In 2007, the Saw franchise was on cloud nine after Saw III set a new ceiling for the level of success the series could attain. In spite of that, I found myself arguing whether or not Saw III could have, in-fact, marked the series end. After all, while Saw II witnessed Amanda Young become The Jigsaw Killer’s protege, offering a new character to take series reins after the death of John Kramer, Saw III destroyed all of that!
Instead, not only did John Kramer die from a broken heart (and a slit throat), but Amanda Young didn’t survive either! This could have closed the Book of Saw once and for all, or at the very list, culminated a decent Trilogy and let the series cool off before the next story arc.
That isn’t Twisted Pictures’ style though, for better or worse, and because of that, Saw IV arrived only one year after Saw III, continuing the series’ impressive yearly formula.
Once again directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, this film was made with a screenplay by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan from a story by Melton, Dunstan, and Thomas Fenton, respectively. Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton will be reoccurring names from here on out, with screenplay credentials attached to every series entry until 2017‘s Jigsaw film. Horror fans may also recognize them as the ones’ responsible for The Collector series, a series that acts almost as an unofficial spiritual successor to the Saw series (the script was originally meant as a Saw film).
The film stars Tobin Bell, Scott Patterson, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, and Lyriq Bent. Saw IV was released to a negative critical reception from critics (not mixed-to-negative this time), but retained its box office strength. Although it was not as financially successful as its predecessor, the film still made nearly one-hundred and forty million from a ten million dollar budget, making it still a massive return on investment.
Happening roughly the same time as the previous installment, Saw IV introduces a new era for the series – a scratching my head confusedly era of the series, if you will. One of the biggest criticisms I have heard about the series from here on out is that you couldn’t watch them solely in the theater or as they are released on home-video. What I mean by this is, you couldn’t watch Saw IV without the context of Saw III, or you couldn’t watch Saw V without the context of Saw IV. Whereas, with the original Trilogy, which I consider its own unique story arc about John Kramer’s ideologies and experiments, and his relationship with disciple Amanda Young, is more self-contained.
I believe the assessment is accurate, in that, the series hereafter feels more episodic than offering a complete story each film. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and, in-fact, with the current release model, it offers an opportunity for quick turnaround and long-form storytelling with the series.
The story is more-or-less all about Jigsaw’s “master plan,” the way he intends to manipulate people in-order to continue his work. His latest victim, among others, is Officer Daniel Rigg who has developed an obsession with saving everyone in spite jeopardizing his own health. The test is meant to teach him to let go of his incessant need to save everyone, and thus, save Eric Mathews and Detective Hoffman.
Suitably twisty and demented, Saw IV offers bloodshed by the bucket and contrivances by the truckload. It isn’t, by any stretch, the worst of what’s to come, but it is something more distinct than simply the calm before the storm. Entangled flashbacks and connections plague this film, and although the cinematography and score is sleek, (I mentioned the segues between segments in the earlier film, but this film does a lot more of them) it doesn’t change how mechanical and emotionally removed the film feels.
Saw and Saw III were never exactly great character studies nor did they make you too emotionally invested, but they struck a better balance in-between the emotional turmoil of the characters, Kramer’s ideologies, his methods of torture, and when it was time to pull the rug out from under the viewer. Saw IV is more comparable to Saw II, I think. It offers more paint-by-the-numbers cliched detective characters, except it doesn’t offer enough counterweight.
The “traps” are left to earn most of the film’s keep. Similar to Friday the 13th or a slasher film, there is a level of enjoyment that can be found from watching a madman’s cruelties (some people refer to it as “torture porn,” but we don’t like some people), and a lot of Jigsaw’s appeal is that he offers new facets to that. They aren’t the most inventive in this film, but they do breathe some life into the film it would have sorely missed had they been absent.
I don’t necessarily know if this film marks when the Saw series had officially jumped the shark, but it is definitely in dismount. It isn’t an awful film, but I think I would wager it as the worst installment in the series thus far.