I have a strange amount of affinity for the Saw series. The first is clearly the best and holds up extraordinarily well to this day. Saw II is a step down but still an enjoyable follow-up with what could be the most memorable trap of the entire series. Saw III will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first date movie for me and my now wife (yes I agree, there is no way there should have been a second date after that decision). Then they made 4 more of them. Saw VI is a stand-out but the other 4 are about equal in their mediocrity.
I still can't help but enjoy the whole series because it's one of the rare horror series that cares about its continuity. At no point during the original seven films did they do a reboot or say that certain sequels don't count. The plot flows from each picture to the next. Sure it's a mess and unless you kept up with the series it was nearly impossible to join in at a later stage and keep up with all the nonsense, but aside from the Chucky series I can't think of many franchises that have attempted this.
After Saw: The Final Chapter (any horror fan knows those latter three words mean dick all in this genre) underperformed, the series took a seven year hiatus and is now back with Jigsaw. I was excited to know this wasn't a fresh start. The trailers made it seem like they would be picking up where the last movie left off. I couldn't help but anticipate this movie because after seven years, they must have a good reason for wanting to bring the series back. They must have a great story to tell and some unique ideas to bring forward.
Nope. No they just...they just made another Saw movie.
Jigsaw takes place 10 years after the death of John Kramer (Tobin Bell) aka The Jigsaw Killer. However, after a series of copycat murders start taking place, alongside what appears to be a new Jigsaw game with five unlucky participants, a group of detectives start to wonder if Kramer is somehow still at work even though he's been dead for 5 movies now.
The main game takes place inside of an old abandoned barn where five strangers wake up with buckets strapped to their head. It doesn't take long before the chains they are attached to start pulling them towards a series of buzzing saws. They are told they are part of this game because they are liars and Jigsaw doesn't like fibbers so they are going to have a deal with a series of increasingly elaborate traps in order to win their freedom.
The characters within the game hardly count as actual characters though that's a pretty recurring problem in the Saw films. Everyone is equally shitty so there's nobody to root for, with the closest exception being Anna (Laura Vondervoort) the one character who steps forward and tries to pull everyone through and actually win the game as a team. Everyone else is either one dimensional (Ryan is the asshole) or completely undefinable (Carly...exists). They also make some of the dumber decisions in the franchise and I'm usually pretty forgiving of horror movie characters making ridiculous choices. One grating scene has a character trying to select which of three needles she is going to be injected with. One has an antidote for a poison in her system, one is a saline solution and one is full of acid. Each syringe has a number. She immediately identifies a number with relevance to her and something Jigsaw said when introducing the trap. Then instead of following through on that, everyone just incoherently screams at each for the next 2 minutes. It was truly baffling and only one example of characters acting on impulse when if they just took 3 seconds to think, everything would likely be fine.
They do manage to wring some good old fashioned cringe suspense out of the traps as the Saw series has always been good at laying out a grisly fate that you don't really want to watch play out. There are some solid examples here as you can see how a situation could play out and can't help but root for the characters to pull through as boy it sure would suck to see someone go through that. The biggest issue is that the traps here are among the weakest in the whole series. Maybe they wanted to go back to basics as by the later sequels the traps were so over the top ridiculous that they became hilarious. Though even the early movies had far more memorable set pieces. This has one stand-out, but the rest feel like traps that would have been rejected from past movies. Each one feels like it has a near equivalent that was done better elsewhere in the series.
The detective side of the story suffers from a lot of the same problems. We are introduced to a host of new characters that I imagine are intended to set up the next chunk of Saw movies but there's nobody here that I want to know more about. The bulk of their dialogue is either explaining their backstory/motivations or debating about whether Jigsaw can still be alive. "The blood under the victim's nails is John Kramer's! Jigsaw is alive!" "He can't be!" "But maybe!" "No! But what if?!" "I know!" And so on.
That's a lot of negatives so I should say some nice stuff. The novelty of watching a new Saw movie certainly held a lot of appeal and the central mystery is intriguing. I genuinely wanted to know who was behind this and what was going on. Unfortunately I spent the whole movie actively hoping they didn't go with the outcome that they did indeed end up going with. Oh and Tobin Bell continues to be great. His limited screentime is easily the highlight of the movie. While the gore may not be up to the levels of other movies, there's some particularly effective make-up effects. Also the movie is well shot and looks good, bringing an actual colour palette to the mix. Unlike the other Saw sequels it doesn't look like the entire thing is going to give you tetanus.
Oh and of course it was great to get the return of the iconic "dun dun dun...dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun" music by Charlie Clouser. Even if it has been put to much better use in the past, I couldn't help but smile when it popped up here.
Jigsaw is an odd beast. After seven years I expected a lot more but if this had come out in 2011, just a year after the seventh installment, it would have felt right at home as a proper Saw VIII. I'm a little interested to see where they could take things from here but if this is intended to be the start of a new batch of films, it's a weak jumping off point.