Another Halloween, another Saw. Number IV continues the decline of a franchise whose quality was never high and a flash-in-the-pan sub-genre that is scraping its graveeven if the box office figures beg to differ.
Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), is it you? Back from the dead? Well, sorta. In the fourth installment of a franchise seemingly headed for double digits, the villain is indeed deadand in case he wasn't already, coroners make a "Gotcha!" moment all but impossible. Saw IV begins with the opening-up of John Kramer, aka Jigsaw, in a scene straight out of HBO's Autopsy. After methodically de-braining the killer, coroners go straight for the gutours and Jigsaw'sremoving his stomach, which turns out to house an audiotape. Natch. The homicide unit is called in to listen to the tape, on which Jigsaw claims his "work will continue," "The games have just begun," and other sweet nothings. At which point Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) concurs: The games have begun. Before long, Hoffman finds himself involved in a way he'd probably never hoped for, leaving his workaholic partner, Detective Rigg (Lyriq Bent), to rescue him and possibly a still-hanging-after-six-months Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg). Here's the bad news, though: He's only got 90 minutes.
Jigsaw may finally be dead, but Tobin Bell graces Saw IV with his presence quite a bitvia flashbacks. This installment is heavy on backstory, filling in all those unanswered questions of how an engineer named John Kramerwho regularly appeared on the covers of business magazines!became a madman with morals, thus leaving no shortage of Bell. Just like the three Saws prior, Bell is uber-creepy (especially vocally), but his scariest scene is the first, in which you're expecting his lifeless, dissected remains to pull a Michael Myers. Elsewhere, the actors seem like they downed too much Red Bull to get amped up. Bent (Saws II and III), the chief guinea pig this time around, occasionally makes for an exciting scene but never a realistic one, although his overreactions fit in with the kind of high tension Saw IV is hoping for. Mandylor (Saw III), meanwhile, is exciting and somewhat credible when able to speak, but that doesn't exactly last very long. And Saw rookies Scott Patterson (TV's Gilmore Girls) and relative newcomer Athena Karkanis, both starring as FBI profilers dragged into the mess that is Jigsaw's wrath, are more ''TV show'' cops than anything.
The book on Saw IV is pretty straightforward: If you dig torture porn and have already been sucked into the Saw machine, there's no radical shift into quality filmmaking in the fourth installment that will deter you. Likewise, nothing here will convert anyone who hasn't kept up with the franchise, especially since some knowledge of the first three is very helpful. Director Darren Lynn Bousman, whose next movie (Repo! The Genetic Opera) is a horror musical starring none other than Paris Hiltonnow that's a scary conceptpretty much sticks with what (apparently) works. It's all nifty quick cuts all the time, the type of dizzying gimmickry that is evidently favored by Saw fans. And there's also plenty of over-the-top gore to go around, of course; all the staples are here. The shame is that, aside from the first Saw being somewhat inventive for creating a sub-genre, there is always a slightly psychological aspect to the story. But lest we be intrigued instead of disturbed, that side of the script, from Project Greenlight winners/Feast co-writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, doesn't come close to being explored.
Hollywood.com rated this film 1 1/2 stars.