When I was a kid, Halloween was my second-favorite time of the year (next to Christmas). I got to bug the neighbors for snacks, throw eggs at the town assholes and play dress-up. In short, it was juvenile bliss.
Nowadays, all Halloween means is that I have to watch another goddamn Saw movie.
I usually preface my Saw reviews by saying, "I've never liked a Saw movie!" That remains the case after watching Saw IV. What surprised me most about the continuing saga of Jigsaw, the impossible serial killer, is that I didn't hate it as much as the last two. That's actually high praise coming from me.
As Saw enthusiasts might recall, Jigsaw met his demise at the end of the third chapter. This movie starts off with a technically impressive autopsy sequence in which they remove Jigsaw's skullcap, stomach, etc. It's a very gruesome scene, which culminates in the discovery of, yes, a new taped message from Jigsaw. It appears his work is not done, for there is a lot more box-office money to be made.
Things get a little confusing after the autopsy scene, but I will try to summarize: SWAT Commander Rigg, who is obsessed with finding missing Det. Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg), gets kidnapped and put into one of the Jigsaw games. Det. Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) gets his ass caught as well, and winds up a seated prisoner in the game, with Mathews standing on a block of ice right next to him.
The film vacillates between the game elements and flashbacks depicting the origins of Jigsaw, played with childlike abandon by Tobin Bell. Actually, Jigsaw (or John) was still quite depressing in his pre-killing days, with his wife (Betsy Russell) working at a clinic and expecting a baby. John created the clinic to help people, because he was just a nice guy who wanted to be loved. At one point, when showing his expectant wife some office space, he took out that spooky tricycle doll, which was apparently meant to be a toy for his kid. That makes Jigsaw one bad daddy to be, because that doll would freak out any infant.
We discover that John became Jigsaw after a drug addict abused his wife's clinic, and an accident resulted in problems with the baby. John concocted a torture device to punish the drug addict and was soon diagnosed with cancer--so the games began. I sort of hate how the Saw series depicts Jigsaw as an almost sympathetic, virtuous type. He's a bad role model for kids and pets everywhere.
I also hate the ridiculous torture devices that would require factories and large government grants to create. I know we are supposed to accept the implausible gizmos, because it's just a movie, but Jigsaw isn't supernatural and is incapable of creating such things, even if Shawnee Smith were helping him out on the weekends. If the impossible devices were a little more interesting, I suppose I wouldn't care, but they've gotten progressively more dull since the first film.
While the acting is far from spectacular in this installment, nobody stinks up the place as bad as Danny Glover and Cary Elwes did in the first one, so that's good. In fact, Wahlberg does a damn fine job of standing on a block of ice and looking completely uncomfortable. Bell seems to embrace the chance to show us the human side of his calculated killer. Too bad that human side is as monotonous, uninteresting and droll as the sickly psycho version of the character.
On the plus side, the movie did manage to surprise me with its ending--an ending that made the movie better. Not good, but better.
Regrettably, it leaves the door open for another chapter, which means future Halloweens will be screwed.