This review of Saw IV is part of the Saw Franchise Retrospective series in anticipation of this month’s release of Jigsaw.
Following the death of John Kramer (Tobin Bell), aka the Jigsaw killer, a tape is discovered in his cadaver’s stomach detailing a new game. Two police officers related to the Jigsaw case, SWAT member Rigg (Lyriq Bent) and Lt. Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), disappear.
Agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) is tasked with solving the latest Jigsaw mystery.
But who cares, really? Saw IV continues the franchise not far after the events of Saw III and utilizes small characters from previous films as if we fell in love with them the moment we met them. Rigg, up until this movie, existed mainly to be a guy leading a SWAT team into Jigsaw hiding places. He never had a character until this film, where it became clear to director Darren Lynn Bousman and a couple of screenwriters that the Saw franchise was loosing its connective tissue with each film.
Saw IV even doubles back to the last film, showing us again a police character who was killed at the hands of Jigsaw. But this police officer was never a pivotal node in the narrative.
The one character in the franchise that seemingly did have some sort of relevance returns here as well, but Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) literally stands in place the entire film.
If the Saw franchise wasn’t spinning its wheels by the fourth installment, it certainly starts to with the fourth installment. It reaches to have as many connections as possible with previous films, while continuing to kick the series along with a patented “twist” ending.
The film goes so far as to hang on to the literal dead weight of its fallen killer, delving into the backstory of a character who is already dead. This does not provide insight; it pads the runtime. Not to mention it introduces one of the worst acting performances of the franchise in the way of Betsy Russell.
It is a commonly held belief nowadays that expounding on the origins of slasher movie villains ruins the mystique of those villains. That is why most horror movie remakes come off empty. In the case of Saw, nothing good can come from diving into the warped philosophies of its titular villain. The basic premise of his conceit—that he has never truly killed anyone, they kill themselves—is a silly concept that never begins to hold water. Shedding more light on it only exposes the holes even more.
Saw IV is also rendered more static by its main plotline, in which Officer Rigg travels from trap to trap and merely watches what transpires. The backstory that is provided with this is not enough to make Rigg’s story compelling, and thus we are left to merely watch with him as trap after gratuitous trap is executed.
And they’re not even good traps, even for those who are into that kind of thing. Torture porn is never fun, but Saw IV is bold enough to make it boring.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)