I can only suppose that Generic Torture Porn Halloween Release is too awkward a title for theater marquees, but it’s so much more descriptive of the film at hand than Saw IV. The ad campaign’s tagline—“It’s a trap!”—is much more honest, since the film clearly is a trap to get the unwary viewer to break loose with some cold, hard cash for more reheated trash. Judging by the fact that the movie has opened with a $31-million-weekend box office, it would seem unarguable that it’s a very good trap, too. Then again, it’s not hard to sell a horror picture at Halloween—and since the Saw franchise seems now to own the holiday with four pictures in four years, it was a given that this was going to be big regardless of its actual quality.
Those who follow these films know that the big question was just how the series was not only going to carry on, but actually still feature the Jigsaw character (Tobin Bell). I’m afraid the answer is the quintessence of ho-hummery. In olden days, screenwriters were pretty clever at finding ways to bring the Frankenstein Monster, the Wolf Man or Dracula back for another round of sinister shenanigans. Even if they played fast and loose with the occurrences of the previous film and relied heavily on the likelihood that viewers (without recourse to home video) didn’t remember last time all that clearly, regardless, they tried. What newcomer scribes Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan offer isn’t remotely clever, being nothing more than a heavy reliance on flashbacks and a rehash of the old fractured time-line gambit the series used previously.
The only winner in all this is Tobin Bell, who gets a much more active role than that afforded him in previous entries. One can only hope that Mr. Bell enjoyed the opportunity to demonstrate his thespian skills with all this backstory guff about what turned a mild-mannered engineer into the monstrous Jigsaw, who spent three movies elaborately torturing folks to death. Chances are no one else will have nearly as much fun as he did playing the role. Let’s face it, people go to these movies for the express purpose of torture and gore, not to see what an unhappy life the villain had. Worse, attempts at humanizing Jigsaw only serve to make the character that much less larger than life and mythical. All it really does is eat up footage in between gore set pieces.
Once again, the series confuses the repellent for the scary. After all, is there actually anything frightening about watching Jigsaw’s autopsy? Not really, but it makes for a largely pointless bit of cinematic unpleasantness. (And viewers who cringe and squeal over a shot of his scalp being pulled back seem to forget that Stuart Gordon pulled the same stunt back in 1985 in Re-Animator where the whole raison d’être wasn’t simply to induce nausea as it is here.) Even as torture porn, Saw IV is no great shakes. The setups this round are nothing to get excited about and lack even a shred of creativity of even the twisted variety. In the realm of slice-and-dice, hack-and-slash, maim-and-mutilate horrors it’s all been done before and done better. Even by the not exactly high standards of the Saw movies, this one’s scraping the bottom of the entrails pail.
I’m not even going to try to unravel the movie’s jiggered time line. Since the filmmakers obviously don’t care whether or not it makes sense, I’m hardly going to worry about it. Whether viewers smack their collective foreheads as soon as the penny drops in the slot is their concern. On the very minor plus side, director Darren Lynn Bousman, who’s helmed all but the first film, manages some pretty clever scene transitions—and gets bonus points simply for not being Eli Roth.
Otherwise, what is there to say? It’s just another Saw movie, and as such, it has all the seasonal appeal of finding a razor blade in an apple or realizing that chocolate you just ate was pure ex-lax. Rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence, torture throughout and for language.