“Saw IV” is a good movie.
OK, stop laughing. I know there are some people who will never like this series. They might call it a gross bastardization of the horror genre, an annual mindless gorefest that never should have lit up the screen of any theater.
The temptation to dismiss the series is inevitable. After an innovative first movie, the pieces of shit that crawled off the assembly line the next two years made everyone wonder if the people who worked on the original movie had lost their ability, or motivation, to form new ideas. “II” and “III” consisted of trap after trap with no discernable purpose other than to shock the audience into submission as ribcages and intestines exploded across the screen.
“Saw IV” is different. It’s exceedingly rare that the fourth film in a series would be its best, but here we are. Tobin Bell is one tough son of a bitch, lasting through three movies with a brain tumor that appeared to kill him on at least three separate occasions. And this time he gets more screen time than ever. He is dead, as the absolutely disgusting opening autopsy scene proves, but he lives on through a series of flashbacks that offer new material on the mysteries surrounding his life’s work.
“Saw IV” is all about motive. A police officer (Lyriq Bent, “Skinwalkers”), whose previous partners have been victims in the earlier films, gets the chance to view the world through the eyes of Jigsaw, who, as it turns out, wasn’t always an evil machine-building psycho.
He once tried to help people legitimately by operating a drug rehab clinic. But when he tried to help those who needed it, they ultimately repaid his kindness with cruelty, sending him toward madness.
The cop is told not to free a masked woman he finds strapped into a machine that’s slowly ripping her braided hair off her head. But when he does free her, she immediately attacks him, because it turns out he was about to put her in jail on a prostitution charge. “See what I see” is scrawled in blood on the walls of the room, echoing Jigsaw’s feeling of betrayal when those he helped viciously turned on him years ago.
“Saw IV” doesn’t waste time. Each trap has a significant meaning, adding to the overarching plot of the series. The storyline and characters can often becomes confusing, and the entire movie is needlessly convoluted at times, but it’s worth the effort to keep track of things. Those who critique “Saw” as mindless will think twice after this one. Though the film doesn’t abandon the brutality that made it famous, now there’s more to it.
The acting is still disastrous, which has been try in every “Saw” movie since Cary Elwes gave a comical performance while pretending to die of massive blood loss. It’s as if they put an ad on Craigslist that said “want 2 b in a movie? come audition 4 saw” and accepted whoever showed up. As “V” and “VI” are filmed, it might be nice to find other people who know can plausibly read lines so Bell doesn’t have to carry the entire movie on his back.
Each “Saw” film has tried its own twist ending, but this is the best by far, and although the temptation is great, you won’t find it spoiled here. You should know that seeing the other three films beforehand is a must, unlike the nonexistent need to watch the previous nine “Friday the 13th” movies before watching “Jason X.”
It’s complicated, it’s bloody and it’s fun. The best “Saw” to date will appease fans and anger critics everywhere, successfully keeping its Halloween tradition alive.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
At Quality 16 and Showcase