For the record: I thought the original Saw was awesome. The second one was pretty good, but a far cry from the first. The third was
a bit of a disappointment, but still had a few memorable cringe-worthy scenes. I was actually glad the third movie ended the way that it did, because I thought the Saw series had run its course and that, by killing off the main villain, the creators had taken the high road of NOT bludgeoning us to death with endless “more of the same, only not as good” sequels in an effort to extract every bleeding cent from the franchise.
It turns out I was wrong.
When I first heard of Saw 4, first I wondered how on earth they were going to continue the series without Jigsaw, and then I started bitching about how it couldn’t possibly be any good and that I wouldn’t even bother to see it. I didn’t wonder if it WOULD be any good… I just knew for a fact that it wouldn’t be.
In terms of quality, Saw 4 ranks as the second-best of the series, after the original. It’s good. Not groundbreaking… all the “torture people to death with a twist ending” ground has been sufficiently broken already. But its better than most of what has come before it. (Looking back over Saw II and Saw III, I now realize that this isn’t as much of a compliment as I first thought).
In this episode, Jigsaw is very dead and a new, unknown apprentice has stepped up to fill his shoes. …well, almost. Despite being dead, Jigsaw is still the main villain in this movie. He is everywhere, orchestrating almost everything from beyond the grave as shown in flashbacks that also give us more insight into the character. Specifically, Jigsaw’s plans… no, not the apprentice’s plans, JIGSAW’S plans… revolve around a cop named Rigg who has seen a lot of his friends/coworkers die horribly in the other three Saw movies. Now it’s Rigg’s turn to learn a lesson, and for bait Jigsaw uses both Rigg’s wife AND two other police officers, one of which is Eric Mathew’s who we last saw in Saw 2 and who’s been held prisoner ever since. There’s also some stuff about two FBI agents that, as far as I could tell, were in the movie just so we could have flashback scenes whenever they started questioning Jigsaw’s ex-wife.
Yeah… you know what? I’m not even gonna try to explain the plot of this thing any further. There’s cops and FBI agents and people being held hostage and traps and blood and that’s all you need to know.
What I liked about this movie are the flashbacks (yeah, I know… I normally hate them, too) that gave a bit of Jigsaw’s past and his motivation. Oh, you thought you already knew his motivation? No, you didn’t. I did wonder why they went through all that trouble for a character that is extremely dead at the very beginning of the movie, though. Anyway, seeing him transform from an almost-normal human being to the infamous Jigsaw Killer was a treat. I say almost-normal because he was still pretty creepy even before he started strapping people to knife-chairs. Too bad none of this characterization effort spilled over into the other characters, who were mostly just one-dimensional trap-fodder. The scriptwriters couldn’t manage to dredge up the tiniest bit of “give-a-fuck” about anybody in this movie except for Jigsaw himself, who, as I’ve said, is extremely dead.
Then there were the traps. I think the traps were actually better in the other movies, but that may be because we’ve come to expect so much and the writers can only top themselves for so long. (Realizing this is the first step to realizing when you should end the franchise on a high note, hint-hint). Here, some of the traps seem kind of rushed. The bed-trap was forgettable, but the hair-trap screwed with me a little bit, and I don’t even HAVE hair. My favorite, however, was the least bloody of the bunch: the two people in the school pinned to each other with steel rods. This one is probably NOT the trap that you’ll still be thinking about after the movie is over, but the level of thought, irony, and accuracy that went into that thing was impressive. It’s the kind of thing I would do. They should have put a bit more screen-time behind this one instead of cramming it to a flashback.
What I didn’t like about this movie was probably more of a failure of my own brain. This one’s plot and characters are so twisted around those of the other three movies that I had no idea what was going on at several points. In fact, at the very end, I had to resort to Wikipedia to figure out just wtf I had seen. Then it all made perfect sense. I think if I had seen all the movies one after the other I would have figured things out well enough, but with many months and many other horror movies between viewings, I think piecing all of these things together was a bit much for the scriptwriters to expect. Plus the abundant flashback sequences actually interfered with my ability to follow the ending, parts of which I just assumed were another flasback, even though they weren’t. Or maybe I’m just getting old.
+10: Hair trap made me glad I’m bald.
+5: Character development (but for a dead character!?)
+3: The Se7en fake-out. Yeah, I fell for it.
+3: Yeah, Jigsaw is DEFINITELY dead. Definitely.
+1: Drugs make you stupid! HAHAHA-dumbass!
-10: Sequels automatically get points off on general principle
-7: I didn’t really identify with Riggs at all. Or anyone else. Honestly, I didn’t even care.
-5: If I have to use Wikipedia to understand your plot, you get points off.
-1: Full frontal man-meat, but no T&A? What gives!?
-1: Jigsaw was a CIVIL engineer? CIVIL!? WTF!?*
Hmmm… now that I look at the points, maybe this movie wasn’t as good as I first thought? Whatever. I enjoyed what I saw and I enjoyed it a LOT more than Saw III. Still, there was plenty of room for improvement.
I sincerely hope this is the last Saw, even though I already know that Saw 5 and 6 are already in the works. This was a good movie, and would be a perfect ending to the series… by far a better ending than Saw 3, which is where they SHOULD have ended it. If they’d made the plot simpler (or presented it in a more linear fashion), developed the characters a tad bit more, and put a bit more creativity into the traps, this one would be on par with the original.
(*Dark Icon is a proud electrical engineer who considered Civils to be the little yapping rat-dogs of engineering. Jigsaw is obviously a MECHANICAL engineer.)