johnlink ranks SAW IV (2007)

And we are heading back to the land of SAW. I think I can honestly say that this is the only installment that I had never seen even a moment of. This came out in 2007, right before I started working at a movie theater. I saw pieces of the next three installments – morbid curiosity for sure – but this fourth SAW was the one I’d had no exposure to whatsoever.


I watched SAW IV (2007) on 10.7.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

It is safe to say that SAW IV is where the series takes a turn for the worse. The second and third films are guilty pleasures. They are not good films, but there is a level of entertainment there. The acting may not be superb, but a certain base level of quality is still present.

SAW the fourth loses much of that. Donnie Wahlberg is back, and he gives the best performance of anyone, though he says very little. His Detective Matthews is there to be a torture victim only. Some slightly familiar faces are back: Lt. Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) had a quick hit appearance in the third and is a driving force of this one. Likewise, Lyric Bent’s Lt. Rigg moves from the shadows and into a feature spot. The most familiar face is back (even though he is dead in the series chronology) as Tobin Bell returns as Jigsaw. And, of course, we get some new blood in the presence of agents Strahm and Perez (Scott Patterson and Athena Karkanis, respectively).

The best thing SAW IV has going for it is how it betrays our sense of time. While this can get immensely confusing, the movie plays with the idea of time on a micro level (as in the non-edited cuts between past and present done with sets rather than film tricks) and on a macro level (as in the big reveal at film’s end). This is a smart choice.

Not much else about SAW IV can be called smart. It starts with an autopsy that is gory to an extremely unnecessary level. This sets the stage for the idea that the violence has replaced the story as the reason for attending. We barely meet these torture victims anymore and, more importantly, we are taught terrible things about them so that we are encouraged to not mind so much that they are being brutally murdered. There is not even a thinly veiled attempt to condemn our voyerism. We are invited to revel in the gore.

For proof of this, we needn’t go any further than the first game. Gone is the idea of there being tapes available so that the victims can learn why they are where they are. Instead, we get two guys chained to a death device, one made blind and the other mute, and they are expected to fight to the death. The longform slow burn of the first SAW is not anywhere to be found, we are instead given viral video length exploitative murders. And that doesn’t even include the aforementioned autopsy or the rats eating dead bodies or the seedy video of a guy sexually abusing women.

In this way, SAW IV tries to shift the expectation of the audience as we are asked to sympathize with Jigsaw’s vigilantism. A painfully cliche scene involving his unborn child and the fate of the mother (Betsy Russell) induces some serious eye rolls. While horror series have long been known to turn the killer into a sort of de facto protagonist, those shifts in focus are usually accompanied by a shift in tone towards humor. Instead, the SAW series finds itself doubling down on dark and cynical bleakness. There is not a shred of humor to be found anywhere in this series by SAW IV. It’s all an exercise in masochism. Every actor in this movie has a ton of sulking time. It’s tough to watch.

If this movie had put as much thought into character as it did the traps, some of these flaws might be overlooked. Instead, we have characters (like Rigg’s wife) who disappear. The wife was supposed to be a larger part of the story, indeed the traps Rigg finds his way to show pictures of her, but Donnie Wahlberg’s schedule opened up prior to filming, so they literally swapped him in for her. So all the clues point to the wife, but it is a Wahlberg in the trap. That sort of blatant disregard for the actual people in this story belie a much broader condemnation of any character who might exist in this world. If you are in a SAW movie, you are there as someone who will soon be killed, no more.

So SAW IV is just bad stuff. It’s not so terribly bad as to make me stop watching the series, but it is far and away the worst entry of the first four.




FINAL SCORE: 3.75 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on October 9, 2015.

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