Saw IV

Year: 2007
Production Co: Twisted Pictures
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Producer: Mark Burg/Gregg Hoffman/Oren Koules
Writer: Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan
Cast: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Lyriq Bent, Donnie Wahlberg, Betsey Russell, Athena Karkanis, Scott Patterson, Dina Meyer

Well it doesn't get exactly confusing, but there are a lot of characters, and incoming writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton almost have a little bit of trouble keeping the backstory of Jigsaw, the traps and the cops trying to find him under control.

John Kramer (Tobin Bell) is dead and the Jigsaw killings are believed to be over, apart from one niggling detail. When Allison Kerry's (Dina Meyer) body is found, torn apart at the ribcage from the trap she wasn't supposed to escape from, the detectives who were working with her and the still-missing Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) – Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) and Riggs (Lyriq Bent) are joined by two FBI agents, Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Perez (Athena Karkanis), who deduce that there must be a third accomplice.

Kramer was too sick and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) simply not strong enough to rig Kerry into her trap that killed her. The hunt is on for Jigsaw's last surviving partner in crime. Riggs, meanwhile, is obsessed with tracking down every facet of the case since Matthews' disappearance, so of course the familiar pig-with-hair-masked kidnapper bursts out of the shadows of his home and he wakes up in one of the now-dead Jigsaw's traps. His mission is to learn to let go of the obsession driving him to find Matthews and close the Jigsaw case and get on with his life.

The people he's sent to save/kill on his quest all seem completely unrelated (but of course they're not, even if the reason why is a little hard to remember), but we also get to see more of what made Jigsaw tick in the shape of his ex wife Jill (Betsey Russell). Once a successful engineer, John was married to the love of his life, Jill, who owned a health clinic for drug addicts and other lost souls and who was pregnant with their son-to-be, Gideon.

When she loses the baby one night during a robbery, John's mind fractures. Unable to contain his grief he becomes Jigsaw, using his skills as an engineer and the meat packing factory in his possession to build and stage the elaborate traps the world knows as the work of the Jigsaw killer, selecting people who need to be taught to appreciate what they have or pay penance for what they've done and cementing his own legend with the gory results.

Riggs finally comes upon Matthews, still alive after months and locked in an elaborate trap along with Rigg's colleague Hoffman. But even in death Jigsaw is way ahead of them all and his early cryptic warning comes true as Riggs, in his haste and bloodlust to crack the case, inadvertantly gets Matthews killed, then himself.

It's not until the very end that the identity of Jigsaw's undiscovered accomplice is revealed, and (in keeping with the series thus far), we no sooner learn it than the film's chronology reveals another twist. Strahm, having gone aggresively after Jill because he's convinced she knows something, has figured out the location of the gruesome factory that's been the setting of all Jigsaw's mazes and traps and when he gets there hunting for the accomplice he's convinced is at work, he instead stumbles upon Jeff, the man avenging his son's death by a drunk driver in the previous instalment.

He bursts in on Jeff right as the latter reaches the room where Jeff's wife Lynn, Amanda and John are unwittingly deciding over all their fates. The accomplice he's looking for, close behind Strahm, locks him in the erstwhile surgery with all the bodies and lets himself out. In the last scene we see him playing the tape containing his final instructions, left to him by John who recorded it and swallowed it not long before his death to be found during his autopsy – which we've already see in as the film opens.

Confused yet? The Saw franchise is built for people who've watched and followed it every step, or who've been prepared to sit down and watch every film in a marathon to keep up. Screenwriters Dunstan and Melton have spun a Grand Guignol tale of conflicting and hidden agendas and how they crash together.

The film delivers everything the series was famous for and turns the volume up a bit more, but there's a perception everyone was getting tired of it by now (although that's not particularly true – it's one of the highest grossing films of the series, and it's easy to forget that critics were never truly enamoured with it, the original getting less than 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).

But it's got the gore, the reveals and even though John Kramer is dead, it continues the story as believably as you can expect within the universe it's set up. For a writing nerd, it's actually quite thrilling to continue to see how they can build such an expansive tale out of two guys locked in a bathroom.

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