Saw IV (2007)

*. I’ve heard it said that it’s best to binge-watch the Saw series, making the effect sort of like one of those Feuillade serials, with Jigsaw and his acolytes in the role of the super-criminals Fantômas or the Vampires. I’m inclined to agree with this, as I didn’t see Saw IV until long after I’d seen Saw III and, to be honest, I’d completely forgotten what had happened in that film. Since the surprise twist at the end of IV (spoiler here) is that the action has all been taking place at the same time as the events of III, if I had remembered what happened in III I might have understood this one a little better. But I doubt I would have enjoyed it any more.
*. There have been worse franchises, I’m sure, but that’s the best I can say for these movies. A lot of fans (or Sawmaniacs) like to rank them from best to worst but I don’t see the point in that. Aside from the first, none of them are very good. They’re not terrible, but if you want to call one of them better than the others you’re really going to have to roll up your critical sleeves and do some work. I just don’t have it in me.
*. For what it’s worth, Saw IV may be the most complicated Saw movie, as it marks the transition or passing of the torch from John Kramer (Tobin Bell) to Lt. Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). The story is told in a typically non-linear fashion and a second viewing may be necessary to pick up all the clues as to what is going on. That said, the big reveal had none of the same impact as Kramer rising from the dead at the end of Saw. When Hoffman is shown to be the mastermind behind the whole plot here I only felt that it made about as much sense as anything else in the movie.

*. On that last point, I realize Jigsaw is a criminal genius, but his plots here come together with no plausibility whatsoever. It even puts The Game to shame. In the next entry, Saw V, Jigsaw tells us that “if you’re good at anticipating the human mind it leaves nothing to chance.” That’s bullshit. I mean, I’m glad they at least made a belated attempt at addressing a major problem all these movies have (and one which got progressively worse as the series continued), but it’s still bullshit. At any point in the story if one little thing had gone wrong then the whole Rube Goldberg plot would have fallen to pieces. Of course, nothing ever does go wrong because then there wouldn’t be a movie. As director Darren Lynn Bousman says on the commentary: “Jigsaw knows everything. You just have to kind of buy into that believability if you’re going to go on the journey of the Saw films.”
*. There’s nothing particularly new going on in this instalment, but that shouldn’t be surprising. Audiences wanted more of the same, and Bousman (who also directed II and III) wasn’t about to disappoint them. On the commentary he even says at one point that “the Saw films direct themselves,” which was being facetious (I think) but not far from the mark. Later he remarks on how the assembly-line nature of the Saw franchise production schedule doesn’t leave any time for second-guessing or tweaking the process. But that’s what franchise filmmaking is.
*. So (after a nice blue-grey prologue with what look like colourized fleshy reds) there are the same usual morbid green tones, brightening at times to chartreuse, for the torture chambers, the same whirling dervish-style editing, the same slippery (and sometimes very clever) transitions, the same nightmare nesting of tapes and notes and photos and other clues, and of course the usual bunch of post-industrial, rust-belt inspired traps. All of this was there in the original Saw and they weren’t messing with the formula this late in the day.

*. As part of the shift from Kramer to Hoffman the beneficence of the former is stressed even more, though I don’t think very convincingly. Sure Hoffman is just a bureaucratic killer without Jigsaw’s joyless sadism and sense of mission, but I never bought Kramer’s philosophy of teaching his victims some kind of lesson even in the first film and as things went on it became increasingly tenuous. He’s saving Rigg by teaching him not to try and save people? What sense does that make? And how does Rigg’s basic sense of honour and duty make him deserving of such punishment?
*. I wonder how much Donnie Wahlberg got paid for this. I think they mentioned on the commentary that he was only there for a couple of days of filming, and while I doubt he was ever very comfortable he didn’t really have to do much either.
*. It does repay a second viewing to unpack all the little Easter eggs that have been scattered about, but even after seeing it a few times I haven’t come away liking it any more. It’s a well crafted puzzle with a decent twist, and I don’t think anyone’s to blame, but I found myself caring less and less about what’s going on as this series continued. I hate to think I’m only interested in seeing what sort of horrible contraptions they’ll come up with next, but the rest of the stuff doesn’t seem worth the effort figuring out.

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