I was planning on doing another list-type review here with three other movies, but I got off on a little tangent with Saw IV, so I'll consolidate the others a little better when I get around to typing those up.
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman (this guy was a production assistant for Tara Reid for Van Wilder? Wow. That's embarrassing. I'd probably take that off my resume if I were him.)
Starring: Tobin Bell, Donnie Wahlberg, other people we've never heard of
The first one was innovative, but the rest of these films are getting out of control. Since I'd seen all the others, I considered myself too involved in the mythology to NOT finish out the series. This may have been a mistake on my part since I've heard rumors that they are signing directors for Saw VIII. That's right - we're set to see a new Saw installment hit theaters every Halloween until 2011 (at least). I should have stopped after the first one.
Saw II was like a bad episode of some MTV reality show: locking strangers in a house together, only it's Jigsaw's twists keeping things interesting instead of unmitigated sex and alcohol poisoning. The third one returned to a more story-oriented format, with more backstory on the key players while continuing the narrative. I think the fourth movie is more similar to the third movie than to any other in the series. Joe also pointed out something which I can't argue with: he said he's never seen a sequel that takes place at the same time as another sequel. "Ben, what the heck are you talking about?" you frantically ask. "Well reader, I shall tell you," I reply calmly. If you drew a timeline that represents time during the entire Saw franchise, it would look something like this:
This weird time realization (which is revealed at the very end of Saw IV) is sadly the coolest thing about this pretty average sequel. There are just too many characters getting involved for the audience to follow exactly what's happening and remember who's who. The protagonists are all white guys with dark hair in their mid-thirties, and at most points I was fighting to keep everyone in perspective. You almost have to go back and watch all of the movies before going to see each new installment, but who has time for that?
This whole discussion of the so-called "torture porn" genre is really starting to piss me off. I don't like the term, and I don't think the Saw films should be lumped in with those other films like the Hostel series, Wolf Creek, Turistas, Captivity, and The Devil's Rejects that critics throw into that category. I've never seen any of those movies, so I can't say anything positive or negative about them. But while torture is undoubtedly a feature, there's nothing pornographic about the Saw films (aside from the occasional rapist who meets his demise): they are all about retribution. That's why Jigsaw is such a great character - he's a serial killer who punishes people for taking their lives for granted. Creating a sympathetic killer is something the filmmakers should be rewarded for, not criticized - after all, "relatability to the audience" is one of the qualities that defines a great character. In a completely different take on the situation, it comes down to one simple concept: if you don't want to see it, don't pay to see it. No one is forcing anyone to watch these movies. I suspect we all get our enjoyment from different aspects of the films. I get mine from the sympathetic portrayal of Jigsaw and his developing backstory revealed in each subsequent movie. Others might get their enjoyment in a different part of the story, like dialogue, the unique traps, the interconnectedness of the characters, or what have you. Another point of view comes from Stephen King (not that I necessarily agree with him 100% here) who said, "sure [this type of movie] makes you uncomfortable, but good art should make you uncomfortable."
Like I said, I'm too invested to give up now, but I can only hope these movies will improve with time and not end up with Saw VIII: Jigsaw in Space. Honestly, I can't blame them for churning these things out every year. I'm pretty sure the first Saw was made for $1.5 million and made over $100 million worldwide. So from a moneymaking (and brand loyalty) standpoint, it's a sure thing for Lionsgate. Sadly, I think this franchise has a nasty case of Hootie and the Blowfish syndrome: the first one was great, and the rest we could all live without. We'll see if they prove me wrong in the upcoming years. Until next time...