Never has a film’s tagline on the poster created more of a sense of dread and throw-up-a-little-in-the-back-of-your-mouth level of concern then that of Saw IV. “Just when you thought it was over… The game has just begun!” What? Really? With three movies preceding it, it’s taken till the fourth movie to allegedly start proceedings? Surely not right? And just how interested can anyone genuinely be in this franchise anymore when, in terms of quality, the films so far have went from an actually rather well done bit of cult escapist fare to a mildly entertaining sequel then on to a desperate, reaching, nothing if not mediocre third entry before arriving at this fourth entry, a film that if you exaggerated its quality you’d still be way off from even calling it “desperate, reaching and nothing if not mediocre”
The initial problem, of many, with Saw IV is one of arrogance. It thinks it is oh-so-clever in what it is presenting. So much so that the producers were said to quote The Godfather Part II as inspiration for it’s multi-stranded and parallel storytelling. Well when your level of self-belief is that high, it’s an absolute delight to take you down a peg or two.
To start with Saw IV doesn’t have an actual story to tell. Jigsaw was dead at the end of Part III and the cliffhanger ending of that movie was so uninteresting that they didn’t even go with it for proceedings this time round. That tells you something right there doesn’t it? Instead they try, and boy do I mean “try”, to tell a story of some minor SWAT leader character from Parts II and III going into the “game”, whilst flashing back to how Jigsaw came to be, to following two FBI agents investigating proceedings AND suggesting as unsubtly as possible that this isn’t a film post-part III but actually going on at the same time as it.
It’s stupidly handled and poorly executed so it’s an absolute mess of a film that is continuously confusing to remain focused upon. The film may have had a chance digging itself out of this rather all-important hole if it had characters you give a stuff about it but seeing as they are stock stereotypes acted poorly by second-string soap opera actors then you don’t even have that opportunity.
The film is so desperate to have a twist clearly because “all the other Saw movies had one” whether it has earned one or can intelligently conceive one, that in its dying moments it presents us with something so moronic and incoherent that we’re meant to go “Oh shit! It was him all along?” but we just sigh, shake our heads and say “Who the fuck is he again? So what is the plot meant to be suggesting?”
But that “desperation” is the key word to describe this entire franchise isn’t it? Desperate! I mean we’re not looking at a series of films with some grand story arc that the makers are wanting to play out are we? We’re looking at the type of film whose own producers deliver comments like “As long as these movies are bringing in four times what they cost to make then Lionsgate will always want a yearly Saw movie!” with deadly seriousness and no understanding of just what a tosser that makes them sound. Thank God that Saw IV only just about recovered its budget and performed completely under what was expected because, god willing, it could well have killed the franchise.
Then there’s the gore and visual effects which need to be commented upon obviously and which are what is important, nay all that seems to be important about this franchise. I’m not wrong in suggesting this. Hell, the makers drive you to this conclusion by loading the film front and centre with an absolutely horrific, up-close autopsy sequence and continuing on in this vein for ninety plus minutes in which dialogue, performance and competent direction all clearly play second fiddle to some fat-cat producers screaming inanities like “More blood! More blood! Bash up the pregnant bitch! That’s it! Now impale something in that fat fuck’s eye! Good! Good!”
With this film we are now at the point where getting the best horrific gore sequences on film is more important then having them held within any coherent context of a film. And that’s extremely worrying. If you ever hear of anyone or meet anyone who speaks highly of this film then back away slowly and call the police. You’ve probably just met a real life serial killer!
But… I’m going to save this flick from “no popcorn” rated purgatory (Hello Black Snake Moan, Black Christmas ‘07 and Across The Universe) even though it deserves it by drawing attention to the fact that, since the death of JT Walsh and the upgrading of David Morse and Paul Giamatti, Tobin Bell is one of the best character actors out there whose work is miles upon miles above this franchise, and in particular this god-awful film. Bell’s presence alone secures Saw IV a one “popcorn” rating it doesn’t justifiably earn!