Seven years after the supposed Final Chapter (in 3D, member that?), the world’s most industrious slasher villain is apparently back. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that ‘Saw’ eventually returned. After all, the ‘Friday the 13th’ series delivered its final chapter a mere four movies into a twelve-film franchise. But whether or not audiences actually care about Jigsaw’s torture porn death traps anymore is a reasonable question.
Predictably, ‘Jigsaw’ kicks off with the announcement of a new round of games. This time it happens on the run, with Callum Keith Rennie’s grizzled Detective Halloran chasing down a criminal with a death wish and a trigger to pull. Then we cut to another one of those group death traps, where a team of unlucky and unlikable jerks slowly reveal how horrible they are while losing life and limbs in a series of gruesome contests for survival like contestants in the world’s most unpleasant game show. Meanwhile, Halloran starts working with a pair of oddly committed morgue technicians (Matt Passmore and Hannah Emily Anderson) who seem to know quite a bit about Jigsaw. Could it be that the infamous killer is still alive? Or will a bunch of increasingly desperate flashback montages create some sort of convoluted narrative to suggest that Jigsaw somehow still has grand plans to execute over a decade after his death? At the very least, we can be certain that there will be blood, lots of blood. For many horror fans, that’ll be enough.
This many years removed from the onslaught of ‘Saw’ sequels that used to happen every Halloween, there’s something nostalgic about trudging through this gory nonsense again. It’s now easy to see how dated these tropes are to the 2000s. The detective vs. supervillain-level diabolical slasher shtick feels very rooted in the collective consciousness of a nation just starting to embrace comic book blockbuster continuity in theaters, an endless stream of ‘CSI’ spinoffs and knockoffs at home, and of course dealing with the moral ambiguity of the post-9/11 political climate and the “noble” torture techniques therein. It’s hodgepodge of elements linked by an iconic villain that may have gotten run into the ground at the time, but now feels a little amusing (if batshit ridiculous) again.
It helps that directing duties fell onto the sibling pair of Michael and Peter Spierig (‘Undead’, ‘Daybreakers’), who have a love of graphic gore shots to suit the series as well as a slickly satisfying cinematic aesthetic. Unlike the jittery cinematography and editing that James Wan founded for the series out of budgetary necessity, the Spierigs deliver a film that’s dirty and hyper-violent and tense and super-stylized, but also one where you can actually see what’s happening at all times (which is something fresh for the ‘Saw’ franchise). The murder game set-pieces are nasty and creative in ways that do the series proud, shot with maximum impact and some grisly beauty shots that linger in the mind far after the point of comfort. For whatever it’s worth, this is one of the best-mounted ‘Saw’ sequels. That’s something.
As always with ‘Saw’, you take the good with heaping doses of stupid. No matter how well produced the low-budget shocker feels and as impressive as those nasty death traps are, the flick is still a silly mess. The convoluted plot takes many absurd leaps to jump start the action. Tobin Bell appears (and is as delightfully deranged and calm a presence as always), just not necessarily in the ways you’d expect. The new crop of players are fairly disposable, one-note character types there only to die gruesomely, serve as a red herring, or both. Admittedly, the ultimate plot reveal is a genuine surprise. There’s just a whole lotta stupidity to get there. Hey, it’s a ‘Saw’ movie, what do you expect?
Though the ‘Jigsaw’ script has clearly been designed in a way to welcome newcomers into the eighth chapter of a franchise in ways the continuity-heavy later sequels barely bothered with, the movie likely won’t appeal to an audience much wider than the built-in ‘Saw’ fan base. Graphic dismemberment linked by over-written mystery plotting isn’t exactly going to speak to the folks who made ‘Get Out’ and ‘It’ such massive crossover hits this year. However, for those precious few who still adore the gross and campy charms of the series that kept the genre alive and goopy throughout the Bush 2.0 administration, there’s fun to be had. It would probably be a bit much for the franchise to stretch beyond this point, but at least Jigsaw got a satisfyingly nonsensical curtain call. He deserves it.