I want to see a horror film with a plot. He wants to play a game. With both get what we came for. Sort of.
Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is dead, as is pretty much everyone else associated with the Saw franchise up to this point. But someone has been continuing his work and possibly has been helping John and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) all along, and the feds are closing in. Unfortunately for them, Jigsaw was always good at finding recruits and convincing them to run his game for him, and with multiple games running, all of them are starting to converge. Will anyone redeem themselves in Jigsaw’s eyes, or has everyone already doomed themselves?
The idea behind the Saw franchise is clever; using imaginative engineering and ironic traps of a torturous nature, those perceived to have wasted their lives are given the chance to live if they can escape. Since Jigsaw never really throws the switch, sticks in the knife, or pulls the trigger, he absolves himself from any guilt. These stories work very well on an intimate level, but when too many characters are introduced, both the story and the audiences have some trouble keeping up. Whereas the first Saw and the third met the right balance, the second film and now the fourth push things a little too far and end up being less effective as a result.
As hinted in the third film, many of the flashbacks which have become the staple of the Saw storytelling formula now deal with John becoming Jigsaw himself. For the first time we see where the inspirations come from and why the anger. Unfortunately, Jigsaw’s story is actually pretty interesting, leaving the bulk of the film following the third installment’s tried-and-true “here’s your victim, make your choice, next victim” pacing. While avoiding the mistake of too many loose cannons from the second film, the fourth film commits all-new atrocities that again stray to far from the original idea or mimic it too repetitively.
By the end of the film, the music and fast flashback technique we’ve seen ending the previous three films seems unnecessary. At this point, we know all of Jigsaw’s best tricks and those of the director, from scenes cut to look like they’re happening now (but have already taken place earlier) to revealing the “control” character that has betrayed everyone out of secret loyalty to Jigsaw. These bits no longer seem revealing or even surprising, so for the last two planned installments, everything we’ve come to expect really needs to be turned on its head to be effective.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)