October 30, 2007

Movie Review: Saw IV

As the tagline says: "It it's Halloween, it's Saw." Here we are, the fourth Halloween in a row with a new entry in the Saw franchise, a series that is fast becoming the new Friday the 13th or A Nightmare o Elm Street. Where the 1980's had their slashers, the new millennium has its torture films, from the current king of the mountain (Saw, duh), to the next tier that includes Hostel, all the way down to films like Turistas and Captivity. The penchant for the cruelty towards the human body is even making its way out of the horror genre into mysteries (I Know Who Killed Me) and real world based "message movies" (Rendition). Each of them succeed to different degrees, but so far only the Saw films have been able to turn the torture theme into box office success. Although the films are getting on towards the area of diminishing returns (in quality), there is still something to be said for the creative traps and resultant gore.

The end of Saw III left many wondering how the series would continue, considering the demise of the primary bad guy, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), and his apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith). I apologize for the spoiler, but I figure anyone interested in Saw IV will have likely already seen the previous three. In seeing how they decided to proceed with this film is pretty interesting as they play with chronology and have multiple flashbacks going after the opening autopsy of one Mr. Jigsaw. Following that, this film has an extreme lack of focus and direction. It is not through no effort from the creative team, it is clear that they are trying very hard to make this work. The problem lies in the team working too hard to make everything fit. Well, that and this all too serious tone which sucks a lot of potential fun right out of the experience.

I liked the first Saw, it was a twisted reworking of what David Fincher did with Se7en. The second film had quick turn around and seemed more intent on upping the gore factor, which it was successful at, at the expense of the film as a whole. The third outing saw a return to the focus that the first one had, with some gruesome traps and a better story. It is too bad that this one went the way it did, yes it had gore, but by the time the closing credits rolled I found that I did not care one iota about the characters, or how everything fit.

Director Darren Lynn Bousman returns for his third time around in the chair, joined by a pair of newcomers to the series in screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (whose only other writing credit is for the Project Greenlight horror flick Feast from 2006). Together this creative team has crafted a film that is far and away the most convoluted entry of the series, and one of the most nonsensical horror films of recent years.

When talking to friends I have come to describe it as the Lost of the big screen. I think the comparison is apt because, much like the popular television series, nothing appears on the big screen that doesn't have some connection to the bigger picture. It doesn't matter how big or how small the detail, do not fear as it will tie into something. If it doesn't tie in here, it will be forced into place in a future entry. The script is so packed with minutia that there is no room for character development, the writers are two busy trying to force the pieces through hoops so that they all fit. Or at the very least there are enough clues to keep the hardcore fans discussing them until the next entry reaches the big screen.

Despite the super-serious tone that the movie takes, Jigsaw remains one of the more intriguing villains to reach the big screen in recent years. Saw IV takes us a little further into the origins of the moralizing killer who isn't really a killer. His life experience, combined with his terminal cancer has taught him to cherish life. He has set his life's goal to spread that thought and so he goes forth, carefully choosing his subjects before placing them in elaborate traps to teach them something about themselves.

While we learn more about the mastermind, his traps remain more of the same. Rather his messages are all the same. Again, the script and story forego any attempts to further those motives in its effort to force all of the players into the big picture.

To move forward with any plot description would reveal just how convoluted it is and likely reveal holes in my ability to remember much of it. So, I will not even attempt to go over what happened. Actually, I am not even sure that I know what happened. I do know that I left the theater with a question mark plastered across my face.

Where Saw IV succeeds is in delivering some deliciously gruesome traps and a healthy dose of gore. Fortunately, it was frequent enough to keep me from completely losing it over the twisty story. So, for horror fans you will likely enjoy what this has to offer in its splatter factor. It is just a shame that the focus is more on putting the pieces together than it is furthering a story.

Bottomline. Saw IV should be admired for its ambition, but it aims way too high and falls way too short. I left with a question of what happened, upon some thought I can get the major pieces into place, but the biggest attraction is the blood and guts. Hopefully whatever is to follow will rail back the plot gymnastics and give us some stronger characters to care about and less complexity to unravel.

Mildly Recommended.


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