Saw IV marks the first time that series creators Leigh Whannel and James Wan were not involved in the production of the screenplay. The sole connections to the original film come from the smart use of returning actors once again going from background to featured in the film. While the handing over of the series may seem problematic, new screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan make the story work.
The first thing to know is Jigsaw is dead. Before his death, he planned one final game to test police officer Rigg (series regular Lyriq Bent) and his determination to keep everyone alive at the cost of his own personal identity. Simultaneously, the police investigation angle makes a welcome return with returning officer Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) and FBI agents Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Perez (Athena Karkanis) trying to determine the identity of Jigsaw’s other assistant. As revealed early in the film, there is no way that Jigsaw could have only operated with the assistance of Amanda because neither were strong enough to set up some of the traps. Through the interrogation of Jigsaw’s ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell in a very strong performance), the agents learn the origin of Jigsaw’s games and potential assistants.
The plot line is very involved. Instead of dual plot lines like the previous entries, Saw IV actually uses three: Rigg’s game, the police/FBI investigation, and Jigsaw’s origin. The most compelling of these stories, like the third Saw film, is the one surrounding Jigsaw. Fortunately for the quality of the film, equal attention was spent on all three stories in production, so the quality is consistent.
The biggest problem in Saw IV is the editing. What seems to be the main storyline at the beginning, Rigg’s test, disappears for far too long stretches of time throughout the film. It’s conclusion almost seems like an after thought to pull off the weakest twist of the four Saw films. While there are some wonderfully creative transitions between the different plots, the story doesn’t feel balanced. Saw IV once against marks the series trying to do too much at once. Jigsaw’s origin could have been it’s own film, and provides the most disturbing scene in the history of the series. And no, it’s not from a trap.
The strength of the initial Saw film was playing out a very disturbing struggle for survival. The twists and turns seemed important and engaging. And the editing and screenplay allowed the audience to care. With each progressive entry, the focus seemed to shift from the human struggle to Jigsaw’s game, which are not one in the same. Saw IV is a step in the right direction to get the series back on track, but the production team seems to forget one thing: simplicity. The first Saw, while filled with twists, was a simple film. Saw IV has complex interwoven plot lines, but they are easier to follow than II and III. For that, it is almost tempting to call this entry a return to form. Almost.