It’s been seven years since the last Saw movie, Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (Greutert, 2010), spent the majority of its running time haphazardly tying up all the loose ends of one of the most gruesome and convoluted horror franchises of all time. Back then, Saw 3D wasn’t actually supposed to be the last film in the franchise but, as the quality of the films began to wane in its last years, Lionsgate decided to put the franchise on ice until a suitable way to resurrect the series could be figured out. With Jigsaw (Spierig Brothers, 2017), Lionsgate appears to hoping to reclaim the season of Halloween with one of the most successful horror franchises ever but has there simply been too much time between movies?
Jigsaw opens with a notorious criminal, Edgar Munsen (Josiah Black) in the midst of one what appears to be one of John “Jigsaw” Kramer’s (Tobin Bell) diabolic games of life and death; chased across rooftops, he is eventually shot by police (led by Detective’s Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Keith Hunt (Clé Bennett), in an attempt to stop him from triggering a detonation. Instead, he triggers another game across town, where five victims are chained by the next in a room where the opposite wall is lined with buzzsaws. The familiar rasping tones of Jigsaw inform them that they must make a sacrifice of blood to escape the room and, in a surprising twist, one of the victims, Anna (Laura Vandervoortt), figures out that just a small cut will release them from their bonds. Although she is able to encourage three of her fellows to follow her example, one is not so lucky and is presumably skewered by the blades. Encouraged by Jigsaw to confess their sins, the victims bicker and argue about their past transgressions in the next room, which forcibly hangs them by their necks until Carly (Brittany Allen) chooses one of three syringes to either cure the poison on her blood or eat her alive through the injection of acid. The now-stereotypical hot-head of the group, Ryan (Paul Braunstein), eventually stabs her with all three needles in a desperate attempt to be freed and, as you’d expect, she is melted to death by the acid.
Meanwhile, Halloran and Hunt meet with their resident forensic experts, Eleanor Bonneville (the delectable Hannah Emily Anderson) and Logan Nelson Matt Passmore), who examine the bodies of the victims of the game that is in progress and find unbelievable evidence to suggest that John Kramer is actually still alive and running this new game. Whether its paranoia over the last spate of killings perpetrated by Jigsaw and his apprentices or the desperate need to wrap the investigation up quickly, Halloran almost immediately begins to suspect both Eleanor and Logan of being involved in the game. These suspicions seem to be somewhat founded as Eleanor reveals to Logan that she is not only an avid follower of cult-like online discussions surrounding Jigsaw but also has a whole studio filled with some of Jigsaw’s most infamous traps and mechanisms, including one that was never actually used in a publicly-known game. With tensions running high and the victims trapped in increasingly ghastly situations, the race is soon on to find where the game is being played, rescue the victims, and figure out whether Kramer has actually returned from the dead.
Before going into the film, I figured that Jigsaw would be a soft reboot of sorts; I was sure that it would take place about ten years later, with John Kramer dead but his legacy living on, possibly though his cult-like followers as indicated at the end of Saw 3D. Surprisingly, Jigsaw is very closely tied to the mythology and legacy of the previous films; although the film doesn’t delve too deeply into the exact specifics of the events that came before it, newcomers to the series would probably be best served by watched, at last the first, third, and seventh films before this movie.
One of Saw’s biggest selling points is its use of “torture porn” traps that force victims to endure unimaginable pain in order to survive Jigsaw’s games. Unlike some of the later Saw traps, Jigsaw’s traps are some of the more grounded. The most technically unbelievable ones are at the beginning of the game, with the five victims chained up to a massively complex series of winches and gears; later, Ryan finds his leg caught in a constantly-tightening wire trap while Anna and Mitch (Mandela Van Peebles) are being buried by grain and farmyard tools rain down on them. The traps are interesting and cringe-worthy in their own way but hardly the most horrific or disgusting from the series; Anna is, for a change, surprisingly smart, level-headed, and logical about most of the traps and encourages the others to follow Jigsaw’s rules, allowing the majority of the victims to survive the first three trials. The second of Saw’s selling points is the now-cliché twist ending; Saw (Wan, 2004) had one of the most iconic and unexpected twist endings of all time and, honestly, none of the films that have followed have really come close to topping or even matching that twist. Jigsaw is no exception; there are three twists here, all of which have been done in previous Saw movies (Jigsaw’s game had already been played to completion in Saw II (Bousman, 2005), Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) faked being a victim only to reveal himself as Jigsaw’s apprentice in Saw IV (ibid, 2007), and he, and Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith), both posed as Jigsaw in Saw III (ibid, 2006), Saw V (Hackl, 2008), Saw VI (Greutert, 2009), and Saw 3D).
The revelation that John Kramer is not actually alive shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise as, unless he comes back as a zombie (which would be super out of place given the generally grounded nature of the franchise), but it’s always great to see Tobin Bell onscreen. Honestly, though, I felt like Jigsaw could have done without him being in it; given that Logan used audio samples to imitate Kramer’s voice, I think it would’ve sufficed to simply have Bell return as the voice of Jigsaw (or whoever is imitating Jigsaw) rather than be shoe-horned in in increasingly difficult to piece together flashbacks. In this case, given that we’ve already seen in great detail how Amanda and Hoffman aided Kramer in the past, it’s a bit jarring to suddenly wedge a new apprentice into the mix. For a guy dying of cancer, John sure fit a lot of tutelage and elaborate planning and trap-making into his last few years.
In the end, despite an interesting premise, the thrill of seeing a new Saw movie, another great performance by Tobin Bell, and my newest crush, Hannah Emily Anderson, Jigsaw fell a bit flat for me. I felt it was too safe, feeling very much in the vein of Saw VI rather than taking some risks or returning to the simple premise of the first movie. As a way of kicking off a new series of Saw movies, this is pretty disappointing; I would much rather have spent more time with the victims than running around with the detectives/forensics guys dumping exposition about the previous movies. Also, it seemed like it would have made more sense for Eleanor to be the true inheritor of John’s legacy, the idea that Logan’s victims would all die in the same way of those in Jigsaw’s original game was a bit far-fetched (even for this franchise) and, overall, while I enjoyed it, it didn’t surpass my favourite film in the franchise (Saw II) and ended up feeling more like an entry that would be more at home between Saw V and Saw VI than a true return to form for the franchise.
Could Be Better
Recommended: For Saw fans who have been clamouring for a new film, yes. Newcomers might want to brush up on their Saw experience first, general audiences? Probably not; watch the first film instead.
Best moment: Normally, I’d say the traps/kills but they were honestly a bit lacklustre here. I guess it’d have to be the part where Ryan’s must pull a lever to sever his leg below the knee to free Anna and Mitch from being buried alive.
Worst moment: Mitch’s death, hands down. Considering Eleanor hyped up the trap he was caught in so much it ended up falling very flat; and it was powered by a motorcycle? Seemed a bit over the top, even by Saw’s standards.