Suspecting they would have large significance in later sequels, I yesterday
refrained from commenting on Saw III‘s plethora of useless shots. The
camera’s fixation on Agent Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), barely above a bit player
in part three. Amanda reading a letter. Jigsaw pouring candle wax on a tape. All
of these are meant to clue us in to later events in the series, but taking
Saw III as a standalone movie (a test that, I believe, all movie sequels
have a responsibility to meet), these moments were just dead weight that
contributed to an already slow, putrid movie.
All Saw sequels cannibalize previous entries by twisting past events on their
head but at least II and IV were good at doing so. There was no
point in IV where I was drawn out of the movie because the filmmakers
were flagrant and obvious about dumping story material into the movie to be
expounded later on. In fact, Saw IV was rather thrilling, easily the most
tightly paced of the series so far.
That’s quite a feat since it has a quadruple story thread. There’s John Kramer’s
origin, tracking his depressing arc from distinguished gentleman with a hot wife
20 years his junior to crazed Jigsaw. We find out Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg)
is alive, in a trap with Hoffman. There’s also Rigg (Lyriq Bent), long-time
series survivor racing to avenge Kerry’s death and save Matthews. And then we
have Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson), a newcomer agent interrogating Jigsaw’s
wife, Jill.[rtimage]MapID=1185683&MapTypeID=2&photo=6&legacy=1[/rtimage]Each storyline in IV is a unique contributor to the movie
overall. Rigg’s citywide quest is structured like Jeff’s journey in Saw III
(a series of room-to-room tests), but Rigg is the tragic figure Jeff was meant
to be. His burning desire to rescue Matthews and avenge Kerry is palpable
because, hey, we’ve seen all the Saw movies. But he’s so clearly doomed from
jump street and it gives IV an edge of sad fatalism.
Resurrecting Eric Matthews has the guise of being a real crowd pleaser, as we
all hope he’ll escape and exact some revenge. Instead, his head gets crushed by
two ice blocks. Awesome, and truly merciless.
I’ve liked Patterson since Gilmore Girls and when I heard that he had
been cast in a Saw movie back in 2007, I took pity. But, you know what;
it’s a decent performance and a great character. Strahm is exactly what the
series needed at this point: somebody serious, cocky, and competent. It’s like
when you watch a zombie movie and the heroes know to shoot ’em in the head. You
like those people right away and it gives the writers less room to allow them to
do stupid things.[rtimage]MapID=1185683&MapTypeID=2&photo=11&legacy=1[/rtimage]And, finally, I was aware coming in this was a Jigsaw origin movie and, having
endured Amanda’s boring history lesson in III, I was expecting the worst.
But it’s rather compelling: a good slog of trauma drama (an addict accidentally
forces Jigsaw’s wife to have a miscarriage) that doesn’t break the bounds of
realism, and filmed with only the mildest hysteria.[rtimage]MapID=1185683&MapTypeID=2&photo=14&legacy=1[/rtimage]Director Darren Lynn Bousman displays the same competence (with occasional
flashes of real smarts) as in Saw II, obviously re-energized by the
script from new writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. By the time the
series supposedly ends with VIII, the two will have written more than
half the series and I’m interested in what develops under their tenure.
Narrative consistency and arc is a rare beast in horror franchises, and that
only happens if the series has a low turnover rate in creative personnel. Across
four movies, there has only been two directors. The Saw makers seem, for
the most part, genuinely enthusiastic that every year they have fans that come
out, even if the critical community at large doesn’t appreciate that the
audience exists at all.[rtimage]MapID=1185683&MapTypeID=2&photo=9&legacy=1[/rtimage]Body count: 10.
Most inventive trap: The ice trap that kills Matthews. Hilariously
Stupid person in a horror movie moment: I would’ve figured that Art
(the lawyer in charge of keeping Hoffman and Matthews in place) would’ve told
them to keep still for 90 minutes and then they could go free. This was a cheap
ploy to keep the audience in suspense.
See Saw schedule: