newcomers, and that is far from the truth.
For the fans though, who let’s be honest, are the ones who make up 99.9% of the audience, the film is a lot of fun. Like III, I now have trouble deciding which is my favorite, as I like them all for different reasons. The original remains the best written, but II is the one that surprised me the most, and III has my favorite character (Jeff). So what does IV bring to my table?
Well the opening scene, for starters, is possibly one of the greatest meta-scenes in film history. For a year, everyone has assumed that Jigsaw would be magically resurrected. How can you do a Saw film without, well, JigSAW? So what do Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton come up with? A lengthy, hilarious autopsy scene in which we see John Kramer on the receiving end of surgical procedures that no one could survive. His brain is removed, his chest is torn apart, other organs removed, etc. It’s as if the writers and Darren Bousman were just saying “See! He’s fucking dead! DEAD!” before moving along with the new story.
We also see his balls.
The rest of the film follows a plot similar to III. Like Jeff, Detective Rigg is not a bad person, but he is still guilty of living a life that is devoted to the wrong thing. In Jeff’s case, this was revenge. Rigg’s is obsession (with his work, particularly Jigsaw), at the cost of his family. He neglects his wife, has no friends, etc. So Jigsaw puts him through the tests to see if he is capable of letting go. Now, unlike the previous films, this plan has a bit of a flaw in terms of storytelling – had Rigg just opted to be a better man right from the start, and accompany his wife to her mother’s, the rest of the film wouldn’t work. It’s not so much that Jigsaw was trying to help him, but instead just playing a very elaborate game of “I told you so”.
Another thing is, while it actually makes for somewhat more compelling characters, it’s strange how Jigsaw is going after better and better people all the time. He still dishes out his unique form of justice on criminals (strangely, the hardest scene for me to watch in this one was seeing video of a rapist about to attack a woman tied to a bed, as well as some photos of her after the fact), but his primary targets (in this case, Rigg) are pretty decent people in the later sequels. At this rate, by the time Saw VIII rolls around, he’ll be going after guys who simply forgot their wife’s birthday by tying some sort of death trap to a piece of string around their finger. “Choose to never forget anything again!”
Some folks have been complaining about this one’s wide open ending. To them I ask 3 things: 1. Have you ever seen any of the other films? They all end on an ambiguous note. Christ, they still haven’t even told us Dr. Gordon’s fate, and III’s ending was far more “set-up”-y than this. 2. One would assume big fans would read things like Bloody Disgusting or Dread Central, who have been reporting for over a year now that Saw 5 and 6 are already greenlit, and the director for 5 has already been hired (putting them way ahead of the schedule for IV – Darren Bousman only signed on to return about 8 months before release). Why wrap everything up when the next film is already begun pre-production? Gotta leave SOMETHING for the sequels. And 3. You don’t know jack shit about wide open endings until you’ve seen Halloween 5 or Curse of Michael Myers (aka 6). And at least Saw 5 doesn’t threaten to pretend the sequels never happened and pick up in some prep school where Jigsaw is the headmaster.
All in all, it’s another worthy entry in one of modern horror’s most unique franchises. Sure, they are not perfect, but the effort they put into assembling their stories and complimenting the previous films in the series is quite admirable. As enjoyable as they may be, I really don’t think the Friday the 13th or Hellraiser (a closer cousin to Saw) films really benefit from being watched in sequence, nor do they reward the audience for paying attention to the previous entries. There’s plenty of carnage to enjoy if you’re a gorehound, but you can’t turn your brain off for any of them either (at least not fully). Kudos.
What say you?