Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
November 2007

If you Saw one, you Saw 'em all

Until this series does something interesting, I'm using that same headline every single time

Saw IV
Lionsgate Films
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Screenplay: Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan
Starring: Tobin Bell, Lyriq Bent, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Justin Louis, Donnie Wahlberg and Betsy Russell
Rated R / 1 hour, 35 minutes
Opened October 26, 2007
(out of four)

Jigsaw has filled the void left by Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers and any other Unstoppable Killers that have defined my generation and generations past. He's our 21st Century Halloween tradition. Lucky us.

Like so many '80s slasher pioneers, Jigsaw is the kind of otherworldly Supervillain who's always nineteen steps ahead of us, who cannot be stopped, who cannot be killed. Yes, I'm perfectly aware that Jigsaw actually did die in Saw III, but that's never stopped these guys in the past, has it? Of course not. Jigsaw, you see, has been thinking ahead - so in Saw IV, we see all the handiwork he prepared for his victims in advance, just to make sure his "work" will go on. Plus, we get his character's heartwarming backstory, to increase his screen time.

No doubt the brains behind this franchise will find no shortage of ways to revive the character as often as they'd like. In the opening scene of Saw IV, we see Jigsaw's dead body as an autopsy is being performed. His skin is torn off, his skull is detached, his brain removed. And yet it doesn't matter. How many times have Freddy and Jason been killed? Be it through prequels, or an endless collection of audio tapes and proteges, or resurrection itself, Jigsaw is here to stay. I'm waiting for the movie where it turns out that he was actually cloned, and the dead body we see in this installment was actually the clone. Or his twin brother. Nothing gets past these clever screenwriters.

But I digress. As for the movies themselves, the main thing that separates Jigsaw from his predecessors is that he's not quite the main attraction that they were. The real stars are the devices he uses to kill - he's always playing second fiddle to those things. Maybe that's one of the problems with this series in the first place. With Freddy Krueger and Co., there was always a sort of gleeful silliness to it all. The Movie Star Slasher was kind of fun. They were just teen horror flicks, they didn't take themselves seriously, they had fun/silly plots and fun/silly characters, so they at least had that minor value, even if the films themselves were, the majority of the time, not very good. Guilty pleasures at best.

Obviously, the aim of the Saw movies is different. That's fine. But I've seen all four entries - and they all do exactly one thing, and nothing more. It's a gimmick. In Saw IV, franchise veteran and survivor Rigg (Lyriq Bent) has to go through a series of tests - during which he meets several people in various states of torture - in order to try to save his former partner (Donnie Wahlberg) and another detective (Costas Mandylor). That is the plot, but it is not the point. That's the basic set-up, as it always is. People will be given tests and the screenplay will oh-so-cleverly manufacture ways for them all to die, as gruesomely as possible. Fine. We know that going in, so we can't exactly be "disappointed," right?

But when it comes down to it . . . this is what passes for a movie? These movies are made up of one - count 'em, ONE - gimmick, repeated ad nauseam. Worse yet, it's one absolutely meaningless gimmick. Even worse, the filmmakers insist on framing it with Jigsaw's insufferable philosophizing behind his killings. I suppose that could be called "textual support" or "motive" or "plot," when in reality it's more like "we need to give this a long enough run time so that it actually counts as a movie."

It's like when the pizza delivery guy or cable repairman comes to the door. The pizza doesn't matter. Neither does the cable. (Problem is, I think the Saw writers somehow think Jigsaw's reasoning does matter. Hmm . . .)

The overall result is . . . well, nothing. These are movies about absolute nothingness. And I don't mean they're just nihilistic - nihilism I can handle. I mean they're completely meaningless in every possible way. At the very least, I should expect some of the basic knee-jerk thrills of a suspense or horror movies. But it's not there. Given the formula of the gimmick, there's virtually no possibility of suspense, nor horror, nor fear. Just morbid curiosity, I guess. The Saw movies might illicit a few squeals and gross a few people out, but if that's all it does, it's no better than a carnival sideshow or any freak of nature on Ripley's Believe It or Not.

When all these movies ever do is stay the same, doesn't that get a little boring? Haven't you already figured out the pattern? Don't you remember Sammy Jankis?

Twists and turns are one thing - but at a certain point, those twists and turns simply become the formula. They become easy. Boring. Unbelievably monotonous.

Seeing Saw IV causes me to look back with admiration on Hostel, a largely mediocre movie that at least had the good sense to approach its torture and gore with a comically macabre sensibility. The Saw movies take themselves so seriously it's almost pathetic.

So why, you may ask, do I keep reviewing them? I don't know. Maybe I think they simply deserve to be commented on - not in spite of their poor quality, but because of it. Whether I like it or not, the Saw franchise is pop-culturally relevant. The movies are popular for a reason. But "being a good movie" isn't it.

And don't you "it's just serving its audience" me. Late-night infomercials serve an audience, too. So does Hannity and Colmes. So does hardcore porn. That doesn't mean it's quality cinema or quality entertainment.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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