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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Saw IV

I called my Saw-watching buddy Cee Cee to see if she and her hubby Seymour wanted to come up from their home in Seabrook to see more Saw since Saw IV opened on Friday at the Essex Cinemas, but they were flying to California to see about enrolling Cee Cee in graduate school at USC. Just as well, as it turned out my perfect husband (yes, the current one) wanted me to take his pal Saul Ford to the movie.

Saul Ford loves all the Saw movies and he told Fred (my perfect husband) he was hyped to see Saw IV but he hated to go without another fan, so ~ voila! ~ last Friday I went to see Saw IV with Saul Ford.

Saul and I both were skeptical about how writer Thomas Fenton (whose only other writing credit was 1995’s Striking Point) could possibly milk this franchise further after Saw III ended with the actual, no-way-out-of-it deaths of both Jigsaw and his apprentice Amanda. A good sign, though, was that director Darren Lynn Bousman, was also brought Saw II and III to the screen, was behind this effort, and we doubted he would have stepped up if he didn’t think it had merit. Yeah, right. Or a big paycheck.
As it turns out, I do think Saw IV is the strongest in the series since the original. It’s true, Fanboys, I do. After the original Saw the mystery of the story was gone. Our cherry was popped and all that was left was to ask the boy his name (John Kramer) and what his favorite color is (Red. Blood red). Saw II and Saw III had no mysteries to uncover as they were really only explorations of the Rube Goldberg-esque gadgets that Kramer aka Jigsaw used to filet, fry, annihilate, and amputate his various victims, much to the frustration of the local police. Granted, Saw III, for those who saw it (and if you see Saw IV I hope you did), became a bit of a medical soap opera what with Jigsaw’s need for “garage” brain surgery on himself to keep the dream alive, the dream being to slaughter a few thousand more in the next decade or so with his hardware hijinx, but it too lacked any real mystery.

Fortunately, as Saul and I saw in Saw IV, the mystery is back with this installment, as is the action, which bogged down a bit with Jigsaw’s cranial cracking in the last outing. Here is a whole new twist, beginning from the gut-wrenching first scene. And I’m not kidding when I say “gut wrenching”, so hang on to your popcorn. Jigsaw may be dead, but his autopsy reveals that death doesn’t mean the “games “ he has enjoyed are finished. In fact, in a way, his death provides a convenient reboot for the franchise even if it does mean Tobin Bell (Jigsaw) sees his reign come to an end.

Speaking of Mr. Bell, Saul and I wondered how he would be reconstituted into Saw IV considering he was dead. Director Bousman had already given enough pre-release interviews to assure Bell would be ringing loudly throughout the sequel, so the first mystery for us was – how could this be? Well, in a move I absolutely hate, Bousman did what Jonathan Liebesman did with last year’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning when he decided to tell us the origin story of his villain, Leatherface and Rob Zombie did with this year’s remake of Halloween when he let us in on Michael Myer’s sad childhood. It’s a new trend that needs to die, and die quickly. Yes, Bousman gives us the tragic "E! True Hollywood Story" version of Jigsaw’s life. By revealing what drove Kramer/Jigsaw to become the psychopath he was, it takes the edge off of his villainy. To me, it’s harder to find a villain vile and disgusting if you know he picked up a life of brutality as a result of a heartbreaking past of his own. I don’t want to feel sorry for the bad guys. I want to feel sorry for their victims, but I’m digressing as usual.

Despite this lapse, Saw IV essentially travels on a parallel track with the action of Saw III and in places it is a bit dicey at times telling where the actual timeline is in terms of the before or after of Jigsaw’s death, but just go with it, and you’ll see what I mean eventually as things collide in one crucial scene.

What is fun is for fans of the whole series to look for cameos of those from other chapters of the series in the back-story, which glimpses their dubious dealings with Jigsaw when they first meet up with the before-Jiggie John and his then-wife Jill (Betsy Russell ;The Flunky). A couple of the people who were trapped in the “funhouse” of Saw II are shown in their earlier incarnations. There’s Gus (Tony Nappo; This Beautiful City), the druggie and Addison (Emmanuelle Vaugier; Blonde and Blonder), the hooker (“hugs not rugs” as my son would say for those wanting to qualify what kind of hooker). There are also important roles played by Saw II’s Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg; Dead Silence) and Kerry (Dina Meyer; The Lost) who also went on to Saw III. In addition to Meyer, holdovers from III include important players Costas Mandylor (Toxic) as Forensic Detective Hoffman and Lyriq Bent (Take The Lead) as SWAT Commander Rigg.

It’s Rigg who suffers the most from the guilt of having seen so many of his SWAT squad die at the hands of Jigsaw in previous films. His life has gone to squat because of his obsession over the missing Detective Matthews (Walhberg), who disappeared at the end of Saw II (which in the timeline happened six months previously) and his discovery of his former partner, Detective Kerry, sliced, diced, and hung like a disemboweled deer by Jigsaw at the beginning of
Saw IV. Since then, he has seldom been home because of his tireless pursuit of this killer and it has caused his marriage to go south and his sanity to be questioned. Naturally, being on the edge, he becomes the perfect pawn in the on-going game started by Jigsaw.

This film heralds back to the original in that it plays a similar smart trick that had audiences shrieking and astonished at their own inability to get the clever move of the killer from the beginning, when he rose from the floor after having been present through the entire ordeal faced by Cary Elwes’ Dr. Gordon and Leigh Whannell’s Adam, who were chained in a basement with only saws to free themselves by cutting through their own legs. In this case, the obvious mystery for the audience is in figuring out who is carrying on Jigsaw’s legacy and why.

Along the way, however, we are led through a series of gruesome tasks facing Rigg as he is egged on in his own game with the promised prize being his finally being reunited with the still-alive Matthews, who Riggs is shown via tv hanging from his neck with chains, on a piece of ice that's slowly melting with the help of heating lamps. Connected to him is recently captured Head Forensics Detective Hoffman, who is strapped in a chair that will electrocute him once the ice melts. Both he and Eric will die if Rigg doesn't rescue them within 90 minutes. To find them, Rigg has to follow a series of clues from one trap to another and force people he doesn’t know to participate in their own “games”, which inevitably lead to their deaths and his next clue.

This is a clever, clever turn in the mythos of the Saw series. I will miss Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw, for sure, but screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (Feast) have added an ending question mark to the game played by the unmasked apprentice to make you wonder whether even this apprentice’s game is over yet. There’s a tease that another secret apprentice may exist who may play a menacing role even to the one we now know. Obviously, this sets up the perfect premise for a sequel, so we can surely expect a Saw V before next Halloween, and as long as they can keep the suspense, writing, and production values as good as they are in Saw IV I’ll be there.

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