Right from its opening scene, 'Saw IV' wastes no time in reveling in the red stuff as we witness -- in excruciating detail -- the autopsy of the Jigsaw killer (Tobin Bell). A skull is sawed open, a brain pulled out, and assorted grey matter splatters all over the screen. It's an effectively staged sequence (all the more gory in this unrated Blu-ray edition) and without any apparent narrative purpose -- in other words, the epitome of the 'Saw' franchise. If you're looking for a horror film that creates suspense out of subtlety or leaves anything to the imagination, this isn’t it.
As 'Saw IV' begins, Jigsaw and his apprentice Amanda are dead, and with their deaths, the case is apparently closed. However, upon hearing of Detective Kerry's murder (he was one of the forgettable victims of the past 'Saw' flicks), two seasoned FBI profilers, Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Agent Perez (Athena Karkanis), are called in to sift through the latest grisly evidence in the case and fit together the newest pieces in Jigsaw's deadly puzzle. However, when a SWAT Commander (Lyriq Bent) is abducted and thrust into the game, he has but ninety minutes to overcome a series of demented traps to save an "old friend,” or face the deadly consequences.
As the filmmakers freely admit in the supplements, 'Saw IV' only exists to capitalize on the success of the first three films. Unfortunately, like most profit-driven film franchises, the creative possibilities of the original film have long since been exhausted, making 'Saw IV' just more of the same, only less effective. I liked the first 'Saw' film (the second and third less so), but the deadly puzzles, the labyrinthine plot twists, the wholly forgettable characters -- it's all feels a bit too much like yesterday’s torture porn.
Ironically, the biggest problem with 'Saw IV' is also it's biggest selling point -- the film’s supposedly terrifying traps are so elaborate that they don't just defy credibility, they become parodies of themselves.
The one-a-year production cycle of the 'Saw' flicks is also starting to show some wear and tear. The photography seems rushed, the script is hackneyed, and the acting is shockingly poor. We're a long way from the original 'Saw,' when stars of the caliber of a Danny Glover would take part. Now it's a series of unmemorable actors playing cardboard characters, and the filmmakers don't even appear to be trying to make us care. The majority of their efforts have clearly been spent on big, gory setpieces, but at a loss of the human element. The first 'Saw' was no masterpiece, but at least it had a story -- 'Saw IV' is simply a series of twists and turns punctuated by bursts of sadism.
Despite these criticisms, 'Saw IV' will probably work for fans of the series. It does what it promises -- continuing the plotline and delivering the booby traps, all in the appropriately mean-spirited manner. Personally, I may have grown tired of the formula by the second flick, but judging by the continued strong grosses for 'Saw IV,' America still seems to have an appetite for this particular brand of torture porn. It's just too bad that with such a seemingly fool-proof franchise, the filmmakers don't capitalize on the built-in audience to try something truly daring and unique. Despite its reputation for being "shocking" and "subversive," the 'Saw' series has become just another Big Mac of horror.
'Saw IV' is easily the best-looking 'Saw' to hit high-def yet. The previous entries in the franchise have already been released on Blu-ray, and though all remain respectable transfers, none have truly hit it out of the park as must-have demo discs. p>
'Saw IV' enjoys a good-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (framed at 1.85:1), glossy enough to tantalize the eye while still retaining the grittier aspects that the franchise is famous for. As with the previous Saw films, 'Saw IV' delights in its dank interiors and torture set pieces, with the "everyday" scenes noticeably blander. Thus, colors are a bit dull and washed-out at times, and overtly stylized at others. Unfortunately, in its most vivid moments this transfer can veer into oversaturation, but aside from some chroma noise, the scenes are rich and firm.
Blacks are intentionally grayed-out and overly dark, while contrast, though pumped up (as it has been with many new releases these days), doesn't overdo it. The transfer retains nice depth throughout, without excessive loss of detail. The source is also in fine shape, with no blemishes or dirt, though appropriate grain is apparent. Lionsgate also allows the transfer to be soft at times, resisting the urge to dial up the edge enhancement. While there are no obvious compression artifacts, I did notice a few some slight posterization in a few areas of smooth gradation. All in all, 'Saw IV' looks good.
'Saw IV' sees Lionsgate offering another impressive DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 7.1 Surround track, with the movie really benefiting from the expanded rear presence. Screams of agony never sounded so good.
As 'Saw IV' is loaded with flash cuts and loud stingers, it is often the equivalent of being hit on the head with a sonic sledgehammer. There is almost always some sort of activity in the surrounds, and hearing various sounds of torture ping-pong from one back speaker to the next makes for a perverse treat. The attention to subtler details is a surprise, with ambient sounds often directed to specific channels, then moved around with precision. Score bleed is also nicely done. The combined effect is suitably creepy.
The rest of the track is less notable. Despite their huge box office, the Saw films have always been low cost productions, with the sound recording itself often sounding rushed. Foley and ADR can come across as obviously "canned," and the track's dynamic range is not as expansive as the best high-res mixes I've heard. Dialogue is fine, but at times all the clanking, shrieking, and bombastic score are overwhelming and I personally would have liked a stronger center channel in general. –Still, it's certainly hard to imagine 'Saw IV' sounding any better than it does in this 7.1 mix..
The supplement packages for the Saw films have always been amusing in gleefully dissecting the sadism with self-referential humor. The same goes for the extras on 'Saw IV,' which offer little new information, but should be enjoyable for fans of the franchise. (Note that most of the extras are presented in full HD, but the majority of the source material is clearly low-quality video, so it’s likely an upconvert.)
'Saw IV' continues the bloody exploits of the Jigsaw killer, but his devious traps and gruesome puzzles are beginning to wear thin. There are still enough twists and turns to keep the faithful interested, but more discerning genre fans are probably already looking elsewhere for fresher scares. This Blu-ray title surpasses most genre releases, with solid video, an even better audio track, and a fairly strong batch of extras. If you're a Saw fan, have no hesitation adding this latest installment to your high-def collection.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.