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Besides a misstep with episode II, I have to admit that I have thoroughly enjoyed the Saw saga. From the get-go, I was intrigued by what these young upstarts, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, were bringing to the horror genre. While the original had its moments of bad acting and campiness—sorry Cary Elwes, I’m still a big fan—it was unique, uncompromising, and began a new genre of film coined torture porn. While the two gents decided against creating a series on their own, they did stay on to produce and write the subsequent entries. This is a great thing because it allowed a cohesiveness and plot continuity that could not have existed otherwise. With that voice intact, as well as the willingness of actors to stay onboard for necessary cameos, the series has been a pleasure to watch, thematically of course, it’s not like I take my enjoyment on a sadistic level by any means…well maybe a little.

I will be the first to say that by the conclusion of Saw III, I was ready to say goodbye with a smile on my face. What more could be told? Important characters had died and loose ends had been tied. I had all but written the fourth entry off—that is until I heard Darren Lynn Bousman decided to return for one more go. He saw something in the script to forego retirement from the franchise, even with it being the first without credit to the creators. Between his reversal, statements that the killing mechanisms were the most gruesome yet, and just a plain wonderment at how they would pull it off, I was back onboard to witness Jigsaw’s new puzzle, Saw IV.

Once again, we have secondary roles from the previous films becoming our central “contestants”. SWAT leader Rigg, played effectively by Lyriq Bent, honestly the best performance of the bunch, acting alongside some amateurish people, has been recruited to discover the destructive quality of his obsession. Why Jigsaw would care about this, or in actuality even know about it, is answered by the end, along with more background to his mastermind sadist. Besides the degenerate society he is apart of and his diagnosis of cancer, it now appears a broken marriage, a miscarried child, and a failed suicide attempt have all culminated into his mission to “help” others see what a gift life is. This look into his past is an interesting glimpse to help shed light on previous moments from the other films, as well as set up the interrogations with his ex-wife and involvement of helpers during the course of this current segment. Tobin Bell is creepy as ever, but in fact it is the early moments via flashback, which truly scare. He was a man in love, with a business about to flourish. To see him happy, and in control of his emotions, while still containing a bit of an edge, just makes the transformation into the Jigsaw we know and love more staggering and almost forgivable.

We are allowed back into scenes from the third film as well as the characters from the past two. Everything comes full circle as we finally see who is behind all the new games with Jigsaw out of commission. The ending is a great twist as usual, also setting up what can be a successful sixth movie. To see that Jigsaw’s new apprentice is not untouchable in his traps is a welcome viewpoint and continuation of his unflinching scruples to never allow anyone the opportunity to take what they have for granted. Once more, all the past roles are seamlessly integrated back in, and the ability to keep everything relevant and possible leads me to think Whannell and Wan still had input in the script, even though they didn’t receive formal credit. If anything, new writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan have only improved the story with their brand of torture. With the plot able to evolve, they breathe a bit of freshness into the killing machines. Between a scalper, spike stabbed arteries, limb removal, and knives to the face—the blood is by no means scaled back. If anyone still has questions about what might be coming, they must have had their hands covering their faces during the first scene. The tug-of-war between a man with eyes sewn shut and another with his mouth clamped gets us right back into the action.

This is a pretty generalized review, so as to not give too much away. The beauty of the series has always been its twists and turns. If the second film got anything right, it was the ending for showing us what the writers were capable of. While that one failed by having way too many characters and plot threads, the third redeemed the series by going back to its roots of two distinct storylines destined to converge at the end. Saw IV succeeds by once more not going for the bigger is better mentality when it comes to story. The deaths may adhere to that way of thinking, but the story itself sticks to the mythology and only serves to enhance all that came before it. The decision to shoot both the fifth and sixth movies together will be an interesting experiment. While I look forward to seeing new ones after a lengthy period to hone their tales, there is still the chance that taking a year off might give the people a chance to forget and no longer care about the franchise. For churning out an entry every year for four straight, I must say the level of quality has for the most part stayed high. I for one will still be around in 2009, waiting anxiously to see what is in store for Detective Hoffman.

Saw IV 7/10
As comparison: Saw 7/10; Saw II 5/10; Saw III 7/10

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photography:
[1] Betsy Russell (“Jill”) stars in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s SAW IV.
[2] Scott Patterson (“Agent Strahm”) stars in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s SAW IV.

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