Darren Lynn Bousman
Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan, Thomas Fenton
Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Lyriq Bent, Athena Karkanis, Justin Louis, Simon Reynolds, Donnie Wahlberg, Angus Macfadyen, Shawnee Smith, Bahar Soomekh, Dina Meyer, Mike Realba, Marty Adams, Sarain Boylan, Billy Otis, James Van Patten
R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture throughout, and for language
We now find ourselves in the downward slope of the Saw series as Saw IV stretches credibility to the breaking point.
With only director Darren Lynn Bousman returning to the true creative work of the series (James Wan and Leigh Whannell are involved, but only as executive producers), it’s not hard to believe that the movie feels dramatically different than the first two films.
Writing the script of this fourth film are Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan and Thomas Fenton. Melton and Dunstan were collaborators on a little seen and likely unremembered film called Feast, which spawned two direct-to-DVD sequels. Fenton, on the other hand, hasn’t written or been involved with much of anything since the 1995 film Striking Point which is so obscure that only 21 people have rated it over at the Internet Movie Database (at least Feast has over ten thousand reviews). So why have these three been assigned to write the film? Only the producers will ever know, but their inexperience is easily to the detriment of the series.
Starting up exactly where the last film left off, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) lies on a morgue slab where a wax-coated audio cassette found in his stomach provides Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) informing him he will be participating in a game. This game is more convoluted and contrived than the first four films, giving Hoffman the chance to understand the thought processes he used to create all his traps and hopefully explain why he has done what he has done.
There are, in essence, three stories at play here, but only two are fully fleshed out. The first two follow Hoffman as he plays Jigsaw’s game and the FBI trying to stop the carnage. The third, however, feels as if it were tacked on simply to explain Jigsaw, introducing for the first time his wife (Betsy Russell) and the careless clinic patient that started his attempts at vengeance and rehabilitation.
As the plot and characters continue to earn less development, so do the actors. Mandylor is about as interesting as a wet paper bag, Bell does nothing new, and Scott Patterson as FBI Agent Strahm who is one of the agents investigating the crime is merely perfunctory.
And sadly, the traps have begun to decrease in inventiveness, which, as one of the few fun aspects of the film (fun is not in relation to the grizzly mutilations, but to the creativity of the devices), makes for a dreadfully boring feature.
Where do producers go from here? Probably more of the same. Just as Halloween and Friday the 13th began to traipse over familiar and predictable ground as they ran out of ideas, Saw IV may very well mark the beginning of the decline of the franchise, requiring serious help to resuscitate. It’s as if Lion’s Gate is letting it’s desire for money cloud its judgment and the result is a real life Jigsaw slowly dismembering them as punishment.
September 23, 2009