While many of the so-called “torture porn” films that it helped spawn — including this spring’s The Hills Have Eyes 2, which did less than half the business of its 2006 predecessor, and this summer’s Captivity, which couldn’t capitalize on controversy surrounding its advertising — have fallen on hard times, LionsGate’s Saw franchise as of yet shows no signs of surrendering its box office relevance. The fourth installment, and the third in the series helmed by Darren Lynn Bousman, opened this past week to bloody good returns, pulling in just over $32 million on 4,600 screens, easily besting fellow wide release Dan in Real Life. Less than a week into the release of Saw IV, the series has now scared up $450 million in theatrical receipts alone, not to mention spinning off various bestselling DVD iterations.
Even though cancer-ridden serial killer John Kramer (Tobin Bell) — more popularly known as Jigsaw, for his labyrinthine puzzles with human lives forever hanging in the balance — died at the end of Saw III, he still figures prominently in Saw IV. The story finds a pair of FBI agents (Scott Patterson and Athena Karkanis) searching for Jigsaw’s accomplice, which leads them to his ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell), who proffers clues to his past which help further flesh out the motivations behind his homicidal inclinations. In parallel fashion, meanwhile, as the investigation proceeds, SWAT commander Rigg (series veteran Lyriq Bent) is kidnapped and forced to participate in one of Jigsaw’s twisted games, opening up more questions and setting the scene for an inevitable fifth serving of squirm-inducing mayhem.
Saw IV represents the first film in which originating actor-turned-producer Leigh Whannell does not have a hand in scripting it as well. Screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, whom dedicated Project Greenlight fans will remember as the young writers behind John Gulager’s Feast, step into the series, and for the most part ably follow its prescribed formula, much like a youngster trailing their parents’ footsteps through a knee-high snow drift. Dividing the action between extended flashbacks of Jigsaw’s pitiable past and elaborate present-day games which require victims to try to think in order to stay alive, Saw IV’s surprises aren’t as inventive as some of the other twists in the series. But the sheer volume of its obfuscation (literally — the film doesn’t cheat you on its sound mix) keeps things interesting for diehard fans. Despite the clucking disapproval of the cinematic intelligentsia, the Saw films aren’t successful by accident. A well-oiled machine, the franchise has consistently shown smarts about sticking with what works about their movies, as well as a dedication to narrative invention. For the full review, from FilmStew, click here.