I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Saw IV

People are always talking about “jumping the shark,” making fun of tv shows or movie sequels for trying to come up with new gimmicks to mix it up so they don’t just keep repeating themselves. In a horror series you’re gonna start shaking things up pretty quick. In HALLOWEEN they tried getting rid of Michael Meyers by part 3, though they brought him back for part 4. In ELM STREET 3 they added this idea of a group of kids who can dream together and all have different super powers in their dreams, and people liked that so they stuck with it. For FRIDAY THE 13th 4 they added a little kid (Corey Feldman), not to mention they changed who the killer was in part 2. The Chucky series turned into absurdist comedy by part 4.

All of these series have time passing, they might have a back-to-back story like HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN 2 but for the most part when you get to a sequel it’s been a year or more and a new group of people is here to have a run in with Freddy or whoever. The SAW series is very unusual in that this is part 4 and they are still dealing with the same killing spree, same characters introduced in previous sequels and still connecting everything to those events, and the timeline even overlaps with the last one.

Saw IVOkay, to be fair there is one twist. At the end of part 3 the killer “Jigsaw” was dead. And this is not a supernatural series so he’s not gonna come back as a zombie. So the opening scene, maybe the closest thing to a good scene in this movie, is Jigsaw’s autopsy. It’s very disgusting and graphic as two morticians take that prick’s body apart piece by piece. And then when they cut open the stomach they discover a chunk of wax with a microcassette inside. Oh shit.

So that’s a funny idea (especially since there was no reason to swallow the fuckin thing – what’s wrong with leaving it in your pocket, Jigsaw?) and the closest thing to the glorious ludicrousness of that one scene I liked in part 3 where a lady had to perform brain surgery on him using power tools and she was wearing a large explosive collar set to go off if his pulse stopped. But if you want to enjoy the craziness too bad, you will be too busy trying to keep track of the plot and characters of this fuckin thing. You might be able to do it, but I can’t. I had to go read the wikipedia synopsis afterwards to get an idea what happened.

So I will at least give them credit for finding a new way for a horror movie to suck. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another sucky horror movie where the main problem was that it expected too much out of me. I remembered that part 3 had a cliffhanger, so I assumed they would recap what that was and then followup on it. Instead they completely ignore it and throw you into something else until the cliffhanger suddenly comes up at the end. You need to remember who all the different supporting police characters are from various other entries in the series, and what their fates were. For example this character played by Lyriq Bent, apparently he was in the other movies, now he’s the main character. He’s trying to find Donnie Wahlberg, who I think got kidnapped two movies ago if I remember right. Costas Mandylor is trying to find his daughter, I believe that was the aforementioned cliffhanger. I remembered that Jigsaw had a female assistant, I forgot that she died. You need to remember these characters plus recognize other cops who are now strung up in traps, plus recognize the dead bodies of other characters when they come across them, plus follow flashbacks of Jigsaw that explain why he does what he does and see how they tie in to the investigation of his posthumous work. You need to keep track of all these characters and be able to recognize them whether they’re in uniform or tormented and gagged or in flashbacks. And some of the scenes are intentionally shown out of chronological order to trick you, as if that was necessary.

Remember how I was feeling sorry for Donnie Wahlberg and other less famous siblings? It sucks to be Frank Stallone or Barry Yun Fat because you’re always gonna be the butt of a joke. Also it sucks because you have to say yes to returning to your successful horror series and you end up like poor Donnie, having a movie where literally all he does is stand on top of a block of ice with a chain around his neck, moaning and sweating and almost dying. Probaly wasn’t one of his more enjoyable shoots is my guess.

The original HALLOWEEN started with little Michael killing his sister after she has sex. John Carpenter always says he didn’t do it on purpose, but the movie slasher from HALLOWEEN to FRIDAY THE 13TH (and I guess going back to PSYCHO) tended to be very prudish and judgmental about sexuality. There’s even a FRIDAY THE 13TH tie-in book from a few years ago where Jason hooks up with Christian fundamentalists who admire his tough stance on premaritial relations. The SAW movies have sort of turned out to have their own type of holier-than-thou moral superiority bullshit in their killings.

By part 4 I’m starting to wonder if I’m supposed to actually agree with this prick in his “tests” and “lessons.” His whole m.o. is that he sticks his nose in everybody’s business and then tries to make them feel bad about their failures by forcing them to cause others horrible machine-inflicted torture and death. In this one he’s going after a cop who he thinks needs to learn that he can’t save everybody. It’s true, he has become too obsessed with this case, and it’s ruined his marriage. So Jigsaw is real concerned. He’s like a Yankee Dr. Phil.

I don’t know though, that one seems kind of vague. I wonder if in part V he will “play a game” with a cop who puts himself down too much, or doesn’t know how to accept a compliment, or doesn’t open up about his feelings enough. You know one thing I like about Chucky, he is a killer doll trying to transfer his soul into a human body. You get what he’s up to. He’s an asshole but at least he’s not on some self righteous moral crusade.

If there really are people out there who like these movies and are willing to put in the hours of research and careful study to understand what in fuck’s name is going on I hope one of them will put together a timeline to show all the planning and preparation this asshole had to put in to play these “games.” When did he do what? Show us what kind of preparation and setup would be involved in building these machines, recording these tapes and videos, kidnapping the victims and leaving the trail of clues that gets people into the right places at the right times. They’re already doing two more installments, so there is even more that we don’t know about yet. This guy was a hell of a planner, just imagine what he could’ve accomplished in urban planning or wedding planning or one of those types of industries.

Anyway in the last scene there is a shocking discovery when they finish the autopsy and it turns out there’s another tape stuck up his ass. And it has a note on it that says to disregard the other tape, he changed his mind after he swallowed it so please listen to this tape instead.

Nah, just fuckin with you. Actually there is some kind of cliffhanger twist at the end, but I know I won’t remember it when part 5 comes out, because I finished watching half an hour ago and I already forgot what it was. Sorry guys, you lost me.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Saturday, August 30th, 2008 at 8:26 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

13 Responses to “Saw IV”

  1. This is where I finally gave up on the series. It was just dull. Apart from the transitions that Bousman was trying out for himself,the direction was fairly joyless. Saw 3 is the only entirerly good one. Parts 1&2 just have random good parts.

  2. Rather than complaining about all the shit these movies ask us to remember, I’d instead lean towards being happy that we have a horror franchise that makes this sort of thing available to people who want it. And clearly a lot of people wanted it. I’ve watched all 7 movies several times now and it’s pretty enjoyable once you understand everything. Yes, it required me to do a pretty extensive recap each Halloween so I could go into the new movie prepared, but I don’t think a movie asking a little bit out of the viewer is a bad thing.

  3. That’s fair, I think I do lean that way now, if not when I wrote this review. I want to watch the last couple ones that I missed but I’d probly have to start over at the beginning, wouldn’t I?

  4. It probably helps to start over at the beginning but I think it’s not really until Saw 3 that you really have to start paying attention.

    Also, Vern, for your slasher search, please see Intruder. Thanks.

  5. INTRUDER is fucking great, but I’m pretty sure Vern has seen it before and mentioned it a few times in other reviews and comments sections.

    Yeah, I think SAW 3 is where it starts getting complicated, with the flashbacks and concurrent storylines. I can’t believe they didn’t keep the series going after SAW 3D made so much money, even as DTV.

    I think the problem with the the complexity of the SAW series isn’t that it asks you to remember so much shit, it’s that the shit doesn’t really add up to anything. It’s complication for complication’s sake, only there to create the illusion of depth. I kind of get the appeal, though. There’s a sense of extremely nerdy fun about unpacking all that shit, like people who read terrible 12-volume fantasy series full of flat characters and boilerplate plotting, just because they enjoy keeping track of the complicated mythology.

  6. Vern, though Sternshein is right when he says that Saw III is where things start to get complicated, I’d recommend that you start from the beginning since the latter movies do connect back to all of the earlier ones, and I think you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you went into the experience having forgotten anything. If you watch all of the movies in the span of a week (which I just did, and yes, my dreams have gotten nuts), I think it’s pretty easy to follow what’s going on, but if you start with V, or even with III, I think you may be a little lost. I’d also be interested to hear if your mind had changed at all on the earlier films after a second go-around. I’ve found them to be much more enjoyable in multiple viewings. I’d also recommend watching them stoned if you go in for that kind of thing, as it really helps with the suspension of disbelief and ups the horror impact significantly. But I guess that’s true for any movie.

  7. SAW 3D, regrettably, didn’t make that much money. At that point, the SAW series had ceded first place to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY two years straight. I think they’re plan is to wait it out and come back with a reboot/remaquel that puts them back on top after people start to miss it.

  8. I’m not sure it’ll matter how you watch the sequels, Vern. I watched VI, VII, and VIII literally back to back and had no idea what was going on 90% of the time. The screenwriters can make all the connections they want but if none of the characters are worth remembering, none of it will stick in your head. This is probably why I liked Part VII more than most, since it’s the simplistic splatathon the rest of the series was accused of being. I appreciate the franchise’s ambition but it’s really the epitome of too much plot getting in the way of the story. I don’t think that any of its philosophical or narrative pretensions add to the experience at all. I really just want to see people getting pulped in traps. Everything else is a meaningless sideshow.

  9. Was SAW IV the first movie to pull the (SPOLIER?) “movie happens at the same time as the previous movie” trick? I couldn’t think of any others when I came out of THE BOURNE LEGACY, and if I’m right it means a critically revered franchise took a trick from the SAW franchise, and tarnished its armour in the process

  10. You couldn’t pay me enough to watch these fucking things.

    I liked the first one, hated 2 and 3, and then pretty much turned my back on this franchise. I think I watched Saw 5 (or 6? Seriously, who can tell the damn difference?) some years later on TV late one night, and couldn’t stop laughing/groaning.

    I hate being dismissive of any film, but I honestly look down on this series.

  11. Yeah,shit really went downhill after part one. I lost interest and was bored out of my skull after the first two sequels.Never bothered with the rest of the series.The first SAW was a bit unsettling when it came to the torture scenes, but that was something that got tiresome pretty quick.

    I did like the first two HOSTELS though, because they at least had some twisted humour thrown in there.

  12. I actually dislike the part of these films that they’re most famous for – the “torture porn” elements. I just find those unpleasant. Not titillating, not thrilling, not surprising, not entertaining, but not especially interesting either. I’m honestly not sure what I’m supposed to feel for those scenes – disgust? They’re just too ridiculous and cartoony.

    That said, I give this series a lot of credit for trying, and mostly succeeding, to pull off a coordinated plot and character structure over the space of seven separate films. Despite the variable quality of those films (and 4, and 5 especially did very little for me – I almost always find myself disliking the old “investigator is really a bad guy” twist because it is so obviously contrived and unrealistic) I’m a big fan of “puzzle-box” structures. In the end I don’t think the experiment is wholly successful because – unlike the first film in many ways – a great deal of what happens in the series is much less character-orientated. That’s the biggest danger when making a mystery movie actually – the characters become plot devices instead of human beings.

  13. To be honest, I think SAW 2 was the smartest torture movie, when it came to the torture itself. Just because of how relatable some of the shit was! I mean, the syringe pit? Ouch! Everybody could imagine how that would feel! Or the guy who got burned alive? For any reason there IS this weird psychological malfunction in all of us, that makes us shy away from self inflicted pain, even if we know that we could save our lives with it.

    Although it was also the only SAW movie that wasn’t written as one. (If I remember right, it was a re-written spec script, that was rejected by many studios for “being too much like SAW”.)

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