Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) really is dead. He died in Saw III and there’s no supernatural return for him in Saw IV. However, the notorious John Kramer’s presence pervades the screen perhaps more than ever this time around. In 2004’s Saw, we barely caught a glimpse of the moralistic murderer; in Saws II and III, he was recumbent as a result of being ill (and pretty sick in the head, too!), but here in Saw IV he’s fully realized in living color (or, at least shades of green).
Bell returns to the franchise, as does Lyriq Bent, playing SWAT team commander Rigg. The ridiculously ripped Rigg is the poor sap who gets caught up in Jigsaw’s deadly game this time, after his wife and child are abducted. To find them, he must rely on brains instead of brawn and play along in a terrifying treasure hunt laid out by the cunning kidnapper. And it’s not just the family who’s at stake – Jigsaw has set booby traps throughout the city and the longer Rigg takes to solve the puzzle, the more the bodies pile up.
As Rigg follows his own personalized path, determined FBI profilers Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Perez (Athena Karkanis) join forces with world-weary Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) to try and staunch the city’s blood flow and uncover the clues which will ultimately lead to the unveiling of Jigsaw’s hideous long term plans to leave a legacy via his past, present and future victims.
As these tense tales go on in real and alternate time, the film is peppered with flashes to Kramer’s past and how a mishap involving his beautiful wife Jill (Betsy Russell) may have skewed his mindset and turned him into the man who delights in setting lethal snares for those who don’t appreciate life. The traps are as good as ever: Women with long hair, bow-hunters, and anyone with eyeballs, will be properly horrified.
While Darren Lynn Bausman returns to the director’s chair (he helmed Saws II and III), there’s new blood behind the story: this is the sophomore screenplay by Project Greenlight winners and Feast authors Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton. The infusion shows, most refreshingly. To me, the first Saw movie was fun because it introduced a completely original baddie and had a great setup. What’s more, I cared about the victims and wanted to see them through to the end.
When it came to Saws II and III, I found the players – across the board – to be ones I didn’t want to spend 90 minutes with. Be it a victim or the villain, I like to connect with a character. I really couldn’t fault the films particularly – they were competent; the traps were a marvel; it was obvious Bausman possessed ingenuity – but they just weren’t for me.
Now, with Saw IV, the pieces have all come together and I daresay it’s the best of the Bausman lot. It’s not only gory and twisted, but it’s genuinely suspenseful, well-acted, and has a satisfyingly shocking finale.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson
Check out our exclusive, on-camera interviews with the Saw IV cast