The backstory was in his belly.

Saw IV

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            With my review deadline in mind, I decided to ask a young friend whether she thought “Saw IV” might be a good choice for the coming week of Halloween. “I don’t think you could handle it; besides, you haven’t seen “Saws” I, II, or III. You won’t know the characters. It’s not a good idea.” “Tell me about them,” I replied, “and I’ll decide whether I can handle the new one.”

            Resigned, she began an articulate description of the series that sits comfortably in the category of violence that is so wildly drawn that it becomes abstract. This is the familiar phenomenon that leaves the audience less shocked by the violence itself than by the crashing crescendos in the score that signal catastrophe. These scenes are not so much shocks to the senses as blows to the adrenal glands.

            There is, I was told, a worthy premise in all the “Saw” movies. A man who is dying slowly (slowly enough to last through three movies) from a frontal lobe tumor has decided to test those who are not dying with a very simple question: do they appreciate being alive? He will devise a test for that appreciation, and if they fail the test, they will die in a trap of his making.

            The scriptwriters have made sure that John Kramer (Tobin Bell), more familiarly known as Jigsaw, will give each of his victims a chance. The problem here is that his victims are not sympathetic characters, so the audience finds itself in the unenviable position of being able to warm to the torturer. Isn’t he, after all, only asking the victims to love life or die in their own guilt? This arbiter of human emotion devises grotesque tricks and traps to test the beliefs of his victims. They are offered redemption in a race against the clock. Are you thinking yet of a nail-lined death mask? A saw and a foot? A spring loaded jaw opener? A key that must be retrieved from behind an eyeball?

            Kramer was apparently killed in “Saw III,” and I am personally pleased to report that I have learned that he remains dead in “Saw IV.” We know this because I was told that the film opens with a close-up of his dead self on the autopsy table where the attending surgeon finds a cassette in the stomach of his corpse. He may stay put on the autopsy table, but his ghoulish, taped instructions will continue. This man, his tricks, and his movies can now go on forever. The backstory was in his belly.

            The attendance figures for this series are convincing proof that millions of people love horror movies. If experiencing fear is exciting to you, by all means, go. The word is out that this one is both well made and terrifying. I am not going to see “Saw IV.” Right now the land of pumpkins and candy looks good to me. Happy Halloween.


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