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Saw IV (2007)

Lionsgate Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 1/22/2008

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/14/2008

"Cliffhangers" occur when a story ends without a complete conclusion with the implication that that closure will happen in the next part of the series. They have been around for centuries, as they were originally popular in literature. "Cliffhangers" then made the leap to short serials which were shown in theaters in the 1930s. Of course, television soap operas built their success on "cliffhangers". But, we rarely see them in feature films. It would take confidence to end a movie with a question mark on the assumption that it would be successful enough for the audience to come back for more. That is why, no matter what you think of them, one must applaud the Saw series for having the guts (literally), to making the films a true series where the stories are connected one after another. The latest entry, Saw IV, continues this trend.

(SPOILERS: Being a series of films with "cliffhangers", I can't discuss Saw IV without divulging some things from Saw III, so if you haven't seen the third entry, read with caution.) As Saw IV opens we see that, echoing the ending of Saw III, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is indeed dead. Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) and Officer Rigg (Lyriq Bent) are investigating a crime scene from Saw III, when FBI agents Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Perez (Athena Karkanis) arrive on the scene and relieve them. Seeing that Rigg is on edge (and having observed him make some dangerous moves when entering the crime scene), Hoffman orders Rigg to go home and get some rest. Rigg hasn't been home for long when he is attacked. When he awakens he receives a message from Jigsaw informing him that Detective Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg) (who was last seen in Saw III) is alive and that the trap which he is in will be triggered in 90 minutes. Rigg then begins to follow a series of clues to find Mathews. Meanwhile, Hoffman is on Rigg's trail, attempting to save his friend. At this same time, Strahm and Perez are interrogating Jigsaw's ex-wife, Jill (Betsy Russell), in an attempt to find out where Jigsaw could be holding his hostages.

The Saw franchise have been built upon two things; elaborate torture devices and elaborate plot twists. And Saw IV delivers on both. But, it will be up to the individual viewer's taste as to which element is more satisfying.

For me, after four movies, the traps are still somewhat interesting, but they aren't the main crux of the movie. There's a moment of "Wow, that's sick and twisted" fascination and then I wait for the plot to move on. Saw IV makes the same mistake which sullied Saw III for me in that it shows characters about which we know nothing locked into one of Jigsaw's traps. Officer Rigg encounters four people in these devilish devices and the movie then stops to tell us who they are. The cleverly deviant devices may hold some minor interest, but the fact that we have no emotional bond with these characters makes it very difficult to feel anything during the scenes. And the fact tat some of the people who Rigg comes across are criminals makes it even harder to not be bored by the scenes. The torture machines are meant to torture the audience with suspense, but when you sure who the person is, or why they are there, it's very easy to distance oneself from the movie.

However, the movie does deliver when it comes to plot twists and storytelling in general. The final scene of Saw is on a very short list of great twist endings which are nearly impossible to foresee. (I hope that James Wan and Leigh Whannell are still patting themselves on the back.) And while the twists in Saw IV don't come close to the ending of the original, they are better than those found in Saw II and Saw III. Obviously, I can't really discuss the twists, but I will say that the movie features two twists. One involves a character in the film and relates to their perception of the events in the film. The other is a trick which has been played on the audience. Despite the fact that the film never tells us to think in this way, we jump to a certain conclusion and for nearly 90 minutes, we live under this delusion until the movie pulls the rug out from under us. While I found this impressive, I can see how many would find it jarring and confusing.

The movie also makes use of being the fourth film in the series. In Saw, we learn next to nothing about Jigsaw. The sequels have taken advantage of their status as sequels to go back and tell more and more of Jigsaw's backstory. We get even more of this in Saw IV. Some of it is kind of hokey, but writers Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan (the writers of Feast) have wisely chosen to place some emotional cues in the story so that we continue to have conflicted emotions about Jigsaw. It's difficult to cheer for a killer (well, it should be at least), but he's also a vigilante and when we learn more about his past, his motivations become clearer.

In some ways, it seems pointless to review a film like Saw IV, as most viewers have already made up their minds as to whether or not they want to see it. But, there may be readers out there who were disappointed by Saw III and are interested to learn if Saw IV is an improvement. I feel that it is, as the story feels more organic and less forced than the last film and the ending does pack a wallop. But, true to form, the movie ends with a "cliffhanger", so I guess we'll have to tune into Saw V in order to see what happens next.

Saw IV leaves us hanging on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in three forms; an R-rated widescreen version, an unrated fullscreen version, and an unrated widescreen version. For the purposes of this review, only the unrated widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. (IMDB.com reports that the OAR was 1.85:1. Is this another Lionsgate reframing?) The transfer looks very good, as the image is quite sharp and clear. Despite the fact that the digital intermediate process was used on Saw IV, the image shows virtually no grain. There are no defects from the source material. The image is slightly washed out (on purpose), but reds and blues really stand out here. I noted some mild artifacting at times, but otherwise, the video looks good. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Those sound effects are very important in the film and we hear every scream and movement from the machines loud and clear. The stereo effects are fine, but it's the surround and subwoofer effects which really make one sit up and take notice here. The viewer is engulfed in the sound, making the on-screen action all the more real.

The Saw IV DVD contains a host of extra features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg and Executive Producers Peter Block and Jason Constantine. This is an OK commentary, but the speakers get somewhat boastful at times. They stick to a very scene specific commentary, discussing the actors and the story particulars. It is interesting to hear how much of Saw IV was planned while Saw III was being shot.  There is also an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Darren Lynn Bousman and actor Lyriq Bent. This talk is much more relaxed, although it's somewhat odd that Bent is seeing the finished film for the first time. Bousman shares a great deal about how scenes were shot and the direction of the story. Bent provides the low point by asking, "Now, what's the purpose of an autopsy?" (Are you kidding me?) "Darren's Video Diary" (33 minutes) is simply a lot of random behind-the-scenes video which shows Director Darren Lynn Bousman (and a host of others) working on the film. Several participants speak directly to the camera. "The Traps of Saw IV" offers an in-depth examination of seven of the traps from the film. We overhear discussion from the designers and see some production sketches. In "The Props of Saw IV", property master Jim Murray explains how some of the sinister devices in the film were designed and built. We get the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "I.V." by X Japan. The final extra is one DELETED SCENE from the film, which runs about 45 seconds.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long