Movie Review: "Saw IV"
Rating: R Length: 93 minutes
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2007
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Genre: Crime / Horror / Thriller
Stars: 3 out of 5
Some film series never seem to end. "Halloween" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" may leap to mind for some viewers, but even those tales waxed and waned as they passed the third film in the series. "Saw IV" reinvigorates the franchise with something that viewers of the first three films are likely to have desired from the very first deathtrap. The film gives moviegoers a look inside the mind of the villain and delivers glimpses of his past. This, combined with an excellent story about friendships between police officers and the tell-tale suspense of the traps, brings the franchise back to life and proves a worthy addition to the lineup of a film series that catapulted Jigsaw to fame alongside such horror greats as Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees.
In true serial fashion, "Saw IV" picks up right where the third film stopped. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and his apprentice are dead, and everyone is ready for a sigh of relief that will never come. During the autopsy of the villain's body, Lt. Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) discovers a tape that informs him that the game isn't over. Lt. Daniel Rigg (Lyriq Bent) is then forced to complete a series of tasks to save his companions, Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) and Hoffman. Along the way, he begins to learn to think like Jigsaw does and actually begins to create the same kind of traps that the villain uses in his games, albeit for different reasons. The trip into the past of John Kramer, the man who would become Jigsaw, is the highlight of the film.
The acting in "Saw IV" is every bit as good as it was in the first few movies. Bell reprises his role as Jigsaw beautifully, and moviegoers are likely to empathize heavily with the villain by the movie's end. This is in no small part due to Bell's acting talent. Mandylor's performance as Hoffman is likewise believable, continuing his tale from "Saw III" with the same level of precision and expertise. Bent steals the show for most of the film, however; his portrayal of a man haunted by his own past and learning the secrets of a serial killer is one of the best available in modern horror films. Wahlberg's performance is good for its part, but the diminished role of Matthews in the film gives him little to work with.
The camera angles and transitions of "Saw IV" follow the same pattern as those in the second and third films of the series. The first movie was a low-budget production, but the later films add powerful equipment to capture just the right lighting and create ever more believable deathtraps as the series advances. The traps themselves are no less gory than before, but they do seem far more insidious this time. The mind of a master machinist lies behind them, and the production staff does an excellent job of relaying this through the props used in the film.
The script of "Saw IV" is a large part of what gives the series a boost, but it also provides one of the biggest stumbling blocks. The audio recordings from Jigsaw seem filled with both malice and sadness, but actual dialogue between the characters suffers. Whether it involves one officer saving a Jigsaw victim or another in a heated argument, the spoken words often fall flat and become secondary to the action and eerie backgrounds of the film. The plot itself is a work of art that's every bit as sinister and devious as a Jigsaw trap, and the script advances the plot time and again in spite of the sometimes drab dialogue.
The direction in the film is excellent, and Bousman has clearly honed his craft over the course of three Saw films. The new additions to the cast are excellent and believable characters, and the pacing of the movie is near perfect. Action flows quickly between scenes, and quick transitions let viewers know exactly where the characters are and what's going on, even at times when the moviegoers may want to look away from the screen.
"Saw IV" gives the series a boost and delivers a creative new take on the time-tested formula of deathtraps and tests. The look into the mind and life of Jigsaw is an adventure worthy of its own film, and it fits exceptionally well with the mystery and crime drama elements of this movie. "Saw IV" is likely to land on the shelves of horror and mystery fans alike, though it still relies heavily on the franchise's storied sequences of gore and death, which many viewers may find unsettling.