Saw III is the greatest sequel in the Saw franchise and one of the most inspired and well executed horror films I’ve ever seen. Just one year later, in 2007, Saw IV was unleashed upon the world, and it had big shoes to fill. Once again, Darren Lynn Bousman was the director. However, there was a new writing team on board, and they were faced with the massive challenge of continuing and expanding on the intricately woven stories of the original Saw trilogy, which felt like a collective unit. Did the team succeed in making a worthy successor in Saw IV? Read on for my spoiler-filled thoughts.
At the end of Saw III, John “Jigsaw” Kramer dies. As a fan, this made me wonder how the filmmakers could possibly carry the series forward. Without the iconic antagonist that Saw is known for, how does that work? Well, they found an ingenious way to accomplish this feat.
The movie opens with John Kramer’s dead body in a morgue. An autopsy takes place, and a tape is discovered in his stomach, which is then played by the returning Detective Hoffman. Costas Mandylor is perfect as Hoffman, and I’m thrilled that he was brought back, and in a big way, for this film. He’s an underrated actor, and the Hoffman character is probably my second favorite in the series, right behind John Kramer.
Saw III focused on the journey of Jeff, a grieving father, while in this film it’s all about Officer Daniel Rigg trying to find his missing partner, Detective Eric Matthews, who was the protagonist in Saw II. As you can see, the movies overlap in a way that is unlike any other horror films out there. It’s what makes the Saw movies so rewarding for those of us watching all of them and doing so multiple times.
I did enjoy Rigg’s storyline but it wasn’t nearly as compelling as Jeff’s from Saw III. That said, there were some epic traps in this movie, and the one involving a woman’s hair tied up in machinery is brutal to watch. Where this film really shines is in its backstory. Another highlight is the incredible scene transitions, which are brilliant. I especially love the one where Hoffman is leaving a room and it transitions into Rigg taking off his shirt, creating an effect that reminds me of Dracula’s cape, which is fitting considering what is revealed about the Detective later on.
Saw III was the first film in this franchise to do a deep dive into the backstory of John Kramer. Saw IV takes this to a whole new level, including scenes between John Kramer and his wife that clearly had a massive influence on the man he became. There are more layers in Saw IV than a wedding cake, yet it all works beautifully because of the time and attention to detail that the new writing team put into their work.
There are many big reveals at the end of the movie, chief among them is Saw IV and Saw III took place at the same time, and Hoffman is Jigsaw’s accomplice. Jeff, from Saw III, appears at the end of this film, as characters from both films intersect at pivotal moments, making the viewer wonder what the hell is going on. Following the reveal of Hoffman as an antagonist, not a protagonist, Saw IV ends with him listening to the tape found in John Kramer’s stomach, making it clear that this autopsy took place after the events in this movie, rather than before them.
I enjoyed Saw IV a great deal, but it’s not as good as Saw III. While Saw II, III, and IV all debuted as the number one film in the U.S., this entry marked the first time the box office gross decreased, rather than increased, when compared to the film that came before it. This trend continued with Saw V and was even more pronounced. It’s hard to keep an audience coming back year after year, as evidenced by this financial trend. Despite this, Saw IV provides a wonderfully crafted experience that rewards fans for staying on board for the ride. I highly recommend watching Saw IV, just make sure you’ve seen the first three movies beforehand; they will help you make sense of narrative in this film, as well as give you a deeper appreciation for the detail presented in this one.