It is with Saw IV that I have finally started to tire of the series. Perhaps it was that I was emotionally spent by the time the third installment—which was a solid conclusion to a great trilogy—or maybe it’s that the two most interesting characters of the series are now dead, even though Saw IV attempts to convince us that, even in death, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, appearing in a bunch of flashbacks) can still perform the duty of teaching people the meaning of life through torturous devices and puzzles.
The main storyline of Saw IV involves one of the few remaining supporting cast members from the earlier films, Daniel Rigg (Lyriq Bent), being put through a series of trials, much like Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) was the last time around. Daniel has been neglecting the rest of his life in an attempt to locate a couple of the police officers that have died in the series thus far, and the lesson that Jigsaw wants to teach him is that he can’t save everybody, no matter how hard he tries—and that he most certainly shouldn’t mess up his own life in an attempt to do so.
Daniel has to go from location to location and either save, kill, or put another character to a test similar to his own. The problem is that, save for the first test, there isn’t a whole lot of tension in his story. He is rarely put in harm’s way, and the people who wind up being tortured—and that’s essentially all that they have happen—have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film. They show up, they are tortured, and then they never get mentioned again.
In fact, in a couple of cases, Daniel doesn’t have to do anything in order to proceed. He could just grab the next note, go to the next location, and continue on his way. Because of this, any tension generated, of which there is very little, feels forced and fake. If it could all be avoided, there’s no way it’s going to wind up costly. It’s true that this is intentional and that it goes to serve Jigsaw’s message (you’ll see how at the end of the film), but it doesn’t make for a thrilling experience.
The second story—because the Saw movies need two parallel stories now, apparently—involves a couple of FBI agents attempting to track down our actual protagonist, as well as figure out more of Jigsaw’s origins. Most of that information comes in the form of both flashbacks and exposition during interrogations with Jigsaw’s ex-wife, Jill (Betsy Russell, seen in a cameo in the last film). This story is DOA and never becomes interesting. It’s a good thing it’s the secondary plot or the film as a whole would be a complete waste of time.
I enjoyed all three earlier installments, but this is just a bore from start to finish.
I think the main problem here is that this is all familiar content that isn’t done as well as it previously was. I’ve already mentioned that Daniel’s story is basically a re-tread of the ordeal that Jeff went through in the last movie, but the FBI story is also similar to, well, all of the police stories from the previous films. There isn’t anything new here, and save for a few reveals at the end—a Saw trademark—there’s nothing that you need to see, even if you’re a big fan of the franchise.
Even the traps, puzzles, games, or whatever you want to call them aren’t terribly fresh in this film. The idea that people can be taught lessons by being put through situations which require mental and physical turmoil could easily be enough to carry the series. It’s a brilliant idea and if there’s enough creativity from a writing standpoint, these would be enough to satisfy much of the audience. There isn’t any creativity this time around, and the only gruesome part comes right at the beginning, and happens to a corpse.
Keeping with Saw tradition, Saw IV attempts to be too clever at the end, although this time it’s without any explanation. Characters from previous movies appear and sometimes aren’t even given any dialogue. If you’re not one of the initiated—meaning you’ve watched at least the second and the third film; it’s funny how first one is the least important in regard to the overarching plot, isn’t it?—you’ll get little out of these reveals.
Saw IV has shown that the writers have simply run out of ideas. There is nothing here that we haven’t seen before. A once fresh concept has now grown stale. Each Saw film has been released a year after the previous one, and while that wasn’t a problem after three films, the fourth has shown that this production method isn’t sustainable. This is a cash-in movie, and I can’t support its existence. If it was at least fun like the earlier chapters, I would be okay with the cash-in mentality, but it simply isn’t. It’s dull.
Saw IV is not a good movie. I enjoyed all three earlier installments, but this is just a bore from start to finish. It’s not scary, it’s not thrilling, and it’s not even creative. About the only thing that the filmmakers needed to do correctly was provide us with some innovative traps and puzzles, but they couldn’t even do that. Most of the film is a rehash of earlier chapters, and what’s new isn’t worth seeing. It’s for the die-hard fans only, and they’ll probably reminisce at the better, earlier films in the series.
Conclusion: Saw IV is the first significant misstep for the Saw franchise.
Recommendation: The best way to appreciate the Saw movies is to stop after the third one. Only completionists need to keep going.