Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Sequences of Grisly Bloody Violence and Torture throughout, and for Language
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by: Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton
Starring: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Lyriq Bent, Athena Karkanis & Justin Louis
Even though SAW III could have been a fitting finale for one hell of a horror trilogy, a fourth film was greenlit before the third one even hit theaters. By the time SAW IV was released, Lionsgate had confirmed upcoming fifth and sixth installments were already in production. In other words, Lionsgate loved that SAW was banking at the box office and they planned on keeping their torture-porn money train rolling. Unfortunately, SAW IV is where the series began to dip into mediocrity and stupidity. SAW IV is the second-worst film in the franchise and seems entirely constructed of half-hearted attempts to replicate better moments from the previous three chapters.
John Kramer (a.k.a. the Jigsaw Killer, played by Tobin Bell) has died. After being sliced open during an autopsy, a wax-coated tape is discovered in John’s stomach. Grizzled cop Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is called to the scene and plays the cassette only to find that Jigsaw’s twisted games aren’t over. Jigsaw apparently had another accomplice and SWAT team member Rigg (Lyriq Bent from the previous two SAW films) is playing a new sadistic game. Rigg cares too much about saving people (I guess that’s a flaw?) and a series of traps/games are meant to force him to “empathize” with Jigsaw. Meanwhile, new detectives Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Perez (Athena Karkanis) investigate Jigsaw’s shadowy recruit.
It’s hard not to sound bitter about SAW IV, but this film is a mess. Darren Lynn Bousman’s directorial chops slightly elevate the ridiculous material because his scene transitions are fun (aided by ingenious set designs) and there are a couple of decent scenes. It’s also worth noting that Lyriq Bent’s performance isn’t bad as he’s the first real heroic character to be put through Jigsaw’s tests, but this really raises eyebrows as Rigg’s problems aren’t really problems. Jigsaw had a method in picking his victims from their various sins that he saw as not appreciating life (e.g. drug use, suicide attempts, crimes, shady dealings, etc.) and Rigg doesn’t fit his M.O. at all. This is a huge plot hole that seems to exist purely to thrust Bent’s cop character into the spotlight.
As far as the series’ newcomers go, Scott Patterson and Athena Karkanis are two bland detectives on the Jigsaw case. Costas Mandylor may be the worst actor in the SAW series as Agent Hoffman and that’s saying a lot when you consider the low quality performances that populate a majority of this torture-porn franchise. Meanwhile, Betsy Russell is brought back as Jigsaw’s wife in both flashbacks and present day sequences. Russell also delivers a terrible performance. It’s too bad that Mandylor and Russell fill recurring roles throughout the last four films of this franchise, because their characters are boring and they can’t convincingly emote.
Even though his character is dead, Tobin Bell appears in flashbacks that deliver more details about how Kramer became Jigsaw. As if being diagnosed with cancer and surviving a suicide attempt weren’t sad enough (as glimpsed in the far superior SAW II), Kramer has also apparently been subjected to even more tragedy in his life that drove him to his “work.” A small subplot of how Kramer chose his first victim and invented his first device is kind of cool to watch, even though more insight into Jigsaw makes him less scary as a result.
SAW IV’s best trap hearkens back to the simpler, scarier bits of the series and involves a set of knives used in a disfiguring way. The rest of the traps are rather silly and out-ridiculous the already ridiculous (but cool) devices from SAW III. Apparently, straps attached to bed posts are strong enough to rip off limbs and one loud mechanical device was snuck into a mortuary without anyone noticing (playing a stitched-up spin on the first two parts of the phrase “See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil”).
Finally, SAW IV’s biggest slap in the face arrives in a twist ending that fails to leave much of an impact. Much like the rest of this lackluster sequel, SAW IV’s conclusion is a mediocre mish-mash of better scenes from better entries that came before this one. I don’t want to be specific because that would give away major spoilers for any viewer who dares to tread further into the series after the third film. I will just say that the conclusion of Rigg’s tests packs four eye-rollingly convoluted revelations in a row. There were further sequels to follow SAW IV and this isn’t even the worst film of the series. However, this is still a drastic step down from the quality of the first three SAWs. Just pretend that SAW is a trilogy and don’t venture into the IV-VII. Stop playing these games. It’s not worth it!