Dir: Darren Lynn Bousman. US. 2007. 93mins.
Cinematic trends come and go, but the resilience of the Saw franchise continues unabated. Grimly efficient in a manner consistent with previous installments, Saw IV demonstrates that this well-oiled horror machine is showing noticeable wear and tear, but nevertheless enough of the moving parts still work efficiently to please the film's core gore crowd.
Opening in its annual late-October slot, Saw IV collected an estimated $32m in the US this weekend. That would put it on a comparable pace with 2005's Saw II ($87m domestic, $61m international) and last year's Saw
Even though serial killer John 'Jigsaw' Kramer (Bell) died at the end of Saw
Considering that the four Saw films have opened around successive Halloweens, one has to admire the workmanlike precision of the film-makers to crank out another installment each year. And while none of the entries would be confused with a masterpiece, director Darren Lynn Bousman (who has helmed each of the three sequels) deserves credit for supplying these films with enough dire menace and intrigue so that they don't become dull or hopelessly convoluted. Especially in comparison to the bloated, self-important sequels that followed in the wake of box-
Since suspension of disbelief is a must for these films to work - including not questioning how one man and a few loyal lieutenants can keep concocting so many ingenious booby traps and complicated citywide death games - it may seem naïve to complain how unbelievable Saw IV gets as its draws to its conclusion. Nevertheless, the Saw films live or die by the strength of their conclusions, since the films themselves are constructed as puzzles whose pieces never come together until the end. On this measure, Saw IV is the weakest of the series, tying together the many hints littered through the narrative but doing so in a way that feels slapped together. At this point, setting up enough plot strands for future Saw movies is a greater priority than delivering a fully satisfying self-contained entity.
Even though his character is now a corpse, Tobin Bell still sets the film's tone, supplying enough gravitas without falling into self-parody. As in previous installments, the performances around him veer from amateurish to histrionic to sturdily anonymous, so it's up to Bell to anchor the proceedings, especially as the films delve deeper into his past to explore his demons. Bell remains an intimidating but soulful villain, as close as this new era of horror films has come to a class act. Without question, future sequels will have to contort themselves further to figure how to keep a dead man at the narrative's center. Death may not have halted the Saw moneymaking machine, but it's certainly thrown a wrench into the works.
Twisted Pictures (US)
Daniel Jason Heffner
David A Armstrong