Jigsaw review

The Saw franchise comes back to life with Jigsaw. So: business as usual?

“You think it’s over just because I am dead… The games have just begun.”  That quote pretty much sums up the four Saw films that followed the gruesome demise of Tobin Bell’s John Kramer, which closed out Saw III. For four Halloweens in a row, writers used every trick they could to keep the series going post-Jigsaw-autopsy. They finally wrapped it up with the seventh flick in the franchise, 2010’s Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, which gave longtime fans of the series a satisfying point to end on: Cary Elwes returned as Doctor Gordon from the first film, putting an end to Jiggy’s last apprentice standing, the murdery Detective Hoffman played by Costas Mandylor. The games, at last, seemed to actually be over. But here we are, seven years later, with Jigsaw. A new pair of writers (Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg) and a new pair of directors (Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, whose style is a lot less showy and frenetic than James Wan and his previous successors’ offerings) have resurrected the franchise, with Lionsgate hoping for another late-October smash hit. The film presents itself as a mystery: as mangled corpses with jigsaw pieces cut out of them begin to pile up, the police attempt to find an explanation. Is Jiggy, Tobin Bell’s engineer-turned-moralistic-killer, back from the grave? Or does he have a fanatic copycat? Or, um… is the internet to blame? The movie’s eventual answers to these questions are, of course, gigantic spoilers. To go into the details of that would break the reviewers’ code of ethics, which we aren’t prepared to do. But, sadly, it must be said that the obligatory montage at the end of Jigsaw is one of the weakest parts of the film. As a fan of both good storytelling and the Saw franchise, I was left rather cold by it. The film also opens in an uninspired way, with a middle-of-the-day car chase/standoff sequence that feels like it was copy and pasted in from a TV police drama. Having speculated about what this film could entail since the day it was first announced, this opening brought my expectations crashing back down to Earth. Thankfully, with that out of my system, I was ready to enjoy what Jigsaw had to offer. And I did enjoy rather a lot of it, which felt like a massive relief. When they’re not having to explain why this story exists, the writers have a lot of fun dreaming up a new set of traps and scenarios. The ways in which traps are triggered feel fresh, and some thought has been put – for a change – into how they could go wrong. Jigsaw’s house of horrors takes some inspiration from Saw II, which works to its advantage nicely. The easy-to-execute idea of one person being forced to look back over their errors (which a lot of the latter Saw sequels leaned too heavily on) is out of the window. Instead, a team of unrelated sinners are forced to work together. Traps weave in and out of each other, fear flares up, and there are some very satisfying character moments to witness. There are some effective jump scares too, as the script and direction play with your expectations. This is a smart sequel at times, finding new ways to roll out the familiar old elements. However, some ways in which Jigsaw updates the house style aren’t so commendable. A few of the traps lean too heavily on CGI, increasing the scale of the danger, but losing a little of the visceral impact that makes the Saw series so memorable. There are still some grisly practical bits that will make you wince, but there are also moments of obvious computer trickery that take you out of the movie. Performance-wise, everyone does well, but some characters are better served by the script than others. Hannah Emily Anderson shines as an overly-enthusiastic forensic scientist, and Laura Vandervoort impresses as an impulsive victim in the games. But on the less-lucky side of the fence, Callum Keith Rennie is saddled with a generic shifty cop role, and Clé Bennet and Mandela Van Peebles both struggle with some lazy person-of-colour dialogue. (“Y’all need to chill!” is a particular lowlight.) Additionally, Tobin Bell makes the most of his moments, when they eventually arrive, reminding you of that skin-crawling magnetism that makes John Kramer so watchable. As a fairly sizeable fan of this series, I wasn’t fully convinced by Jigsaw. At times it’s a very fun ride, and it’s undeniably enjoyable to see some new games unfold, but the movie is bookended by bits that just don’t resonate, and peppered throughout are frustating CGI intrusions. The cast just about sells it all, though, making the brisk runtime fly by. You’ll wince, you’ll wile away 90 minutes, and you’ll struggle to work it all out… what more do you expect from a Saw film?


3 out of 5