Jigsaw? Dead. Amanda? Dead. Kerry? Dead. YIKES! The film makers do know another trilogy was planned after this, right? Did they miss that memo?
After seeing Saw III in 2006, I said they'd need a HELL of a strong sequel to make me come back. Sure, I would have eventually seen the next movie regardless but it sure wouldn't have been on opening night with my hard earned money in hand. Right off the bat they announced the movie would center around Lyriq Bent's underutilized character Daniel Rigg, so just like that I was all in. And I'll admit to being intrigued about where the story was going to go next, seeing as how the majority of the cast was saddled with that whole “We are totally dead” business.
Director of the last two films Darren Lynn Bousman said he was done with the series but upon reading the script was convinced to come back one last time. He said the film's huge plot twist surprised him, something he didn't think was possible after two years of guiding the franchise. The script came from four different scripts floating around Lionsgate, the original idea coming from writer Thomas Fenton, who had mostly served in Hollywood as a behind the scenes player.
The actual script was written by the team of Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, who had made a name for themselves with the horror comedy Feast. They obviously impressed their bosses with their writing, as they would go on to pen the rest of the movies in the series. Having some fairly big shoes to fill after following the guys that transformed the genre forever, let's see what kind of approach the new team brought with A Ghoul Versus Saw IV!
We open with John “Jigsaw” Kramer's nude body lying on a mortician's table as a record is set for the series. Two minutes in and I'm already confused? How the hell did he get here? How did the authorities find his body, and in turn, his factory? What happened to Jeff? What was the final game he had to play? Did he rescue Corbett? Geez, I need to lie down already and the credits haven't even rolled yet! Bousman obviously felt he didn't go far enough with the last movie's impromptu brain surgery, so we get the extended and ultra graphic autopsy version. Lucky fucking us! You know Bousman, if you wanted to be in the medical field you should have just done that instead of subjecting us to your failed dreams.
The autopsy turns up a familiar looking wax covered tape inside of Jigsaw's stomach, but here's my question: how the fuck did he swallow that?!? The tape by itself is a stretch, but with a bulky layer of wax around it? Not buying it movie! Our favourite sneering police detective Mark Hoffman is called in to listen to the tape, so let's see what was so important Jigsaw defied the laws of human physiology to deliver.
“Are you there, Detective? If so, you are probably the last man standing. Now perhaps you will succeed where the others have failed. You think you will walk away untested? I promise that my work will continue. You think it's over just because I'm dead? It's not over. The games have just begun.”
Jesus, did Jigsaw ever sleep? How the hell did he have this much time to run about thirty six different games and tests all at once? This is made all the amazing is this was done in the age before smart phones, so he must have had one HELL of a scheduler written up to keep track of all this shit. We cut to an old mausoleum where a man wakes up with a chain around his neck and his eyes sewn shut, something I should have thought of doing during that autopsy scene. On the other end of the chain is another man, only his mouth is sewn shut. The middle of their chain is attached to an ominous looking machine that looks like it's meant to wind up the chain, to blandly named Mausoleum trap.
Art, the man lacking the use of his mouth, sees the key to unlock the chain around his neck is attached to the back of the blind man, Trevor. Trevor's relentless pulling on his chain triggers the machine, which starts pulling both men towards it. Aren't we forgetting something here? Some sort of, I don't know, prerecorded set of instructions? Is this still Saw? Using a small hammer he finds on the floor, Art gets the key and kills Trevor, freeing himself before he's sucked into the machine. He lets out a scream so powerful it breaks the stitches on his mouth as the title card pops up. Um, okay?
We join another old friend, Sergeant Daniel Rigg, as he and his SWAT team are sweeping through the basement of an old building. From up above Detective Hoffman is running the show, ordering a drone brought in when one of the officers finds a device hanging from the ceiling. The robot's camera enters a room and broadcasts footage of the late Detective Allison Kerry, still hanging from Amanda's twisted harness.
Rigg starts running towards her despite everyone yelling at him the room isn't secure yet. Kerry agonizes over his dead friend, which Bousman classes the fuck up by showing a rat crawling out of her exposed stomach. Nice, real nice. Hoffman reprimands Rigg for violating protocol and going through an unsecured door, something he should know way better not to ever do. Rigg and Hoffman discuss the nature of their jobs and why they still do it, interrupted by the arrival of two FBI agents, Lindsey Perez and Peter Strahm.
Perez is played by Athena Karkanis, a veteran of Bousman's films as she would also star in Repo! A Genetic Opera and The Barrens. Strahm is played by Scott Patterson, a person whose entire life has been marked by ALMOST making the big time but never quite hitting the mark. In the early 1980s he was an all-star minor league baseball pitcher, but never made an active MLB team's roster. Moving on to acting, he was the runner up to play Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs and Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs. But it's not all bad, he did get to play Elaine Benes' sponge-worthy boyfriend on a classic episode of Seinfeld!
After four movies of a ruthless serial killer directly responsible for twenty something murders, the FBI was FINALLY called in to deal with him! The police often get the short end of the stick in Hollywood movies, but in the Saw universe they take incompetency to a whole other level. Oh wait, I guess the FBI WASN'T contacted because Perez says Kerry was their liaison and they're following up on her death. That makes sense because the FBI certainly wouldn't be interested in that level of mass killing, would they? The scene that follows is so baffling that I'm going to just transcribe it because... well, you'll see.
Perez: The lock was open, she couldn't get out.Hoffman: It was constructed for her execution. Betrayed the rules.
Perez: Not a Jigsaw trap then?
Hoffman: No. Amanda Young, the accomplice-
Strahm: This wasn't done by Amanda Young.
Hoffman: Excuse me?
Strahm: Detective Kerry weighed approximately 130 pounds. Amanda Young's arrest report has her at 107. She couldn't get her up there alone.
Hoffman: John Kramer was-
Strahm: The bedridden cancer patient? He's brains, not brawn.
Hoffman: We was also an engineer. He could have rigged pulleys-
Strahm: OR someone else could have helped him.
Whoa, whoa, WHOA. SLOW DOWN MOVIE! Actually, did I miss a movie between III and IV? Obviously the police would have figured out Amanda was Jigsaw's protege because they would have found her body next to his, but shouldn't we have seen SOMETHING about this crucial incident, seeing as how it's now driving the film's entire plot? This rickety story is already dangerously close to falling apart, and we just hit the fifteen minute mark.
Cut to Rigg, who is watching interrogation footage of the blonde woman we saw in Jigsaw's surgery dream in the last movie. Hoffman interrupts him, imploring him to go home for the night. We learn six months have passed since Matthews' disappearance and four days since Kerry's, Rigg become as obsessed with finding Matthews as she was. We also learn Rigg is a lieutenant now, despite being named as a sergeant when he first debuted. So either he got a promotion or someone wasn't paying attention. Which do you think it was? Rigg heads home to find his wife Tracy in the middle of packing to leave for her mother's house, because no character in the Saw universe is capable of balancing work and a family life. She asks Rigg to come with her, but he replies that he can't. She counters with he can but won't, as he can't get over his crusade to save everyone. She kisses him goodbye and leaves.
Back at the police station, Perez gives us some back story on Jigsaw in his pre-slaughtering people with zany traps days. He was a civil engineer that owned a company called the Urban Renewal Group, finally giving us an explanation on how he's able to build such intricate devices. Doesn't really explain his vast expertise in the medical field for all the body modifications he does though... The woman in the interrogation tapes was Jill Tuck, his ex-wife. Jill is played by Betsy Russell, an actress most famous for appearing in a lot of awesome sounding 80s B-movies with titles like Private School, Avenging Angel, and my personal favourite Cheerleader Camp (a/k/a Bloody Pom Poms).
Hoffman, carrying a stuffed animal in his arms, walks by and asks the agents if they need anything. A detective mentions to Hoffman that “another doctor” has gone missing from the hospital, Hoffman saying he'll check it out. Perez asks about the toy, the detective telling her it's for a girl. I'm sure these are both just random lines of dialogue to kill time and won't be important later on. Pig Mask, who definitely isn't Amanda at this point, kidnaps Rigg in his apartment. We then cut to Hoffman writing a letter, placing it along with a key in an envelope and leaving it in a desk. Before we get the chance to reflect how awfully familiar that desk and envelope look, Pig Mask appears behind Hoffman as the scene jumps to Rigg waking up in his own bathtub. He leaves the bathroom to find Billy the Puppet on the TV waiting for him.
“Hello, Officer Rigg. Welcome to your rebirth. For years you've stood by and witnessed as you colleagues have fallen. You have remained untouched while Eric Matthews has disappeared. But with your survival came your obsession- obsession to stop those around you from making the wrong choices, thus preventing you from making the right ones. You wanted to save everyone. Tonight I give you the opportunity to face your obsession. Look closely. Eric Matthews is still alive. The block of ice he stands upon is melting. He has but 90 minutes to save himself. Detective Hoffman's fate is linked to Eric's survival. Heed my warning Officer Rigg, their lives hang in the balance of your obsession. Will you learn how to let go and truly save them? The choice is yours.”.
This is accompanied with footage of a bearded Matthews standing on a block of ice, a noose tied around his next. Hoffman is next to him, bound and gagged in a chair. Getting dressed and grabbing his gun, Rigg enters his hallway to find photos of various people hanging from the ceiling. Advancing to the living room he sees Pig Mask sitting in an overly mechanical chair, although we quickly see it's a woman chained to the chair.
Billy comes to life and announces this is the first test, that to save the woman Rigg has to NOT help her. Montage footage establishes this woman was one of the pictures hanging in the hallway, but is a street pimp instead of an innocent victim. Is pimp the correct term for her? It's always so strongly associated with men, so pimpette perhaps? Billy tells Rigg to just walk away, but he won't listen and tries to free her. This activates the machine, which begins to pull her hair into a series of gears that slowly start ripping the top of her head off.
The film cuts away to the police station, where a Detective Fisk gets the forensics report back from a bullet casing recovered at Kerry's crime scene. A fingerprint on it matches Rigg's, which of course is impossible until you notice the officer who filed the report was Hoffman. Hmm... Rigg manages to free pimpette, leaving the room to get something to help with her injuries. Once he's out of the room we see her grab a hidden knife and attack him. He throws her into a mirror in self defense, which segues into an AWESOME transition shot back to the police station. Saw has always had some really clever transition shots between scenes, but this is probably my favourite one in the entire series.
Fisk updates Strahm and Perez about he fingerprint, interrupted by an officer who tells him there's a report of shots fired at the lieutenant's apartment. Rigg searches pimpette's body and finds another tape player, this one a message from Jigsaw instructing her to kill Rigg if he rescues her or face prison for her prostitution crimes. Leaving the room, Rigg finds a box with two keys and a note that one will save a life while the other will take it away.
One of the keys is to room 261 of the Alexander Motel, so Rigg makes that his destination. He leaves in time to avoid the FBI agents and the police, Strahm finding the walls of Rigg's apartment covered in photos of various players from the series. Noticing several photos of Jill, Strahm announces he wants to talk to her as he believes she's involved in all this. Strahm has her brought to the police station for interrogation, where she is quite standoffish towards the agents. We join Matthews and Hoffman in their trap, as our old friend Art enters the room. He ignores the two detectives, taking a seat behind a wall of monitors as we see there's only fifty two minutes left. Rigg unlocks the door to room 261, finding a large box on the bed with a picture of his wife on it. He opens the box to find a Pig Mask and a tape player. We also see a picture of a man on the inside of the box that was the desk clerk when Rigg first entered the seedy motel.
“Hello, Officer Rigg. In order for you to fully understand my way you must feel what I feel. The photo before you is of a man in desperate need of help. In the next room are the tools to his salvation. His life is in your hands, but in the end he can only save himself. Be careful, there are cameras watching and you must hide your identity. Make your choice.”.
Rigg, starting to go a bit unhinged, brings the clerk into the room at gunpoint. Giving him the other key, he makes him open the bedroom door that has “Feel what I feel” painted on it. Through more photos hanging everywhere, we see the clerk has been using this as his own personal rape chamber. The bed has a device attached to it involving shackles and chains, Rigg finding the next tape player on the nightstand.
“If you are playing this tape then you are one step closer to truly understanding how to save a life. As an officer of the law you find yourself torn, is the man before you a victim or a perpetrator of violence? His salvation is out of your hands. It is your choice, if you wish, to put it into his own. Once this lesson is learned, you will find yourself one step closer to truly saving Eric Matthews. Without you this man's game cannot begin. Force him into position to face his demons and let him make the decision.”.
Right on cue, a video begins playing on the TV of the clerk attacking one of the women from the photos. Rigg forces him to get into the trap, handing him a pair of switches attached to cables also lying on the nightstand, which someone activates a draw in the stand to pop open. Rigg grabs the items inside and leaves, while Billy begins laying out the clerk's game. In case your curious, the trap involves the clerk pressing both of the triggers to cause scythes propped on either side of the bed to gouge his eyes out for being a voyeur, even though he was MUCH worse than that so they should have been placed to castrate him. I am totally bored at this point, it's worth noting. The clerk fails, the trap tearing his arms and legs off as if ANYONE cares about the fate of a serial rapist.
Looking at the note, it tells Rigg to “Become the teacher and save a life. Go back to where it all began”. This triggers a flashback of when Rigg was still a uniformed officer dealing with a little girl being abused by her father. The girl, too scared of her monster of a parent, refuses to admit what he's doing to her. Pissed off, Rigg starts beating him up until Hoffman stops him. To its credit, the film realizes it's being boring as fuck and returns to Strahm and Jill for what is EASILY one of the best scenes of the franchise.
Strahm is grilling Jill over her connections to her ex-husband when she mentions “Gideon meant everything to John”. Strahm asks who that is, and she replies is he knows anything about the Chinese zodiac. Strahm throws his arms up and yells out “AW JILL, NO NO!” in what PERFECTLY sums up how everyone was feeling at this point. I seriously rewound this three times because Strahm's reaction is just priceless.
Jill launches into a flashback of her happy married life with John, which probably would have been nice to have while he was still alive, but what do I know about continuity of a character? We see she ran a clinic for recovering drug addicts and was quite pregnant with their son Gideon. One night as John waited outside for her in his car, Jill was closing up the clinic when he got accosted by an addict named Cecil. He ended up opening a door right onto her pregnant stomach, running away in the night as John spotted him. John took her to the hospital but it was already too late, Gideon was lost and thus Jigsaw was born.
Strahm gets called away to the motel crime scene, learning the room has been rented by a lawyer named Art Blank. They head to Blank's last known address, an abandoned factory. How many of those are there in this damn city? Does Saw take place in Detroit?! But there are two folders waiting in the factory, one saying “Open the door and you'll find me” while the other says “You are in danger of getting too close... step back”. Strahm notices a camera mounted in the corner, tearing it off the wall and causing one of Art's monitors to go to static.
Matthews tries to kill himself by jumping off the block of ice but the chain isn't long enough. Art stops him, telling him that if he goes all the way off the ice it'll activate a pressure plate that'll electrocute Hoffman to death. Hoffman and Art lock eyes, triggering ANOTHER flashback of the aftermath of Rigg beating the asshole father where Art is shown to be the man's lawyer. The father tried to press charges against Rigg but Hoffman swept the whole thing under the rug, Art warning them this would all come back to haunt them someday.
Speaking of Rigg, he's now in the school which is also the same one we saw earlier. Arrows lead him to a room where the asshole and his wife are tied to a pole back to back. Metal spikes are poking out from their bodies, the wife revealing she's still alive in Cheap Jump Scare #317. Their test is already finished as Morgan, the wife, had to pull the spikes out of her body which in turn damaged the asshole's organs and killed him. Pretty ingenious, really, and one of the more creative traps in the film. There's still one spike left in Morgan, but before Rigg can help her remove there's still the matter of the next message.
“Hello, Officer Rigg. What have you learned thus far? Experience is a harsh teacher. First comes the test, second comes the lesson. If you are to save as I save then you will see that the person before you is but a student. So I ask you, Officer Rigg, has the pupil learned her lesson? Has she been taught the error of her ways? Does she now view the world differently? Officer Rigg, they key to this person's freedom lies in the palm of your hand. But only after she has done her own part can you play your role in her salvation. Once judgment has been made, though, the key to finding your next destination is just off the map.”.
Click here for Part 2!