Author’s Note: Spoilers for the previous seven (yes seven!) Saw movies
While I generally have no love for horror movies, the one exception is my adoration for the Saw franchise. Yes, yes, I know they’re not the height of movie-making, but there’s just something about that unbelievably labyrinthine story that keeps me coming back for more. Hell, it even made my list of most anticipated movies of the year. Maybe it’s the screenwriter in me that needs to be satiated by overly complex plotlines.
But being that it’s been seven years since Saw: The Final Chapter (that title really aged well!); and there’s been a name change to the franchise, it seems that Lionsgate aren’t just aiming at the fans, but also at the horror crowd of 2017. But in a year that saw the release of M. Night Shyamalan’s Spilt and Jordan Peele’s Get Out, can the Saw franchise still reach that level of success?
Take three guesses. You’re only going to need one…
It’s been 10 years since the death of John “Jigsaw” Kramer (Tobin Bell). But soon a series of bodies turn up, the killer’s modus operandi suggesting that he is a copycat trying to follow in the infamous serial killer’s footsteps.
Police officers Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Detective Hunt (Clé Bennett) investigate the murders in an attempt to stop the copycat. But it seems the Jigsaw-admirer is one step ahead as, somewhere far away, five new sinful victims begin to play a new game…
One of the best parts of almost every Saw film is the opening trap. Just like the Bond movies of old would show 007 finishing off another mission before getting on with the real stuff, the opening of a Saw movie was almost pathological in its attempt to come up with a more complex, more bloody and more entertaining trap than its predecessors.
Apparently writers Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg didn’t get the memo because the opening of Jigsaw, quite frankly, sucks. Feeling like it was stolen out of a low-budget 80s cop drama, the sense of tension and helplessness that was paramount in previous installments is nowhere to be seen.
However, once Jigsaw’s main game actually starts, it’s easy to get drawn back into what made the original seven films great. Say what you will about the sick bastards behind the franchise, but they are dammed good at coming up with some unique traps. From the “grain silo” to the “laser collar” (I’m just making these name up. I have no idea what they’re actually called!); each trap is a grand example of just how amazing the human imagination can be.
But some stretches of imagination come across as rather baffling. For example, the Saw movies have generally been set in dark and dingy surroundings, but here cinematographer Ben Nott chooses a much brighter colour palette. As such there’s a much stronger sense of comfort and familiarity; and when compared to the original’s dark isolation, there’s less fear to be had overall.
Speaking of familiarity, the shining beacon in the Saw franchise has always been Tobin Bell in his performance as the cancer-stricken John Kramer. He’s fortunately given one solid scene here where’s he acts the socks off everyone in the room. And yet, there’s no disputing that putting the character of John Kramer in this film is like forcing a square block into a round hole. Ever since the character’s death in Saw III, the writers have had to deal with John’s death in increasingly ridiculous ways in order to keep Bell around.
And the overall writing for Jigsaw is another aspect where it feels rather rote. While the characters were always fairly one-dimensional, this lacking aspect was always supported by a strong, intricate plot. With much of Jigsaw’s plot being lifted from previous installments, the entire process ends up as a grand exercise on how to commit plagiarism in the most boring way possible.
It’s clear that both the filmmakers and producers were trying to gain new fans for the Saw franchise, while simultaneously retaining the ones of old. Alas, in aiming at both, they end up capturing neither, leaving both groups unsatisfied and looking elsewhere for their next horror fix.