It’s been six Billy-less Halloweens since Saw 3D closed the book on John Kramer’s legacy, but now – after executive consideration (aka “Who wants more money?”) – the Spierig Brothers look to scare-up familiar box office treats this October with Jigsaw. Seven straight years of torture-porn bloodletting (2004-2010), six years off – writers Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg should have LOADS of sanguine grotesqueness stockpiled. That’s Lionsgate’s hook, right? You wouldn’t reboot an iconic horror franchise without good reason. Shock audiences, defy expectations and explore uncharted grounds. Prove that we need Kramer and company back in our lives! Don’t just toy with the same franchise devices Saw fans are used to – exactly like y’all did.
For this eighth go-around, five subjects find themselves trapped in a barn under “Jigsaw’s” control. Wait – didn’t Jigsaw die in Saw III? We saw it! That’s the mystery morgue analyst Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) are trying to uncover. How can a deceased graveyard icon be killing from the dead? One by one *whoever’s* victims begin to drop, not before confessing tragic deeds from their past. Anna (Laura Vandervoort) the hysterical ex-mother, Ryan (Paul Braunstein) the pathological liar – the usual Saw lowlifes are sentenced to their gory Saw demises. That’s unless Nelson and his Kramer-obsessed assistant Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson) can stop the madness…
Watching a Saw flick for anything but industrial trap-making achievements is like flipping through a Hustler rag for the articles – really? Fans purchase tickets so they can be optically punished and mentally scarred by limb-slicing, flesh-mangling, blood-spraying death sequences worthy of John Kramer’s moniker. So how does Jigsaw stack up? Sparsely. Middle-of-the-pack as far as franchise stacking is concerned, even with a very Stranger-Things-homage starburst of a finale and one more turbine tornado that shreds harder than Eddie Van Halen (if he shredded people, not tunes). Otherwise, Goldfinger and Stolberg’s balance between criminal procedurals and paint-the-farmhouse-red vulgarity is very out of kilter – momentum favoring the drab.
That’s to say we spend – or at least it feels like we spend – more time outside of Jigsaw’s sacrificial repentance than in the throes of torture. Michael and Peter Spierig have a more cinematic, brighter vision than past darkened contests (a bit clashing?), but plotting comes together without subtle hints or inherent mystery. Red herrings – the assistant who visits JigsawRules.com daily and assembles mock Jigsaw traps in her free time – are obvious to a fault, while time manipulation fails to remain a secret (yeah, playing Saw II‘s card). Without spoilers, you’ve seen these tricks before and it’s just another sequel that suggests John Kramer received help during his judicial tenure (uh, Saw 3D much?). A legacy reopened without new chapters to add; a familiar story with only fresh faces to differentiate.
Inside Jigsaw’s barn exist victims whose motivations range from curious to “sure, I’ll buy it.” Why does Carly (Brittany Allen) – a purse-snatcher – allow for a pulsating, acidic demise when she cracks the puzzle that can save her? Why does Ryan blatantly ignore the rules when his captor has proved sincere in his threats? Even Jigsaw’s plan – whoever may be running things – is perfect to the point where said character vocalizes how fool-proof it all is, because that’s the kind of movie Jigsaw wants to be. Dramatic pieces are jammed into place while people wearing bucket heads are pulled forward towards a chrome wall of buzzing saw blades. It’s too coincidental, too perfect and all around too under-thought to rise above the best Saw entries.
Look. When you’re eight films into a well-known franchise, something has to change. Take Don Mancini’s Cult Of Chucky for example. Reinvention throws a wicked curveball for the third time in only seven films. Mancini challenges his audience and redefines existing mythology (for better or worse); excitement by rocking the proverbial boat. And Jigsaw? A batting-practice-speed lob. Nothing fancy or flashy that’d warrant the dawning of a new string of Saw-brand sadism. The gears just keep on churnin’ as far as these Spierig boys are concerned (direction is never offensively bad), and why not when you’ll probably appease fans on a base level. But for those wanting more? It’ll be “Game Over” far earlier than expected.
Jigsaw feels like a forced hodgepodge of previous franchise entries that never carves its own identity, making you question what prompted such an expected reboot these few years later.