I’m so completely out of step with other critics and many viewers when it comes to the Saw franchise. While everyone was quick to heap praise on the “genius” of James Wan and Leigh Whannel’s first film, I found it cheap, silly, and horribly acted. When Saw II came around, the critical backlash began in earnest, but, for me, that was where it was just starting to get interesting. Now, four years and four films later, the much-maligned Saw IV comes to DVD, and, while it seems everyone I know hated it or dismissed it outright, I’ve got to say that, personally, I think this is the best film in the series.
Jigsaw’s dead; his body laid out on a metal slab, with his throat slit from ear to ear. When a sloppy autopsy that leads to the discovery of one more “game” (in the guise of a wax-coated cassette found in the killer’s stomach), cops Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) and Rigg (Lyriq Bent), as well as FBI Agent Strahm (Patterson) all find their lives turned upside down by a man who proves to be just as diabolically dangerous dead as he was when he was still breathing. Rigg’s game promises to lead him to both a captured Hoffman, as well as his good friend, Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg), and, if he makes the right choices along the way, he’ll be able to walk away with both of his friends alive and well. Of course, Jigsaw isn’t exactly known for making things easy on his victims, so Rigg is presented with several moral challenges en route, and faced with decisions no man – let alone one sworn to protect and serve – should ever have to make. In the meantime, Agent Strahm’s investigation leads him to Jigsaw’s ex-wife, Jill (Besty Russell), and, through her, we learn quite a bit about the man behind the murderer.
Saw IV is pretty much what you’d expect it to be, but, as far as gruesome torture porn flicks go, this one’s got a little depth going for it, especially in its dissection (both figuratively and literally) of the Jigsaw/John character. Tobin Bell’s soft-spoken, stone faced killer’s back story is explored via interviews with Jill, and we get a sort of feasible explanation as to how/why he became the sort of Death Wish-meets-Rube Goldberg vigilante we’ve seen mature over the last three films. Of course, Saw IV isn’t all pathos and enlightenment, as director Darren Lynn Bousman knows fans want to see more of what made the series a success in the first place, so the film is littered with the usual assortment of traps, torture devices, and insane amounts of gore.
The DVD from Lionsgate features an unrated cut of the film, along with more special features than you can shake a severed limb at, including several featurettes and behind-the-scenes looks at the traps and effects, as well as a lengthy and entertaining production diary, and more.
While, for the most part, it’s pretty much more of the same thing we’ve been seeing since the original film, Saw IV’s strangely compelling look into the history of its antagonist strays from the series’ formula enough to make it more than the endless grind of mindfucks and traps offered by the previous films. The film is still shot like a music video, and the D-list supporting cast does little to impress, but this is Tobin Bell’s show, and, if this is really the end of Jigsaw (don't count on it), it’s a suitable and satisfying send off.