Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Sequences of Grisly Bloody Violence and Torture, and for Language
Directed by: Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig
Written by: Pete Goldfinger & Josh Stolberg
Starring: Matt Passmore, Callum Keith Rennie, Cle Bennett, Hannah Emily Anderson, Laura Vandervoort, Paul Braunstein, Mandela Van Peebles & Brittany Allen
I recently reviewed the entire SAW series to prepare myself for this final review of 31 Days of Horror 2017. Though I loved the SAW franchise as a horror-obsessed teenager who would gobble up anything genre related, I have since come to recognize the series’ many problems that stick out like severed thumbs. The first three SAWs are legitimately good horror flicks. They can be ridiculous and contain bad acting, but they’re very fun, gory, and suspenseful. SAW IV-VII range from mediocre to downright terrible. Seven years after the supposed FINAL CHAPTER, we have the eighth SAW film: JIGSAW. You know what? It’s not half bad. I even kind of, sort of had fun watching this film, which is more than I can say for about half of the crappy flicks in this series.
Years have passed since Jigsaw Killer John Kramer’s (Tobin Bell) bloody demise, but a recent string of bodies are popping up and they appear to be Jigsaw victims. Detectives Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Hunt (Cle Bennett) are searching for the identity of this new killer, while forensic pathologists Logan (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson) aid in examining the gory remains. Meanwhile, a new Jigsaw game is progressing with five people being placed through a series of deadly scenarios. Is there a new Jigsaw killer or has John Kramer somehow come back from the dead? Will anybody survive these new “games” and what will be left of them?
Maybe it’s the seven-year gap between SAW films or maybe it’s 2000’s nostalgia, but I enjoyed JIGSAW more than I initially expected. In some ways, JIGSAW sticks to the conventions of the series in painfully faithful fashion. In others, it deviates a bit to bring us something that feels more cinematic and makes old clichés fresh enough to entertain. Whether it’s the clear visuals, a new setting, better acting, or the legitimately freak traps, JIGSAW is the fourth-best entry in the overlong torture-porn franchise and an added bonus is that you don’t need to sit through any of the other SAWs in order to latch onto this film’s entertainment factor.
One big benefit that separates JIGSAW from lesser SAWs is that the audience has no idea who the new Jigsaw is. Even though we saw John Kramer’s throat get slit open (in SAW III) and we witnessed his autopsy (in SAW IV), there is a sneaking suspicion that the film might go totally bonkers and bring him back into play…with some convoluted explanation, of course. However, there’s an equal (or slightly better) chance that a copycat serial killer is on the loose and picking more hapless victims who “don’t appreciate their lives.” The list of potential suspects is rather large and the script does its best to keep viewers on their toes. Even though the ending is packed with loads of convoluted twists and turns (choosing to reuse certain plot points from earlier in the series), I walked out of the theater relatively satisfied.
Another leg up that JIGSAW has above IV-VII is that these victims are legitimately horrible people. Laura Vandervoort, Paul Braunstein, Mandela Van Peebles, and Brittany Allen all deliver better performances than a majority of past SAW victims. That isn’t exactly high praise, but it is worth something. Each character is a scumbag for one reason or another. While Jigsaw’s reasoning in IV-VII was as ridiculous as a cop caring too much about saving other people’s lives or a chain smoker deserving to have his lungs crushed, the motives behind these people being “tested” are pretty sound as flashbacks gradually reveal their life-wrecking sins. Characters’ scumbag nature makes their trap scenes very fun to watch as dismembered limbs fly and blood flows freely.
Speaking of which, most of JIGSAW’s traps go back to the idea of “simpler is scarier.” There were scenes that had me on the edge of my seat as characters tried to navigate through these “games” in one piece. That reaction hasn’t occurred in this series since SAW II. One scene involving razor-sharp cord is especially intense and another moment with a flooded grain silo elicited a vocal reaction from me. Other traps don’t show their true nastiness until they’ve concluded. However, there are two ridiculous devices. The silliest trap involves skin-slicing lasers, but that scene’s fun execution distracted from its sheer stupidity. Also, the setting of a booby-trapped farmhouse is a nice change of pace from yet another booby-trapped warehouse (or a booby-trapped abandoned zoo/asylum that resembles a booby-trapped warehouse).
JIGSAW’s script simmers with plot holes. I had fun watching this film in a theater; but afterwards, it’s pretty easy to tear the story apart by punching holes into its flawed logic. Unlike SAW I-III, JIGSAW relies on the killer basically being omnipotent (impossibly knowing certain things about characters’ pasts and correctly predicting the future). There’s also an unbelievably egregious reuse of a twist ending that was cool the first time around, but got progressively lame as IV, VI, and VII reused it. At least, JIGSAW’s ridiculously convenient plot developments are executed in a fun way and ends things on a relatively high note. Also, JIGSAW has a refreshing sense of humor about itself and the cinematography appears better than any of the previous films. Both of those things greatly aided this film’s fun factor.
JIGSAW is surprisingly entertaining and more than serviceable for longtime SAW fans and newcomers alike. Even if (like myself) you aren’t fond of half of the series, you might wind up enjoying this one on its own merits. The humor, crisp visuals, and attempts to put fresh spins on the SAW formula make JIGSAW a decent time. I’m not going to lie and say that I think this film is on the same level as the first three SAWs, but it remains quite fun nonetheless. If you like gore, guts, convoluted plot revelations, and twisted traps, you’re likely to find something of value in the surprisingly decent JIGSAW. I just hope that they don’t try to milk more sequels out of this franchise because this torture-porn throwback was fun, but its conclusion doesn’t exactly leave much room to work with in future installments.