The Austin Chronicle

Saw IV

Rated R, 108 min. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Starring Tobin Bell, Scott Patterson, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Lyriq Bent, Athena Karkanis.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 2, 2007

I am of two minds regarding Saw IV, although unlike so many of the characters present here and in the previous three films, my condition, while critical, does not yet appear to be terminal. (Although neither did I snap awake this morning and discover myself trapped in a harshly underlit hellhole, my lips surreptitiously stitched to those of Asia Argento, our sole shot at survival being a razored round of Twister. "Oh, yes, there will be … left foot red.") James Wan and Leigh Whannell's hyper-enthusiastic exercise in Ramones-style psychotherapy has become, improbably, both box-office and gore-gazette gold since Bell debuted as Jigsaw in 2004. The series' increasingly outlandish forays into the mindset of Rube Goldberg's evil twin, coupled with the dessicated Bell's equally ante-upping characterization of amoral madness in the service of moral redemption – corkscrew logic, but always sensibly lunatic, natch – have made for some downright existential bloodbathing. Jigsaw died in Saw III and here we get to witness his autopsy, stem to stern, thus giving him not only the last gasp and laugh, but Being and Nothingness as well. Even with his head lolling on the M.E.'s scale, this maniac's chaos theorems and intricate, insidious plottings continue, much to the chagrin of assorted officers of the law (Patterson, Karkanis, and the returning Bent and Mandylor) and those unlucky enough to have peeved the premortem Jigsaw. More than most, the Saw films have held fast to an internal logic that only gets more complex – yet never entirely lapses into outright inanity – with each successive episodic outrage. Saw IV finally offers Jigsaw's horrific backstory in flashback, an unnecessary denuding that absolves no one, least of all this fleshless engineer and his hellbound heart. Redemption, absolution, morality: The Saw films speak truth to horror, bluntly but with a depressingly accurate gravitas gleaned in part, I suspect, from, of all places, the daily news, Middle East and otherwise. Torture, you may recall, used to be an unparsable, unpardonable sin. Now it's porn.

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