This Saw’s gone dull.
The good news is, Jigsaw is not the worst horror movie of the year. The bad news is, it’s still bad enough that that’s the good news.
The long-running slasher series about a serial killer who puts his victims in elaborate death traps, and gives them opportunities to escape if they overcome their worst instincts, has long been one of the most consistent and reliable horror franchises on the market. If you were watching these movies to see Rube Goldberg murder machines, you were bound to leave satisfied. If you were watching to see how the absurdly intricate storyline unfolded, you were likewise probably happy, every single time.
But it’s been seven years since the so-called “Final Chapter” and it seems as though the people behind Jigsaw have forgotten how these movies work. Jigsaw has deathtraps which, for the most part, fail to stand out against the other, more demonically fascinating devices throughout the series, and the mythology of John Kramer (Tobin Bell) and his ever-growing army of acolytes has been swept to the side in favor of a new tale which, frankly, plays like a side note in a much grander story.
It’s been ten years, in movie time, since the death of John Kramer and the murders have started all over again. A group of ne’er-do-wells have been chained to a wall and are dragged towards their doom, from one lethal contraption to another, unless they work together and do exactly as Jigsaw – or some sort of copycat – demands.
Meanwhile, an edgy police officer named Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie), a forensic pathologist named Logan (Matt Passmore) and his Jigsaw-obsessed assistant Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson) are piecing together the clues to find out where the victims are, if Jigsaw really is alive, and which – if any of them – are Jigsaw’s new copycat and/or accomplice.
It’s a plot cobbled together from leftover pieces of Saw, Saw V and whatever else was lying around the franchise’s work shed. And normally that would be just fine. If you were trying to assemble a Saw movie you’d find all the basic components right here in Jigsaw, and you could put them together with relative ease and emerge with something that looks more-or-less like a passable entry in the series.
But if you were paying attention you would realize (probably too late) that the finesse required to make this machinery function is missing. The previous Saw movies were filmed with an eye for seedy showpersonship. They seemed to take place in a particularly nasty neighborhood in hell, where every wall was peeling, every floor was covered in grime and the sort of high-tech Dante’s Inferno tricks in Jigsaw’s arsenal felt very much at home.
Jigsaw, the movie, feels clean, sterile, and objective, and that approach fails to put the audience in the position of the victims. We stare at them, interested but not invested, because the filmmakers aren’t putting forth any extra effort to make this bizarre sequence of events seem immediate, visceral and unthinkably horrifying.
What may be worse is that for the very first time, it feels like the makers of a Saw movie aren’t even interested in their own game. We’ve become accustomed to watching with ghoulish fascination Jigsaw’s complex machinations, followed by a final revelation, shocking and violent and unpredictable, playing out over the familiar crescendos of Charlie Clouser’s “Hello Zepp”.
The Spierig Brothers are usually excellent directors, but the calculated approach that made Daybreakers so clever and Predestination so brilliant doesn’t translate to old school theatricality. Some of their kills are nifty but they never pull the rug out from under us and cackle with mean-spirited glee. Instead, their Saw sequel goes through the basic motions, and they never demonstrate that they have a particular interest in what made the franchise so gruesomely dynamic in the first place. Or even in changing that dynamic to something that fits their own interests. It’s a by-the-numbers sequel in a series that, previously, had a heck of a lot more pizzazz than this.