A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Saw IV isn't remotely meant for kids (even though horror-loving teens will probably be interested), and it's hardly worth the time of the series' fans, either. The gory, torture-centric formula is familiar: Villain Jigsaw arranges elaborate "games" by which victims either survive by killing someone else or abusing themselves to near-death, or they die. Frequent over-the-top violence includes stabbing, shooting, hanging, fighting, slicing, and more. A pregnant woman suffers a bloody miscarriage. There's some nonsexual male nudity, a shot or two of cleavage, and reference to prostitution. Also expect the usual bad language, including lots of uses of "f--k."
What's the story?
Jigsaw(Tobin Bell)'s bloodfest continues from beyond the grave in SAW IV. (The killer's life actually ended as the fourth film begins.) This time around, the primary sufferer SWAT team leader Rigg (Lyriq Bent), last seen supporting Kerry (Dina Meyer). She also shows up dead, spurring Riggs to try to save his other, long-missing partner, Eric (Donnie Wahlberg), back one more time to endure unspeakable torment. Rigg's intense desire to help is exactly what he must unlearn, according to Jigsaw, who leaves behind complex instructions that will lead either to Rigg's reinvigorated appreciation of his neglected wife (Ingrid Hart) or his own end. Rigg's "education" involves one grisly torture scene after another, witnessed both by him and the FBI agents -- Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Perez (Athena Karkanis) -- who declare the Jigsaw case theirs. While Strahm brings all kinds of file knowledge and Perez is intuitive (like girl cops tend to be in the movies), they're both surprised to learn Jigsaw's history from his ex-wife, Jill (Betsy Russell), who spends her interrogation room time looking alternately aghast and bored. The agents press her predictably, she gives up the big secret and then ... nothing much. The murder and mayhem proceed as Jigsaw has ordained, with all his victims behaving in selfish, fearful, pathetic ways. Except for Rigg, who tries again and again to do the right thing (in his mind) but never meets Jigsaw's standards. And so he suffers, with the rest of us.
Is it any good?
SAW IV doesn't bring much originality to the bloody scrap table of the series' previous three installments. As fans no doubt recall from Saw III, his imminent death from cancer impelled him to torture a surgeon into providing him bloody closure. And although she's also dead -- like too many other players to mention -- she makes a brief appearance in this installment, because for some reason all plotty points lead to Jigsaw's death. Again.
Even if you consider the ex-wife's backstory about Jigsaw/John as additional information, it's certainly not news. Like many villains before him, John turns out to have been wronged rather randomly, an act of terrible violence that he absorbs into his worldview as a design he'll spend the rest of his life correcting -- or, perhaps more accurately, elaborating. Viewers might want to wash their hands of the entire Saw business and instead seek out other, more bearable cat-and-mousey thrillers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of "torture porn" movies like Saw IV. Why does this cynical subgenre of horror movies continue to succeed with viewers? Do you think it will ever go too far (and who defines what "too far" is, anyway?)? How is the Saw franchise itself now a kind of "game"? Is it different from the games perpetrated by Jigsaw? And does he become a more sympathetic character when you learn his backstory? Why or why not?
What do you think about the movie's extreme violence. How did it make you feel? What was your reaction? How do the gory images in movies like this impact viewers, especially young ones? Why do you think there's been a trend toward these "torture porn" movies in recent years?
- In theaters: October 26, 2007
- On DVD or streaming: January 22, 2008
- Cast: Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Tobin Bell
- Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 108 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture throughout, and for language.
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