***Warning: Spoilers throughout***
The Saw series as we know it is changing. Jigsaw? Dead. His apprentice Amanda? Dead. Detective Kerry? Dead.
The series’ fourth installmen, therefore, is running on spare parts — although you wouldn’t guess it at all. Director Darren Lynn Bousman returns in order to maintain the frenetic pace after Saw III broke box office records for Halloween weekend in the previous year.
Apparently, Jigsaw planned far in advance of his death, organizing more twisted games to be played before and after his death. Jigsaw’s presence is still being felt, and Saw IV focuses on him manipulating people into continuing his own work and further establishing his dark legacy.
The plot of Saw IV revolves around two men: SWAT Lt. Rigg (Lyriq Bent) and Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) who are the last two officers untouched by Jigsaw. Rigg has become obsessed with saving everyone due to Kerry’s brutal death in Saw III and the disappearance of Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg), who has been gone for six months. Rigg buries himself in his work, to the displeasure of Hoffman.
Enter two FBI agents: Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Lindsey Perez (Athena Karkanis), who have been brought in to accelerate the pace of the stagnant Jigsaw investigation. Strahm, in particular, is convinced that there was an additional apprentice besides Amanda, and he’s determined to find whoever it is. Both agents have also received a tip that there are two detectives in the precinct who are in danger, but have no other information.
Soon enough, Rigg is kidnapped and forced into a game. Hoffman has gone missing, too. Essentially, Rigg has to overcome his “addiction” of saving people. As it stands, Hoffman and Detective Matthews are both still alive, but have 90 minutes to live. With Agents Perez and Strahm close behind Rigg, they piece together the puzzle and discover that Rigg is being used as a pawn in Jigsaw’s game. Jigsaw, from beyond the grave, wants Rigg to “feel as I feel,” “see what I see,” and “save as I save.”
“He’s being recruited,” muses Agent Strahm.
Along the way, we meet Jigsaw’s former lawyer, Art Blank (Justin Louis) and his ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell). Both appear to know more than they’re letting on. Time is wasting. Bodies are piling up. And Rigg is getting one step closer to becoming the new apprentice…or is he?
As far as sequels go, this isn’t exactly Friday the 13th: Part 7. Bousman is a meticulous director and pays serious attention to continuity in the Saw trilogy. Now, with practically everyone dead, no one misses a beat. For the first time, Saw co-creator Leigh Whannell does not return to write the script, but the film doesn’t really suffer much. The film’s storyline is focused more on the Jigsaw investigation, and there’s less torture than there was in Saw III. While the plot can be convoluted at times, the famous traps are still ticking (literally), the adrenaline continues to flow, and the suspense mounts. The characters aren’t as interesting as they were in the Saw trilogy, but there’s still enough here to please fans of the series. The acting was solid as well; the best of the newcomers are definitely Scott Patterson as Agent Strahm and Betsy Russell as Jill Tuck.
The real highlight here is the Jigsaw backstory. The nefarious serial kidnapper is dead — that much is certain. But Tobin Bell’s ice-cold voice and creepy physique are on full display in the flashbacks, in which we discover more about his life before he became a criminal. He was a fairly normal engineer who had a happy life, before everything went wrong for him. It’s fascinating to see John Kramer in his pre-Jigsaw phase.
Saw IV is remarkably solid at this late date in the series, but it’s still a step down from II and III. Still, it’s worth a shot if you don’t mind the intricate plot, the blood/gore, and the occasional f-bomb.
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Produced by Oren Koules and Mark Burg
Screenplay by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan
Story by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan, and Thomas Fenton
Starring Tobin Bell, Lyriq Bent, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Justin Louis, Athena Karkanis, Donnie Wahlberg, Billy Otis
Rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture throughout, and language.