Dir. Darren Lynn Bousman (2007)
A new game is being played despite Jigsaw's recent death, in which Lieutenant Rigg gets sucked into his own obsessive contest.
After the revelations from Saw III, it felt like the series had perhaps run its course in providing surprising and gory games for its various unwitting victims. Jigsaw was dead, there was a missing little girl in a warehouse somewhere, and the recent participants in Jigsaw's latest game were locked away, either dead or soon to be. How, then, could there even be another movie? Writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan had a plan for the direction of the series, and despite the dropoff in quality from the first three films, it was a decent one filled with a ton of twists, some awesome traps, and bunches of policemen in peril.
Lieutenant Rigg (Lyriq Bent) is consumed with trying to track down the missing Detective Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg), who we quickly learn is suspended in a strange contraption along with the also missing Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Matthews is in a suspended in a noose standing atop a block of melting ice, which will fill the platform Hoffman is sitting in to electrocute him if Rigg doesn't find them in the allotted timeframe. Of course, there's a bit more to the story than that, because Rigg's game is about his obsession, his instructions telling him that he needs to learn to let things go. As he proceeds through the underworld denizens set before him that are more than worthy of their fates, he eventually reaches the trapped detectives and... I'm obviously not going to tell you more than that and spoil it!
While there is definitely much more convolution in the fourth installment of the franchise, the script is tight as hell and really allows the audience to prod it for potential holes without finding much. Everything is tied neatly together while still allowing the film series to progress beyond this film, which sadly happens without director and series mainstay Darren Lynn Bousman. He's lucky that he got off when he did, because there are a couple of lesser installments coming. Nevertheless, Saw IV is actually pretty well done, carrying the aesthetics of the series, the classic score, and quite a few of the same actors into a new story that makes sense when it all comes to a close.
Unfortunately for Bousman, just because a film makes sense doesn't mean it's particularly good. Saw IV is definitely the weakest of the series so far (or at least tied with Saw III), jamming a lot of background information into the film to make its timeline make sense. It does all come together, and it helps to clear up exactly how things happened outside the walls of Jigsaw's traps that the story is normally stuck within. And while it does make sense that not all of the story is linear (lest its secrets and twists be given away too early), it also makes for a more-confusing-than-necessary timeline that can throw you off if you're not paying really close attention.
That is, ultimately, how the entire Saw series differs from other films of its kind. It is in no way a bunch of dumb movies. There's tremendous thought that has gone into linking all of the stories together, to the extent that I imagine Melton and Dunstan in front of one of those conspiracy walls with all of the string linking together the various parts of the process. They do it exceptionally well, throwing enough random brutality in to keep the fans happy while they move the story along. In lesser hands, the storyline could've easily become a confusing mess. As it stands, it's slightly confusing and just a little bit of a mess, the consequences of having a story that must continually link back to its origins while providing enough meat to make another movie possible and worthy of inclusion.
While Saw IV certainly isn't the best entry, there's enough to love here that it's a worthwhile addition to the series. The Saw series generally is pretty good, it's rare to find a movie that isn't worth the celluloid its printed on, which is something you can't say for most horror franchises. Saw IV does enough to move the main storyline along, as well as fill in more than a few gaps. That's really all you can ask from the fourth movie in a series. As I'm learning rewatching the entire series, it's best to watch the first five together.
Who this movie is for: Saw fans, Trap enthusiasts, Tricky detectives
Bottom line: Certainly not the best but definitely not the worst movie in the franchise. There's a ton here that moves the story along, which unfortunately has the side effect of making the movie a bit less enjoyable than its predecessors. It's still an excellent story with some outstanding twists, and it holds true enough to the Saw aesthetic that it's well worth a watch. This one is best watched in conjunction with the other four movies in the first five.