Film Review: Jigsaw (USA, 2017) attempts to piece together the Saw franchise

Was rebooting the seven-film-deep Saw franchise seven years after the abysmal Saw 3D really necessary? No, not really. The gore-porn films have always been enormously successful despite a substantial drop in quality from the first two entries, so financially there’s little to lose, but the story of the “Jigsaw Killer” really has nothing left to say. This leaves Jigsaw in a rather precarious position, assuming Lionsgate Films wanted this eighth entry to be seen as anything but a sure-fire way to make a profit. From the title it would be reasonable to assume that this an origin story of sorts, falling in-line with the now long-standing trend that has spilled over from artsy superhero films although that’s not necessarily the case here, particularly since there’s plenty of “origin” about Jigsaw already established; instead, the film is much of the same from previous entries, but benefits by scrapping the convoluted thread that spun the original series out of control, bringing the focus back to the curious philosophical underpinnings of Jigsaw’s malicious design.

Aussie directors The Spierig Brothers take charge of this entry and do an admirable job at balancing the expected elements of a Saw film: the visceral gore, the elaborate traps, the squabbling detectives, and the inevitable “shocking” (but laughably flat) twists. Luckily for writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger, the general concept of Jigaw’s motives has always been an interesting dynamic to play around with, him being a “moral” serial killer who seeks to enlighten people through various escape-room-esque death traps, forcing them to save themselves by “properly” atoning for whatever immoral crime they have committed, or by sacrificing their vices. The issue here is the characters chosen to put through those death traps.

The five unfortunate sinners put through Jigsaw’s death maze are incredibly thin characters with uninteresting backstories (save Laura Vandervoort as Anna) when compared to something like the group from Saw VI, who were all exploitative lenders and insurers – a premise that can hit closer to home for a wider range of viewers. The only use for their stereotypical crimes against humanity is informing the elaborate traps designed for them, all preceded with those good ol’ cassette tapes which are always fun, containing Tobin Bell’s gravely and to-the-point instructions mixed with fable-like moral lesson.

The other part of this film relies on what happens outside of this labyrinth of sadistic traps, taking us into an investigation by uninteresting detectives (the most notable of whom is Callum Keith Rennie as Halloran) and frustratingly vague medical examiners (played by Aussie Matt Passmore and Hannah Emily Anderson), squabbling between working together to piece together clues as to whether the Jigsaw Killer is really dead or not, sprung by bodies showing up with his trademark calling card (a puzzle piece carved into the victim’s skin). It’s often during these moments that Saw films fall apart, and Jigsaw is most certainly no exception. There’s a distinctive lack of energy and any kind of originality in these scenes, with the exception being a somewhat entertaining cruise through Jigsaw Killer museum with traps from previous films as well as a major clue to the film’s biggest (though unoriginal) twist.

The traps themselves aren’t as gritty as before but they are no less creative. A “recreation” of a motorcycle engine tears a man apart; a syringe of hydrofluoric acid melts someone from the inside; a series of pulleys rips a leg into three pieces; and, perhaps most memorably, a series of strong lasers gridlocks someone’s face, slicing it into multiple pieces before it splits open like a blooming flower. This kind of gore is the bread-and-butter of Saw and ,for fans of the franchise’s shtick, Jigsaw does not disappoint.

While it may make fans miss the days of Strahm versus Hoffman, Jigsaw is a competent entry that in many ways re-focuses the franchise but ends up falling into the same trappings that have plagued these films since the Saw III.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Jigsaw is now screening in Australian cinemas.