Friday, October 24, 2014

SAW Retrospective: Saw IV (2007)

Saw IV
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring:  Lyriq Bent, Scott Patterson, Tobin Bell, Betsy Russell, Athena Karkanis, Louis Ferreira, Donnie Wahlberg
Rated:  R

It's the tool that's going to save your soul

Saw IV was ready to start going before Saw III was even released.  As with Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street in the 80s, Lionsgate was going to ride the Saw express until it wasn't financially viable no longer.  And they actually could have rode it longer than they chose too.  These movies didn't cost much to make.  As a matter of fact, this one sort of feels like the budget went down a little, though some reports say the budget was the same as III.  If anything, this is the first saw where there's a noticeable step down in terms of quality.  This one almost feels like its a hair shy of being a directo to video sequel.  HOWEVER, this film does come with a pretty sweet twist to patch things up in the end.
Lyriq Bent has been a solid supporting player for a few entries now, so lets bump him up to prime time player and the lead in Saw IV shall we?  Hey, why not.  He's pretty solid here and its just an interesting choice to see him take on the lead role here as he was in the shadows of part II and primarily in the opening of III.  We actually get to flesh out on Betsy Russell's character as we learn Jigsaw had an expecting wife that miscarried after a run in with a junkie at her clinic.  We learn a lot more about Jigsaw's past and the beginnings of his costuming and trap building here in this film.  Tobin Bell with each film gets to act more as a person than he does as a spookster and its possibly why he kept returning.  Plus he was his own biggest fan of the series as the guy wrote his own personal John Kramer history and diary to which they would actually reference on the sets of the films.  I'll wait until next time before I get to Scott Patterson :)
One of the bigger leaps that happens is the couple scene, couple lines Detective Mark Hoffman from Saw III, as played by Costas Mandylor, now is revealed to be another disciple of Jigsaw and taking over the reigns for the series.  Jigsaw is indeed killed off in part III, as the autopsy scenes make very clear and very squishy and gross.  Seriously the effects work in these movies is terrific and the guy who was in charage now does all the groovy work you see on the superb Hannibal series on NBC.  Where some horror franchises were scared (Cough...Friday the 13th...Cough...Halloween) to move on from their prime killer to another, Saw has the guts to do it.  But creatively they find a way to keep including the character of John Kramer as he's integral to the history and is able to link backstories and the like.  Like, woah, there's Emmanuelle Vaugier coming back for 2 seconds.  Heck, some cast members even return just to play the part of their corpses for flashbacks and the like.
There's something old school and awesome Bousman started doing in Saw III that I didn't mention last time, but continues in Saw IV.  There are these crazy cool seamless transitions that feature a character or quick camera movement directly to the next scene or from a flashback returning to the point of origin.  These were not done digitally.  As with all the Saw films to this point, the majority of the film was shot in one building.  These would have setups where a character would be in one scene and then as the camera was moving, the actor would run over to the next set and change clothes in mere seconds to get into the next scene.  For example, in Saw III, Dina Meyer went from a crime scene to being in her apartment bathtub in the next.  She pretty much took off an ripped all her clothes and jumped right in and gave the illusion that she was all relaxed.  This kind of stuff is the reason I'm so fond of low budget filmmaking.  The dedication to getting it done no matter the barrier and not the 'ol "Eh, we'll fix it in post" laziness that comes about with budgetary comforts.  Filmmakers must be on their toes and have some ingenuity to get around cost restraints and some brilliant minds and ideas come out of these films.
This is easily the weakest entry in the Saw series thus far for me, but it does manage to pack a whallop with its twist.  On first viewing you're wondering how in the heck Jigsaw is still alive and doing all of this.  Was there the Halloween Resurrection body swap?  Is there a twin?  Is Jigsaw paranormal?  A copycat?  What is it?  As it turns out its not a sequel, its not a prequel, the film is going at the exact same time as Saw III is happening.  Now, I thought that was really freakin' cool.  We also get the demise of Eric Matthews in some epic head smashing fashion.  We are also treated to even more behind the scenes stuff of how Jigsaw and Amanda made things work.  Its because they had Detective Hoffman around for some muscle all along.  Some looming questions from Saw III get answered and then again, there are actually still questions looming in the air.  Its really starting with this one until the end that this franchise starts getting really detailed and heavy inside baseball with its plot and characters.
While, no, I don't find this one to be better than the previous three movies, I still think its a solid movie and maybe better than what an outsider may expect from a Saw movie, if not giving it some of the credence to its violent reputation.  This movie seems to lean even more into the gore, viscious traps and person on person violence than the previous films did.  Still, its entertaining enough to get to the twist which is on the level of everything that came before and really enhances the overall experience of the film.  Its the first film in the post-Whannell (and Wan to less degrees) era and I think it turned out ok.  This one was Bousman's last go at director, as he was only coaxed because he found the twist of bringing Jigsaw back to be pretty genius.  While we get a new director for the next one, most of these moving parts have been working on the series since at least part II, so its all staying in the family and able to keep a semblence between sequels.

NEXT TIME:  Acting, with Scott Patterson

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