Finally saw all the 'Saw' films prior to seeing 'Jigsaw' (as part of my wanting to see as many 2017 films as possible this year, during a quieter and less intensive period). Heard a lot about the films, good and bad, but wanted to see them for myself to know what to expect.
The films as an overall series are a very mixed bag. The original 'Saw' had a great premise and while it was problematic it was still pretty good and one of the best in the series. 'Saw II' had its own problems but it was still one of the few follow-ups to be just as good and have what made the first click as well as it did. Things did go downhill with the overblown and confusing 'Saw III', which was suggestive of not just the novelty wearing off but done to death. 'Saw IV' improves on the third instalment and is among the better sequels, but not up to the level of the first two films. It's neither great or terrible, more uneven, but unlike the third film there is at least a sense that it's remembered what made the first two films work.
Lets start with 'Saw IV's' strengths first. The traps, tortures and such are closer in spirit to the suitably diabolical and inventive ones of the first two, almost like medieval torture, and there are a few clever, if not exactly bold, twists and turns. It's scarier and more suspenseful than the third film, being not as rambling, a little more cohesive and not being as over-reliant on what the third film overblew distastefully.
Production values, apart from the haphazard editing, are slicker and not as amateurish here and the music score is suitably eerie. The opening sequence is the single most disturbing opening of the whole series and one of its most disturbing scenes full stop, despite being dead Jigsaw still has what makes him an interesting and quite unique character and the seeming frailty of the human condition, done in a way that's pretty embittered, and Jigsaw's moralism being painted seemingly sympathetically is just as creepy as the traps and torture. Tobin Bell looms ominously and Donnie Wahlberg makes much of little.
On the other hand, the story is still very flawed. It is more atmospheric and eventful than the third film, but there's not enough to hide that it's more of the same stuff that does try to do too much and doesn't have enough original material to set it apart. Also, structurally with the back and forth and with laudably trying to tie up loose ends from before (but unsatisfyingly) it's still not easy to follow, culminating in one of the most perplexing head scratcher endings of any film from the 2000s from personal view. It's not just cohesiveness the film struggles with, credibility also goes out of the window.
'Saw IV', while not as much as the third film, still goes too far with the gore and violence (the latter almost pornographic level) which is not handled with much taste or subtlety. At least one doesn't feel as exhausted or find themselves trying not to laugh here though, which is an improvement, just that one doesn't have a good taste in their mouth after. The script is still flat and contrived and Jigsaw is the only character that interests the viewer and doesn't leave one feeling bored or frustrated. Bell and Wahlberg aside, the acting is nothing to write home about with Lyriq Bent's performance being one of the series' low points.
In short, watchable but not entirely satisfying. 5/10 Bethany Cox