One of the most interesting conversations I’ve had all year came when we all finished watching Lionsgate’s SAW IV, which was once again directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. What we chatted about comes on the heel of an upcoming writers strike that is set to force films into production prematurely. Something that is quite relevant when it comes to the SAW franchise. As you know every year Lionsgate finds a way to get another SAW film into theaters just in time for Halloween – how they do it is beyond us, but it’s quite impressive. The fact that the films are rushed can mean one of two things – the flaws are apparent because it was half-assed, or quite possibly the film is way better than it should be because it wasn’t over thought. I want to go with the latter as often too many hands are in the pot forcing a film into long delays and incoherent situations. SAW IV feels like it was an original thought, thrown on paper and tampered with just enough to fill the plot holes leaving us with yet another fun Halloween treat.
Now, upon the news of Detective Kerry’s murder, two seasoned FBI profilers, Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Agent Perez (Athena Karkanis), arrive in the terrified community to assist the veteran Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) in sifting through Jigsaw’s latest grizzly remains and piecing together the puzzle. However, when SWAT Commander Rigg (Lyriq Bent) is abducted and thrust into a game, the last officer untouched by Jigsaw has but ninety minutes to overcome a series of demented traps and save an old friend or face the deadly consequences.
After Jigsaw’s (Tobin Bell) death in SAW III many of us wondered how his legacy would live on… quite simply we have a series of flashbacks revealing the origin if the new horror icon. In addition, the finale of the film will reveal something so shocking it will force you to have to watch both SAW III and SAW IV again. The genius and problem with this “twist” is that it’s quite confusing when it’s revealed, but once thought about it becomes a device that will forever lend this entry as a worthy contribution to the franchise.
What’s also impressive is how far Darren Bousman has come as a director doing three SAW films. SAW IV is easily the most competent, stylish and “clean” film of his directing career. The transitions are astounding (maybe even overdone at times) and the film has a lot more depth than just quick-cuts flashing imagery in front of us. Editor Kevin Greutert – who worked on all four films – has also developed his skills showing us that a SAW film can be more than flash-cutting and intense pacing… this is the first of the franchise to take some time, and really build on the character’s situation (Rigg’s counting down clock).
The story, written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton with some help by Thomas Fenton, is also unique to the fact that a lot of characters return but aren’t forced into the story. It’s not overdone and not even ridiculous, like SAW III was at times. But the story couldn’t have come to life without the fantastic leads Lyriq Bent and Betsy Russell (Jigsaw’s ex-wife). Both actors played a tremendous role in bringing this story to life and making it believable.
But as great as the movie can be at times there are some flaws, such as understanding the twist. The ending is so crazy that it is written as if you have seen all three prior SAW films and have just seen SAW III. It’s pretty confusing, so confusing that I had to have it explained to me. As good as Lyriq and Betsy were, some of the other actors didn’t quite hit the spot as I thought at moments it was overacted. Lastly, by being so well shot and smoothly edited I thought some of the intensity of the film was removed and you didn’t quite feel the stress of the 90-minute countdown.
SAW IV will please any fan of the franchise and will fit nice and snug in your new trilogy box set. It has everything you’d ever want from a SAW film and really brings it full circle. The only thing that might displease some of you is the open-ended finale, which is about as blunt as closing the door on Adam’s face in the first SAW. But that’s was you expect right? As Jigsaw so calmly states, “this is only the beginning…”