Movie Title: Jigsaw
Director(s): Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Writer(s): Pete Goldfinger, Josh Stolberg
Release Date: 27 October, 2017
Hello, dear readers. I want to play a game.
The rules are simple. I’m going to review Jigsaw. Despite a seven-year hiatus and a sneaky change in title, its very much like the last Saw movie, and indeed the six before that. I’m going to pretend I have something interesting to say about it. You’re going to humour me.
Most people are so ungrateful to be consumers. They don’t understand what it’s like to try and write interestingly about decidedly uninteresting films. Most people don’t appreciate their blessings.
But not you. Not anymore.
It isn’t very good, is it?
No, not really.
Care to elaborate?
So, the Saw series has always been weird. It was a blockbuster annual Halloween fixture for just over half a decade thanks mostly to how it popularised the sub-genre of horror known as “torture porn”. Yet it still managed to maintain a pretty airtight continuity. Loose threads paid off several films later, and character arcs stretched across multiple installments. But the only two legitimately good entries are the original, which was filmed mostly in a single location on a pocket money budget and wasn’t particularly gory at all, and weirdly the sixth, which retconned the franchise so that it made a political point about healthcare policy. Which means that the principle selling point of the Saw series has never actually been what’s interesting about the Saw series.
Almost everything in between was fine; not all that good, but certainly not terrible, either. That’s exactly where Jigsaw positions itself. It’s everything you expect from a Saw film, without any of the stuff that made the good ones interesting and novel or the bad ones memorably terrible. It’s fine. Inoffensive. Average. The dictionary definition of a so-so franchise film. Which makes it incredibly difficult to write about; the posters and trailers told you everything you might possibly need to know.
Can we pretend that I don’t remember anything about the Saw franchise?
Okay, so the eponymous “Jigsaw Killer” was John Kramer, a moralising psychopath who turned to a life of serial crime after a run of incredibly bad luck. A terminal cancer misdiagnosis, a dead kid, economic abandonment – the whole shebang. His shtick was rounding up people he deemed “ungrateful” for their lives – criminals, addicts, charlatans, etc. – and forcing them into increasingly-elaborate “games” that were always technically winnable, but forced the participants to endure intense psychological and physical trauma designed to teach an abstract moral lesson or have the victim atone for whatever transgression Jiggy was mad at them about. He died in the third film, but thanks to a frankly unreasonable amount of obsessed devotees, his work and legacy lived on through several more sequels.
And that’s where Jigsaw picks up?
More or less, yeah. Its several years after the end of the abysmal Saw 3D, and a spate of copycat killings have led police to reopen the Jigsaw case. Meanwhile, victims + abandoned barn + traps. These characters all have names and backstories vaguely-related to that of Jigsaw himself, but it’d be a waste of my time and yours to get into it all here. People watch these movies for the twists and the traps – nothing else really matters, and Jigsaw provides both, to an extent.
To an extent?
Well, there are some obligatory narrative rug-pulls, and the sequencing of certain events is typically vague. But the trademark Big Twist™, while fun, is also cheating a little bit in order to work.
How’s the actual filmmaking?
Serviceable. Directing duties have been handed to the Australian identical twins Michael and Peter Spierig, who also did Daybreakers and Predestination. They’ve toned down some of the franchise’s more outlandish aspects to keep their back-to-basics approach effective, but they still play the established beats well enough that you’ll feel as if the Saw franchise never really went away.
But it did go away. Doesn’t that affect anything?
Jigsaw might have been marketed as more of a reboot, but it’s really just a standard sequel to the last movie that continues the idea of Jiggy’s disciples continuing his legacy through the magic of flashbacks. The seven-year break does mean that almost all of the original cast has been replaced, but that’s hardly a great loss. These films don’t really ask their characters to do anything other than scream and cry, and then eventually get bludgeoned, melted, sliced, diced, dissolved, snapped or skewered – sometimes all at once. There might be a slightly higher-than-average amount of stupidity in this one, but there’s also one of the most instantly-iconic deaths, too, so it kind of balances out.
It won’t convert anyone who wasn’t into the franchise to begin with, but if nothing else Jigsaw proves that it might not be game over quite yet.
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