JIGSAW

Not all good films are the same, nor do they all strive for the same goals. That’s why genres exist. A good horror film is not the same as a good drama film. You don’t go into a horror film expecting developed characters, great acting, or thematic depth. You go into one to hopefully be scared, and if you are, it did its job. The film just needs to be as good as the precedent that has been set before it. Which brings me to Jigsaw. Now, as I stated in my Saw retrospective, I don’t think the Saw films are high art, but I love the intricate storyline and creativity. All Jigsaw needed to be was a good Saw film and here we are. Seven years later after the supposed final chapter that was Saw 3D. So, how does this new sequel/reboot/seboot/requel stack up? Well, it’s definitely a Saw movie. That’s for sure.

WARNING: This review contains huge spoilers for Jigsaw, as it’s hard to really talk about my feelings without getting into some details. You’ve been warned!

Fugitive Edgar Munsen (Josiah Black) is on the run from the cops and is taken down by Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and his crew. This triggers five people to suddenly awaken in a barn, forced to play a game with bloody consequences. One contestant isn’t so lucky and when his body is found, he’s revealed to be a victim of the Jigsaw killer (Tobin Bell). But Jigsaw has been dead for ten years! How could he possibly be alive? Or could it possibly be a copycat killer? Well, it’s up to Halloran, his cohorts, and the test subjects to play a new game and find out.

One of the things I liked so much about the Saw franchise was the consistency. The first seven films largely shared the same crew, with some minor shakeups here and there. It was all of these visions coming together that would give the series its distinct identity. We only have editor Kevin Greutert and composer Charlie Clouser returning here, but it mostly feels like a Saw movie, with some tweaks here and there. The hyperactive, quick cut editing is now gone, and the directing from the Spierig Brothers is very restrained. The cinematography, especially the lighting and color grading, has drastically improved, making it look like the most high quality of the series. While it’s nice to see the franchise finally break the aesthetic, the change in style made it feel like it lacked a sense of urgency and identity. The traps here are a lot of fun, especially one featuring a grain silo filling up as various deadly farming tools plummet towards our characters. The change in style just made it feel like it sort of lacked the same energy of previous films, especially during the climax.

While it may not feel it aesthetically, as far as tone, structure, and storytelling, it’s a Saw film through and through. The game here is similar to the games from Saw II and V, which requires the characters to use their wits and work together to survive. They of course don’t and mostly die terrible deaths in the process. It’s nice that the subjects here are all sufficiently developed, giving them enough backstory and characterization to make you care about their fate. The acting is certainly better than usual for the series, especially Callum Keith Rennie in the standout performance. He was magnetic and really fun to watch, so it’s a shame they ended up having to kill him off and frame him as the new Jigsaw murderer, practically repeating the ending of Saw V.

Which brings me to the twist. An hour in, it’s revealed that Jigsaw is still alive and clearly partaking in the current barn game. I wasn’t sure how to feel about this at first. The reveal is fantastic (and totally fan servicing), but my mind immediately started racing about the possibilities of how Jigsaw was still alive. There was simply no way he could still be living, outside of the most contrived and ridiculous reason possible. The Saw series isn’t known for its realism or logic, but people have never literally came back from the dead. The only way this could be possible is if we’re dealing with two different timelines here, and it turned out I was right.

The barn game is revealed to be one of the first games Jigsaw ever set up, even before the first film. The events of that game are technically flashbacks, taking place a decade prior to Halloran’s current investigation. The filmmakers actually do a pretty good job at giving you the clues to figure it out, but still throw enough misdirection in there. It all turns out to be an incredibly complicated revenge plot against Halloran by Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore), a forensic pathologist who’s revealed to be yet another Jigsaw apprentice! Yes, that marks four apprentices for him now and this guy has been around even before Hoffman, Amanda, or Dr. Gordon. It turns out Logan was once a doctor who made a mistake which resulted in Jigsaw’s tumor going unnoticed. Jigsaw puts him in the barn trap, but when he wasn’t awake during the instructions due to too much tranquilizer, Jigsaw took pity and rescued him.

For whatever reason (realizing value of life, or something, I’m sure), Logan decides to assist Jigsaw in his work. Since the writers have always been making this up as they went along, we’ve never seen this guy before, so I’m sure we’ll get more flashbacks in Jigsaw II to flesh out what he was doing behind the scenes. Maybe we’ll get a flashback to a staff meeting where Jigsaw, Logan, Hoffman, and Amanda all discuss who to test next. Do we really need another apprentice, though? There’s a subplot featuring Logan’s co-worker Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson), who’s a Jigsaw fangirl that frequents message boards about him, as well as building replica traps. As predictable and cheesy as it would have been for her to be the Jigsaw copycat, it at least would have actually moved the story further, instead of retcon more. So far, this Logan guy isn’t terribly interesting and the actor kind of sucks, so hopefully he’ll get more to do next time if he’s truly supposed to carry on Jigsaw’s work. With Halloran now framed as the new Jigsaw, hopefully we don’t just a retread of Saw VI and they finally decide to take a risk.

As formulaic and inconsequential as it all was, though, Jigsaw was simply a blast. Inventive traps, gruesome gore, questionable moral values, intricate storytelling with twist endings, hokey acting and dialogue; it’s all here and it’s all exactly what I expected and wanted. It was great to once again get caught up in the hype of a new Saw film, speculate on where the story would go, think about what the traps would be, and then go see it with my dad on the opening Halloween weekend. It’s kind of like welcoming an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time. A very twisted friend, but intriguing and fun nonetheless. The box office isn’t looking too stellar so far, but if it happens, I’ll happily have another reunion with Jigsaw next year. If it’s Halloween, then it must be Saw! 

6.5/10

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