Another year saw yet another entry from the number one series to stagger bloodied and traumatised from the taboo-humping genre known as Tourture Porn (although I’ve always preferred Gorno as a title, personally) and fans arrived to clock in for their annual dose of industrial levels of suffering – but this time, things were different. Sort of…
The climatic death of the figurehead of a horror franchise isn’t exactly new territory and the multiple comeuppances of Freddy, Jason and the rest of the gang are usually shrugged off like a fleeting dose of the shits, but Jigsaw on the other hand is very human and the accumulated damage of being riddled with cancer, having DIY brain surgery and having his throat slashed with a power saw proved to be too much for the old fucker. But how can a horror series, even one as tangled as Saw, manage to keep on truckin’ after it’s main antagonist is dead – like, dead dead. Answer: get even more convoluted, apparently.
Just in case anyone had some crackpot theories about John Kramer somehow faking his bloody demise at the climax of Saw III, we start proceedings poring over every detail of Jigsaw’s autopsy only to find out the devious prick has hidden a cassette by swallowing it moments before his death (as good a reason as any to not to upgrade to CD’s, I guess). As Detective Hoffman grimly listens to what could be interpreted as threats from beyond the grave, we bounce over to find SWAT guy Rigg traumatised by the discovery of the body of Alison Kerry, a former colleague left over from part III and still stressing about the disappearance of another, Detective Eric Matthews who vanished after tangling with Jigsaw in part II. However, due to being saddled with a sizable saviour complex , it turns out that Rigg is next on Jigsaw’s shit list who has arranged a string of challenges to complete if he wants to save the life of a still alive Matthews and a recently kidnapped Hoffman. While Rigg deals with the various scumbags and deviants that have been strapped into clunky instruments of pain, two surprisingly aggressive FBI investigators are trying to solve things from the other end by going over Jigsaw’s tragic past with his ex-wife, Jill Tuck would we’ve previously seen in a hallucination (look, just go with it, yeah?). As the pre-Jigsaw history of John Kramer is finally revealed to us and we see the man take his first steps to becoming the self-help sadist we all know and love, Rigg’s odessy of self mutilation and death is due to end with a twist no one could have possibly predicted…
It’s probably at this point in the series that the sheer weight of exposition, twists and back story finally first started to bring the Saw series to it’s bloodied knees. Where Saw III attempted to let it’s vastly tangled plot simmer over a robust two hour runtime, Saw IV attempts to cram in the same amount of shit but in a noticably smaller bag (it clocks in at a ferociously lean 96 minutes) which means the pace moves like shit off a shovel but it does so at the expense at clarity. Rocketing along as it zigs and zags like a rusty, tetanus-riddled version of those light-cycles from Tron, it’s exceeding easy to find yourself utterly lost and it’s probably because Saw IV saw the departure of series writer/actor Leigh Whannell. The other issue is the movie is moving with such velocity, there’s barely a single second of breathing space alloted to process a single thing that you’re seeing; it turns out it’s just as difficult to digest a massive plot twist while someone is screaming the screams of the tortured than it is to recover from a particularly nasty sequence when you have yet another revelation to get your head around, but the movie has absolutely no intention of slowing down one bit. Another thing that doesn’t help is that the giant twist is actually aimed at not the characters but at us, the audience and it catches you so unawares (Spoiler: it turns out that Saw III and IV are actually occuring at the same time with the autopsy scene that opens the film chronologically occuring after the film has ended) that you’d be forgiven for losing the plot entirely unless you’d boned up on the events of the preceding entry first. Upon my first viewing of the film I actually felt a fairly cheated at the blatant manipulation of the filmmakers (is it really a twist if all you’ve done is simply stick the epilogue at the beginning?) but Saw IV has a weird benefit of being a noticably better movie during a second watch once you’re already clued in to it’s obnoxious chicanery and you’re up to speed with the revised timeline. Not holding up so well is the OTHER twist that reveals (Spoilers again) that the chunky Detective Hoffman is actually a Jigsaw acolyte too and is due to succeed on in Jigsaw’s name as the lifeless bodies of John Kramer and Amanda Young congeal all over the floor. It seems to have been created purely to fill in the plot hole that a cancer patient and a 107 pound woman simply couldn’t achieve the kidnapping and body hefting needed to pull all this shit off and while I mean no disrespect to actor Costas Mandylor, he’s simply not Tobin Bell whose flashbacks don’t really add that much to his deceased icon and reek of manic depressive soap opera.
I guess that just leaves the traps, and due to their victims chiefly being a pimp, a rapist and a child beater, Saw IV has a decidedly more sleazy edge to it than others but unfortunately if you don’t care about the person in the trap (in fact, you don’t really care about anyone) then you’re really only here for the mindless gore. That being said, spare a thought for poor Donnie Wahlberg who must have been relieved that his character’s journey finally has a spectacular, splattery end after spending virtually his entire screen time standing on a melting block of ice with a chain around his neck – it’s taken three whole movies of abuse but when an utterly broken Matthews whimpers “I don’t wanna play anymore”, you finally feel sorry for him despite the fact that he’s a corrupt, rageholic knob-end.
And yet, despite trying to do way too much with way too little, Saw IV still manages to churn out just enough of those increasingly desperate money shots and gasp inducing twists to keep things afloat; although it’s rapidly getting tougher to call which have gotten more far fetched – the twists or the traps..