What started out as a low budget, generic “torture porn” film has slowly morphed over the years into an endearingly goofy film franchise. If you’ve never seen a Saw film before, I’m sure its lasting success seems like a mystery from the outside. But underneath its increasingly complicated Rube Goldberg death contraptions and labyrinthine timeline lies an attention to detail and dedication to its overall canon pretty much unseen in any other horror series.
As the first new entry in the series in seven years (after the The Final Chapter, no less) I had completely forgotten the kind of itch this series tends to scratch. The phrase “you know what you’re getting” usually carries a negative connotation, but that isn’t the case with Jigsaw.
It’s like a warm, goofy as hell blanket.
Director: Michael and Peter Spierig
Release Date: October 27, 2017
Ten years after John Kramer’s (Tobin Bell) death, someone has started the killing games again. Five unsuspecting people find themselves in an elaborate booby trap barn (much like the more successful films Saw II and V) and must play Jigsaw’s confessional games in order to survive together. While all of this is happening, new characters, like pathologists Logan (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson), and Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) are quickly trying to solve the case behind the new string of deaths.
Jigsaw is the first film in the series, and I’ll assume not the last, to be directed by the Spierig brothers. While none of their films can be considered hits, every few years they’ll direct a film with an interesting setup or direction. There’s Daybreakers, that one movie in which Ethan Hawke is stuck in a future where vampires take up the majority of the world’s population, or Predestination, where Ethan Hawke is a time cop trying to find a time bomber. I bring this up because the Spierig brothers have developed ways to direct a goofy premise with nuance, but they haven’t quite stumbled on an idea that matches their style completely. Luckily, the Saw series fits them like a glove. Although they don’t handle the writing duties as they did on their original films, the brothers pay homage to the rest of the series’ directing choices without getting too bogged down by the series’ less savory ones.
One of the better choices Jigsaw makes is to lighten things up a little, both literally and figuratively. While the Saw series’ dedication to series canon is noteworthy, each film tended to stick a set formula and eventually blended together. The dingy atmosphere and series lead Tobin Bell’s often monotone delivery sewed the films into a patchwork violence quilt. If you ever watch the previous films back to back, which I’ve sadly done, you’ll note they look the same, begin the same, and even end the same way. I’m not sure if it’s due to the length of time between this film and the last one or the Sperig brothers’ direction, but Jigsaw just feels different.
It’s better lit overall, as there’s a notable lack of dank corridors and rooms, and while this makes some of the practical effects look a little too clean, it’s still worthwhile (even if not all of the deaths are followed through with practicals). There’s also a notable lightness of tone as the film tends to mine fun from an inherent winking at the screen. Now to be clear, it’s not as hokey as being openly meta about its place in the series, but the Spierig brothers definitely directed actors and scenes with a deliberately knowing tone. The games and traps make a little less sense (and steer toward the cartoonish realm), the terrible circumstances bringing all of the terrible people together are a bit more coincidental than they have been in the past (one woman steals a woman’s purse and the victim has a heart attack when chasing her, to give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here), and Jigsaw continues the series’ trend of characters making stupid decisions under less than severe duress.
When you watch one of the characters panic themselves to death, it’s oddly charming actually. I don’t know what to think of that scene, or myself really.
I walked into Jigsaw expecting the same film I’ve seen seven times before, but what I didn’t expect was a sense of fulfillment from what it accomplishes. Thinking back on it, it’s funny the Saw films were one of the first continuous cinematic universes (slasher universes featuring reboots every now and again notwithstanding) because folks tended to write it off based on the original’s marketing (and the fact that it hit theaters in the same window as Hostel, which only served to further set it in its torture horror subgenre). But here I am, thirteen years after the release of the original film, completely ready for more.
Jigsaw is basically the Creed of torture horror sequels. Serving as a fine send up of the series’ past and continuing on the story proper, but making sure to establish a new set of characters and stories to continue forward if it chose. I could sit here and write about its bad dialogue, and weird cuts, and other generally bad things you expect with a film like this, but honestly, I’m happy with the end result. It just works.