Movie Review: “Jigsaw”

   In 2017, the Saw series was a hazy memory, a blood-coated fever pitch dream filled with contrivances, twists and turns, and grueling punishment. I like the series, but, as I have no doubt inferred through my ongoing reviews, the Saw series isn’t exactly the most consistent or formidable among them. In 2004, James Wan and Leigh Whannell first introduced us to John Kramer with a solidly made, albeit rough around the edges horror film with a killer concept.

   Every year after until 2010, the Saw series received a new installment thereafter; a horror gauntlet, if you will. The films were hit-and-miss, with more misses than there were hits (I gave the original film, Saw III, and Saw VI generally positive reviews). The final film of this marathon, aptly named Saw 3D: The Final Chapter was originally pegged as the conclusion for the series, and, for what it’s worth, the film was arguably the worst in the series (I rank it ahead of 4 and 5). In other words, I, myself wasn’t really breaking down Lionsgate’s or Twisted Pictures’ door in-anticipation for the next iteration in the franchise.

   That isn’t to say I wasn’t eagerly in anticipation for the film. As a fan of horror and the iconography that goes with it, I find myself always lobbying for new installments to series’ in spite of whether I think the film will delivery or not. That’s the optimist in me, I think, and for a series like Saw, like A Nightmare on Elm Street, its a series I believe can be evergreen if handled appropriately. Whereas Elm Street can subvert itself through the dreamworld, with the correct mindset and direction, the Saw series has more mileage in it. I would have really enjoyed a new antagonist in the same vein as The Jigsaw Killer, like if they would have adapted The Collector screenplay and offered that character a mainstream platform to relish in.

   Regardless of what I wanted or didn’t want, with around one billion dollars grossed, it is no surprise that Lionsgate would want to go back to the well and try and bring a little more mileage out of the series. Personally, I wanted for them to succeed. As I have talked about, the concept featured in the Saw franchise isn’t a bad one, but, rather, one that is too often hastily implemented and overtly convoluted. Heading in, I knew what I wanted out of a new Jigsaw film. I wanted them to go back to the basics and embrace simplicity instead of complication. After all, the Saw franchises’ biggest flaw in itself is that it stands in its own way and never fully embraces its strength.

  Titled Jigsaw, the eighth installment was directed by Michael and Peter Spierig and written by Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger (Josh Stolberg’s writing can be seen in a lot of different horror films like Piranha 3D and Sorority Row, whereas the Spierig Brothers previously worked with Lionsgate to direct Daybreakers and Undead). The film stars Matt Passmore, Callum Keith Rennie, Cle Bennett, and Hannah Emily Anderson, and sees Tobin Bell return as the Jigsaw killer. The film received a mixed-to-negative reception from critics, but was a box-office success, garnering one-hundred million from a ten million dollar budget. Although it wasn’t able to exactly match the series’ best (in fact its the second least highest grossing film even without adjusting for inflation), it was a strong return on investment and showed the series still had mileage and a following behind it.

   As prefaced, the film is set a decade after the death of the Jigsaw Killer, and happens when a new succession of murders are uncovered that seem suspiciously like the deceased killer’s handiwork. But, how can that be, everyone asks, because Jigsaw was terminally ill with cancer, and more importantly, his throat was slit in Saw III. Unless they’re trying to suggest Dr. Lawrence Gordon, who was revealed in Saw: The Final Chapter as being an apprentice, stepped in and tended to him before he had the chance to bleed out. But, wait, that still wouldn’t work because of the autopsy that was shown in Saw IV. The best part about the Jigsaw film, I think, regardless of how many times we saw John Kramer’s body sliced into and played with, I still partly believed the film would be stupid enough to bring him back in a “gotcha” moment.

   In terms of noticeable improvements, I compliment the film, in some regard, for lessening the amount of quick-editing that was featured, something that is often overdone in the series. With that said, it still finds its way into the film. I’d also compliment that the film features natural light and discards the dark-green tint oftentimes featured in the other film. I’ve endeared myself a lot to the editing and the diluted, dilapidated cinematography of the franchise, but I also welcome any way the film itself moves forward and does something new.

   As a whole, Jigsaw doesn’t really provide a whole lot to talk about. If anything, aside from those minor differences, something I would single out is how “not different” the film feels from its predecessors, showing that, in the seven years we’ve waited for the eighth film, they still haven’t come up with a new formula or something new to say. All of the characters are one-dimensional and generic, with their reason for involvement in the narrative being one-dimensional and generic, and the phrase “one-dimensional” is one that can be used to describe a lot in the Saw franchise.

   Jigsaw, like many of the other films, hopes its “twisty” nature can draw enough of a smirk out of you that you forgive how it otherwise offers so few new ideas, however, it doesn’t succeed. I would say the concept of Jigsaw is better in theory than the execution. In a way, I appreciated how it was able to progress itself and yet, embed John Kramer into it. I like seeing Tobin Bell in the role, but, at the same time, it exemplifies how we are still using the character as a crutch. It was a clever sleight of hand, and I admired that, but novelty aside, it can’t stand.

   Everything is par for the course in this film. I would say it is a better film than SAW 3D, and I would say it is better than Saw IV and Saw V, but if that is really where the goal-post is at than why bother. I would love if someone came along and breathed new life in the Saw franchise, but that someone that will do that is unlikely to be anyone involved in the making of Jigsaw.

   That said, against all logic, I look forward to Spiral.

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