This article contains spoilers.
Is it serendipity or just convenient division that brings together Saw III and Saw IV in the second part of this retrospective series? Quite aside from being many things to fans of the series, the midpoint, the fulcrum or the point where it all went wrong, they’re two films that take place simultaneously with each other in the series’ timeline.
The story so far, as we discovered yesterday, brings us to the beginning of Saw III with Amanda abducting Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh). Jigsaw’s condition is deteriorating, and he must stay the course and keep hold of his mortal coil until the conclusion of his latest game. Bereaved father Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) is the subject, going through a series of rooms and passing judgement on different victims.
As a conclusion to the series, Saw III would have been perfectly serviceable. It was the most profitable instalment that far at the box office, and it ends with the deaths of both of our main antagonists. However, it’s considerably less innovative than its predecessors.
For instance, one unlucky victim is only trapped because she’s “already dead on the inside”. There’s an explanation for that departure in motivation later on, but it’s still a sign of the times.
Later in the film, we have a guy chained to the bottom of a water tank that’s being filled with liquidised pigs. A disgusting prospect, but do you remember when we had drug dealers being forced to climb into a pit full of used hypodermic needles? The pig milkshake trap isn’t exactly apt for any crime, is it? Saw III is more actively trying to gross out their desensitised audience.
Even aside from that, I have to wonder where Jigsaw’s porcine fixation comes from. His victims are abducted by Amanda, or whoever else, but they’re always dressed in that pig mask and a dressing gown. Dr. Gordon does “This Little Piggy…” with his daughter in the first film, so that contrasts nicely, but beyond that, I have no clue. More to the point, why do the latter films insert an almost parodic and non-diegetic squeal every time one of these piggy sentinels appears? It’s just bizarre.
The twist reveals that Lynn is Jeff’s ex-wife, but, in what at first appears to be a jealous rage, Amanda shoots Lynn, despite how she passed her test. Jeff then shoots Amanda and makes a Pez dispenser out of John. And then Lynn’s head explodes. Funny story. Anyway, it seems from this point that Saw IV would have its work cut out in continuing the series.
With the departure of Leigh Whannell and James Wan, the reins were taken up for Saw IV by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, and under their tenure, the series becomes a lot more like a very gory soap opera. In a way, maybe I’m only interested in this series because I don’t get the enjoyment that soap viewers do from being involved in a continuing storyline anywhere else. In a way, Saw is my very own fucked up Emmerdale.
Anyway, Dunstan and Melton were obviously around for part of the third instalment too, seeing as how they left themselves threads to pick up for their run on the series. First off, the victim who was already dead inside is discovered by the police near the beginning of the fourth film, kicking off the plot.
This time, we’re following Lieutenant Rigg (Lyriq Bent), one of the surviving members of the SWAT team from Saw II, who’s still obsessed with finding Jigsaw. He becomes a subject of a game, as Jigsaw challenges him to find the missing-presumed-dead Detective Eric Matthews within 90 minutes, or else he’ll be killed.
We’re also introduced to Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), who follow Rigg’s game and realise what he doesn’t. It’s being made to look like Rigg is Jigsaw’s second apprentice. That Rigg remains blind to this is pretty excusable, because most who’ve seen Saw IV will tell you that it’s largely an incomprehensible mess.
People will tell you it’s the next instalment in the series that’s the worst, but I really find Saw IV to be the nadir of the series. Saw III might have been a concerted effort to gross out the audience, but this is an actively inscrutable film that has delusions of intelligence.
On a marginally more interesting level than everything else going on, Saw IV is basically ‘The Secret Origin Of Jigsaw!’ for those who wanted his character explaining even more, just to remove all mystery. The story of his ex-girlfriend’ Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), and how a drug addict killed their unborn child while ransacking a medical centre, doesn’t add a lot more depth to John. Especially when the miscarriage scene is despicably played for violence rather than drama.
There’s no way I could possibly cover everything that happens in the sprawling hubris of Saw IV, but the salient information is this. Most of the cops die, including Rigg and Matthews, and it turns out that this new guy, Hoffman, has been working with Jigsaw for almost the whole series, unseen. Contrived, but it’s a mechanism by which the series can continue, and that’s seemingly what matters to Dunstan and Melton.
Not to be insensitive, but the death of original producer Gregg Hoffman shortly after the release of Saw II makes for an odd case of art imitating life. Hoffman, for whom Jigsaw’s successor is named, gets a posthumous producer’s credit on the other Saw films, but the films go downhill just as much after his real-life death as they did after John Kramer’s death in the films.
In Mark Hoffman, we have a character without rationale. He’s the one who puts people in traps for being dead inside, and the guy who makes traps impossible to escape. Without the possibility of redemption, the victims are just torture porn fodder, and a lot of what made the series interesting is gone.
The bookends of Saw IV suggest he’ll be tested even though John has passed on, to see if he is worthy of continuing the legacy of Jigsaw, but that takes another two films after this one!
With the levels of violence in Spartacus: Blood And Sand, I wonder if the series might have had a better reception if it had spun off into an uber-violent TV series on Starz or HBO after the third film. The tone from the fourth film onwards is more episodic than cinematic, more police procedural than horror story, and more wrapped up in its own mythology than Lost.
Even having rewatched these two films recently, I doubt that I could explain to you off the top of my head what happens in each of them, occurring simultaneously as they do. Saw III is straightforward until it’s muddied by Saw IV.
What I do know is this: one of them has Tobin Bell at the centre, and is an acceptable follow-up, and the other has him in flashbacks only, which is pants. Where else is there to go, in Saw V and Saw VI?
Saw III Saw IV