“I want to die. I’m tired of this game.” – Someone in Saw IV
Saw IV: You said it, man. The Saw films enter their fourth year this weekend. With this film guaranteed to bring in money over the weekend, the Saw series will continue for at least another two years. The producers have said as much, and as long as we keep feeding the beast, why should they stop? Criticizing the films is an exercise in redundancy. Critics don’t get advanced screenings, people come in, money is exchanged, DVD’s are sold, and the whole thing starts up again three-hundred-and-sixty-five days later.
All of the Saw films are about to elaborate machines rigged to torture people, and kill them, should the people fail to save themselves. “Saving themselves” means being scarred horribly for the rest of their lives, making each film a series of variations on the “Pride” sinner from Seven, who chose between a bottle of pills and a phone. That film’s genius was to have the cops come too late to the murders, so the dread could build and build. The Saw movies are that film’s bastard child on Ritalin. In these films, we see the gory murders take place with clinical detail.
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Indeed, the film opens up with an autopsy of the infamous Jigsaw killer, John Kramer (Tobin Bell). Director Darren Lynn Bousman, directing his third Saw feature, brings his camera as close as possible to the Y-incision, organ removal, and ribcage opening. We see Jigsaw’s scalp peeled back, his skull hollowed out. The camera dares us not to squirm, playing a cinematic game of chicken. I didn’t flinch. Where’s my cookie?
David A. Armstrong photographed all four of the Saw films, and Kevin Greutert edited them all. The two are as responsible as Bousman and the producers for Saw IV’s continued effort to kill tension via overdone camerawork and editing. Along with the films becoming a perennial, so have my complaints about them being shot and chopped like a music video. The style kills the suspense, and makes the gore just another image, rather than a show-stopping moment. When every scene is frenetic, the result is boredom.
Does anyone go to these movies to be scared? Or is it all about enjoying the shocks and gore? The high point of Saw III, relatively speaking, was watching a man suffer the risk of drowning in pig chum, and this installment admittedly offers an opening sequence that is downright smart. It involves a person who cannot speak, and another person who cannot talk. They’re chained to a device that will bring great harm to them, unless they can cooperate. It’s not too fair to expect two people who have been horribly brutalized and incapable of interaction to solve an elaborate death puzzle in sixty seconds, but what the hell. This is a Saw movie.
I could describe the plot to you, but describing the plot would be an exercise in futility. There are at least three stories fighting for our attention, and no one especially sympathetic. It’s not a surprise to say that Tobin Bell’s John Kramer still exerts the most sympathy in this film, despite the poor luck of being dead. Even then, I’m mixed on the method, by which a perverse amount of flashbackery gives us more insight into what led Jigsaw to a life of Rube-Goldbergian death contraptions. On the one hand, it’s a chance to see the respectable actor remind us about the power of minimalism. On the other hand, when you’re still trying to explain a villain’s motivation after three films, something isn’t right.
People who have found redeeming qualities in the other films would do well to check this out, but even then, it’s just more of the same. More plot convolution. More absurd traps. More boring characters. More obscure clues. A few moments of inspiration. Enough to redeem the film? Hell no. But what were you expecting? Didn’t you see the ad campaign? It’s a trap. Saw V should open with a girl stuck in a theater, being forced to watch the Saw series. Now there’s a horrifying idea.