Puncture wounds and plot confusion in ‘Saw IV’

Halloween has come again, and so has another “Saw” film. Like any long-running horror franchise, as time goes on, the appeal gets thinner. “Saw III” had a pretty indefinite finale, seeing all the main characters seemingly killed off. Thusly, any fan of the series will enter showings of the fourth installment wondering of how the story will continue.

The answer to their question is ultimately unsatisfying; Jigsaw is testing not only his victims in the movie, but also the audience in their ability to decipher the complicated story.

The main victim this time around is devoted police officer Rigg (played by Lyriq Bent). His work on the Jigsaw case has become his obsession and after an attack in his apartment, he himself wakes up in the middle of one of the elaborate traps. Though unlike the previous installments, the choices and actions of the person being tested are much more open-ended.

Not caught with his head in a vice, or chained to the floor, Rigg’s mission is to go to different overtly creepy locations (an abandoned school, a seedy apartment) and do Jigsaw’s dirty work, forcing a collection of pitiful individuals to test their will to live.

The whole time, a statement made by his wife in the beginning of the film, “You can’t save everyone” is echoed exhaustively until the concluding scene.

While the engineering used in that final sequence to entrap four victims in one cause-and-effect situation is relatively cool, it is ultimately quite cumbersome and much too complicated for the average horror-movie fan.

The “Saw” franchise was a breath of fresh air in the horror world when the first film debuted in 2004. Mixing underlying morals with a storyline even more twisted than the torturous traps that out-gored all of the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” films combined, the film collected a dedicated fan base.

The following Octobers saw two sequels that delivered on the bloody goodness viewers had come to expect, while further weaving the twisted tale of the Jigsaw crimes, each film building off of and making reference to those that came before it.

Now, this is exactly where the fourth installment fails to meet the mark. Like its predecessors, “Saw IV” alludes constantly to the other three films in both filling in plot holes and tying in past characters.

And while this worked to the advantage of the other films, it simply becomes information overload this time around. Constant flashbacks and references to minute and forgettable details will leave even those relatively familiar with the series in the proverbial dust.

With more characters and relationships than a long-running high-school sitcom, the end of “Saw IV” is just a straining and complicated mess of blood, bodily tissue and brain-straining to try and remember the intricate details of the past movies that led to this crumbling of an otherwise well-done franchise.

Unless you’re a die-hard fan who plans to watch the other three films in succession before heading out to the theaters, all the elaborate torture devices in the world couldn’t make “Saw IV” more than a head-scratching disappointment.