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Sgt. Rigg (Lyriq Bent), still reeling from the Jigsaw induced death of his friend, is forced into the ruthless killer’s shoes on a mission to rescue his other friend Detective Matthews (Donnie Walhberg) and Officer Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), from another elaborate murder device. Meanwhile, FBI agents led by Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) attempt to track Rigg as he carries out Jigsaw's horrific justice from beyond the grave.

Saw IV: Unrated
Warning: In order to effectively review Saw IV I have to spoil some bits from Saw III.

I said a few positive things in my review of Saw III that mostly still apply here. I’m not a fan, but I appreciate the series for what it is. Contextually, it’s this generation’s Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street—a series of horror films that can be made cheap and that continue to pull in money every Halloween. If New Line was the house that Freddy built, Lionsgate surely must be the house that Jigsaw built. I appreciate the way the series works as one long continuing story, which was something the Friday and Elm Street series never quite managed a grasp on. I also appreciate the relative purity of the films—ick for ick’s sake.

The problem here is that the writers wrote themselves into a bit of a corner at the end of part three when they killed the villain. There are, the way I see it, four possibilities for a continuation:
1. The villain is dead, leave him dead.
2. The villain isn’t dead; he’s either faked his death or has supernatural powers of some kind.
3. There is a copycat or accomplice to take over killing for the villain.
4. The new film takes place on an alternate timeline.

Saw IV: Unrated
The Saw series may be full of impossible coincidences and minor plot holes, but it takes place in the real world, albeit a much more brightly coloured and noisy then our own. The supernatural option is right out, unless you want to piss off a whole lot of rabid fans. The first option is out because each movie in the series makes more money then the last, and Lionsgate knows their market. This leaves us with bits of options three and four. The writers have taken both options.

Saw IV is a partial prequel that also partially takes place at the same time as film three. This is kind of cheating, and not the rout I was hoping a future film would take, which would’ve been option one. I’d prefer that the ‘genius’ of the villain would supersede his death, that he’d be so clever that things could continue moving along smoothly without his assistance. It’s unbelievable, but believability isn’t really my concern with this series. The flashback nature adds a bit of emotional content I suppose, but in my most frank tone I have to admit I just don’t care about these characters. The accomplice angle is an even bigger cheat because I was led to understand that the point of episode three was that Jigsaw couldn’t trust an accomplice even when he was alive, and the first episode already dealt with a forced accomplice.

Saw IV: Unrated
This film is the most creatively bankrupt of the series. The writers get an A for effort, but at this point there isn’t a whole lot to bring to the films from a story telling standpoint. Points have been made about humanity’s need to survive, and the fact that they’re willing to do horrible things to themselves or others. Saw III dealt with the possibility of forgiveness, and made the villain second-guess his own motives. This film doesn’t offer up anything new (though the eventual wrap around to the end of part three is a little clever, but falls short). Too many plot elements depend on characters doing such specific things that they’re robbed of any realistic weight. The pieces just didn’t fit this time (no pun intended), and I found very little satisfaction in the final product.

That leaves us with the pure horror elements, which also seem to be spinning idle. The Saw films have never been particularly scary, save a few jumps when pig-face grabs his victims, but the disturbance factor has been a constant. Saw IV opens with a delightfully revolting autopsy sequence, and follows it up with the sticky aftermath of one of the third films more lacklustre traps, then depends on a few particularly painful traps for the rest of the winces. I have little idea how much of the gore goods were cut for the R rating, but the grue is thick, if not totally constant. I expected the bigger budget to show itself in more complex and spectacular traps, but it seems that even those engines are running on fumes this time around.

Saw IV: Unrated

Video


Lionsgate puts oodles of love into this particular baby. Saw III looked fabulous on DVD, so I expected Saw IV to look even better on Blu-ray. Details are very sharp in all kinds of lighting, though not quite as impossibly impeccable as some other high definition discs I’ve reviewed. Director Darren Lynn Bousman is still quite fond of his wacky colour schemes, though the overt greens are mostly saved for the scenes that harkens back to Saw III. This time we’ve got some really deadened and washed out blues, which look the best in HD, and some really bright reds, which display some noise, but not too much. The deep blacks, another important visual element to the series, are about as dark as my set will allow, and the grain is quite fine.

The only issue here is that I assumed the film would be presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio based on the sneak preview that came with the Saw III DVD. This disc is 1.78:1.

Audio


The extra two channels of the DTS-HD Master Audio track were lost on my five point one channel set-up, but the nearly-overwhelming audio fury didn’t not escape my notice. Again, I adore the over-the-top sound design on these films. The defining ambient noise is just as aggressive this time around. This DTS track is quite wacky at times, utilizing some obvious library effects (for instance, the sound of high voltage electricity) creating batches of unintentional hilarity. The centre channel dialogue isn’t lost in the mess, fortunately, and the fidelity of the voices is quite high and natural. The only lacking factor is the LFE track, which is tough, but not quite as rugged as one may expect from the format and film.

Saw IV: Unrated

Extras


Two commentaries grace the disc, and the first is with producers Oren Koules, Mark Burg, Peter Block and Jason Constatine. It’s pretty much what one would expect from the four guys behind the money making process of a money grubbing series. These fellahs are all relatively artless, focusing mostly on the mechanics of the plot, and their general disapproval of just about every decision the director made. During the video diary featurette we get to see some of this animosity as is takes place.

The second commentary is with Director Darren Lynn Bousman and lead actor Lyriq Bent. They’re both charming guys, and work well together, mostly because Bousman is the authority on the film’s ins and outs and because Bent is seeing the final film for the first time. Bousman fills us in on the making of process, including both positive and negative tales (mostly negative), while Bent points out some of my favourite holes in the script (“Why doesn’t he open his mouth earlier?”, “Why didn’t I just shoot her hair?” etc). Bousman apparently had little or nothing to do with the editing process (he was working on Repo at the time), and he keeps noticing ‘unrated’ cut moments (apparently he didn’t know he was watching the unrated cut). However, no matter how many times Bousman lays out the ‘theme’ of Jigsaw’s ‘lessons’ they still reek of straw grasping.

‘Darren’s Video Diary’ is a brutally break neck look at the behind the scenes of a film that wasn’t ready to start filming. The majority of the featurette is comprised of people arguing very passive aggressively. This stuff is actually more nerve wracking then anything in the film. Somehow the crew managed to shoot forty or fifty shots a day and still fall behind their thirty-day schedule. My favourite moments where the ones where Bousman and his DP desperately try to find camera angles that they hadn’t already used a million times in the previous films. I also like the constant blurring of all Bousman’s T-shirts. The featurette runs thirty-two minutes.

Saw IV: Unrated
Despite Bousman mentioning several deleted scenes during his commentary track, there is only one deleted scene on the disc. The scene is a throw away bit in the police station as the case is handed from one group of detectives to another, and lasts a whopping forty-four seconds.

There are two sets of featurettes, one set about the traps and one about the props. It’s funny, but really the props (including the traps) are the most interesting aspects of these films, so these very brief featurettes are essentially even more important to fans then the commentary tracks or the longer video diary. It was during these informative little pieces that I realized who screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan were—they’re the guys from Project Greenlight season three, the ones who wrote that awful Feast script. ‘The Traps of Saw IV’ lasts about seventeen minutes, and ‘The Props of Saw IV’ lasts about nine minutes.

I was afraid that the ‘MoLog’ option wouldn’t work for my Profile 1.0 player. The whole thing was a little buggy and slow, but the only option that was entirely unavailable to me was the internet connection. The ‘MoLog’ is an ‘interactive movie blog’. It’s a little lame, honestly. Basically it’s an interface that allows fans to add images, words, and simple animation to their favourite scenes. The interface is a sort of super-simplified version of Flash. This extra seems aimed mostly at teenagers, which should be ironic considering the unrating, but we all know it isn’t.

The extras come to an end with a music video from a group of very pretty young men called ‘X Japan’, the original theatrical trailer, and trailers for other Lionsgate releases, including and effective Eye teaser (I’m sure the final film will be horrible), and one for Rambo.

Saw IV: Unrated

Overall


I was pleasantly surprised by Saw III, but I’m left coldly disappointed by Saw IV. The film seems to have been made in committee, it’s cut to the barest minimums, and the plot is too much of a rehash. This Blu-Ray disc is sharp and sounds great, and features one solid commentary track and a tight little behind the scenes featurette. The director/actor commentary all but writes us out a guarantee of a future release of the film. Bousman points out a lot of editing changes that didn’t make this ‘director’s cut’ (in fact, he rarely refers to it as a ‘directors cut’, he calls it the ‘unrated cut’). There’s also mention of an alternate ending that is nowhere on this disc. I’m guessing most fans will regret this purchase sometime around October of this year. Buy at your own risk.


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