Sunday 22 October 2017

From the archive: "Saw IV"

"If it's Halloween, it must be Saw," pronounces the tagline, not altogether modestly, and if it's Saw, there must now be no press screenings, which is how this viewer came to skip Saw III. How sloppy and dull this series has become in just four years. Saw IV opens at the point engineer-turned-psycho John "Jigsaw" Kramer (Tobin Bell) and his apprentice daughter (whose identity was revealed at the conclusion of Saw II) have been killed off. An autopsy reveals the extent of Jigsaw's murderous legacy: a tape recording secreted inside the killer's stomach suggests he managed to get a fair bit accomplished in the days before his passing, while setting up a whole new round of grisly happenings. A SWAT team member (Lyriq Bent) - fairly insignificant, in the scheme of things - is given 90 minutes to rescue cop Donnie Wahlberg, whom Jigsaw absconded with at the end of Saw II, while the detectives pursue a new line of inquiry in the form of Jigsaw's ex-wife. The latter is played by Eighties throwback Betsy Russell, whose oft-topless appearances in early VHS titles Tomboy and Private School clearly left an impression on director Darren Lynn Bousman.

The best setpiece passes early on. An unfortunate fellow with eyes sewn shut, and another whose lips have similarly been sutured, wake up in a mausoleum attached to a winding mechanism, and - rather than helping one another to locate the keys that will free them both - are drawn by self-interest into tossing axes at one another. Again, the implied critique of a society running low on empathy (Jigsaw's clues encourage the cops to "see what I see" and "feel what I feel") might stand up to greater scrutiny were the film not shot (ineptly) by the individual responsible for giving Paris Hilton her first starring role, for the benefit of teenagers who are only showing up to cackle over the torture sequences. In retrospect, what was clever about the first Saw wasn't the fiendish plotting, but the use of a single location where the main characters were given time to develop - to live, breathe and panic, as well as self-mutilate - before they were sliced and diced. Saw IV is another of this year's notable victims of sequel bloat, staggering about and flashing back all over the place, through any number of interchangeably seedy hellholes, haphazardly reviving characters from the first three films while recruiting new ones, played by cheap, crummy actors (Costas Mandylor!) it's impossible to give a damn about. Booooooooo-ring.

(October 2007)

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