At the end of Saw III, franchise star John ‘Jigsaw’ Kramer (Tobin Bell) finally died – but one of his victims (Angus MacFadyen) was still on the game-board, and seemed set to continue into this movie as he accepted a mission to save his innocent child. As it happens, Saw IV doesn’t immediately pick up this thread but instead brings on new investigators to run about from place to place, finding unpleasant victims strapped into even more unpleasant death traps they can only escape from by extensive self-mutilation.
In the first, extremely explicit, scene, Jigsaw himself is on the autopsy table, but dissection turns up a wax-coated mini-cassette in his stomach which yet another cop (Costas Mandylor) gets to play. The bulk of the film is leery about establishing precisely when it is set, leaving open the option that the work of the dead maniacs from the earlier films is being carried on by a new disciple. But the plot also takes great care to fit in with the events of the earlier films, to the extent of bringing on a protagonist of Saw II (Donnie Wahlberg) and chaining him up on top of a slow-melting ice-block with a noose round his neck, suggesting it might be a flashback to Jigsaw’s gory glory days.
The Saw films have two strong suits – the ingenuity of the individual death-traps, and a snake-swallowing-itself plot structure whereby everyone gets sucked into Jigsaw’s worldview to become cogs in a gigantic machine whose work won’t be done until they stop making money on the films. This time out, the inspiration is fading – none of the set-pieces match the best gimmicks of earlier films, and the jittery, over-edited style and jagged storytelling mean that we don’t really care about any of the folks who are suffering. MacFadyen, who does finally show up, brought something human to the last entry which is missing here – cop Lyriq Bent and FBI guy Scott Patterson are stick figures, undeserving of Jigsaw’s special attentions.
It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that the ending indicates it’s not over yet, but this pronouncement comes after couple of twists which break faith with the audience and seriously scupper the premise. Previously, Jigsaw and the filmmakers played fair, but too much about this latest instalment seems simply arbitrary.