I want to play a reboot
The Saw series was a true lightning in a bottle phenomena that occurs once every decade and so when a horror franchise takes popular culture by storm. Previously, such an honor was given to Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th; but unlike those series, Saw reveled in previous untold levels of gore that opened the floodgates for the genre of “torture horror” for which the likes of Eli Roth were extremely thankful for and that took over Halloween for a large part of the first decade of the new millennium. However, like its predecessors before it, successive sequels watered the original premise down to a series of gruesome executions in which its final installments basically devolved into self parody combined with atrocious acting. And much like its predecessors, we have a new installment seeking to be a reboot of itself but simultaneously also acting like a sequel to the seven films before it. Confusing? Par for the course for these bloody (both literally and figuratively) movies.
To get you up to speed, the Jigsaw Killer, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), was a brilliant engineer who after, discovering he had a terminal illness, decided that everyone in the world has taken the gift of life for granted. Being of sound mind, he decides to remind certain people who have committed varying levels of sin of how lucky they are to be alive by putting them in a series of elaborate death traps. However, each trap is specifically designed to be survivable so long as the victim is willing to risk grievous injury in order to live to see tomorrow. So he has been dead almost ten years (actually he died in part III, but the four sequels after it found increasingly absurd ways to bring him around) and peace has returned to the unknown urban area he terrorized. That is until a criminal reveals he has now been summoned to take part in a new series of death traps eerily similar to Jigsaw’s old traps leading an irritable detective to believe a copy cat killer is on the loose. However, as a group of erstwhile victims soon discover, John Kramer is somehow still alive and has decided to test their resolve to live in his latest and greatest death trap.
The plot of the Saw movies are profoundly obtuse for good and for ill. One of the aspects I liked, and something that is replicated quite well for Jigsaw, is that there is a clever manipulation of time and place in order to set up a final twist that doesn’t feel cheap or unearned. Clues and misdirection are strewn throughout all of these films in order to trip you up about the ultimate fate of many characters as well as their allegiances and even true identity. While this film doesn’t lean too hard on the events of the previous seven films, which were getting more and more tangled with each installment; Jigsaw instead relies on what popular culture knows about the Saw films. Namely the fact that John Kramer died several movies ago and there are a shit ton of traps.
Compared to the previous films, Jigsaw is surprisingly not that gory. Oh sure, there’s tons of blood and some grisly imagery, but compared to the ludicrous amounts of entrails and horrid ways to die of the last two films, it’s basically baby’s first torture film. Now granted, that may turn off the bloodthirsty out there; however, I’m definitely not one of those psychos, and thought the violence on display was tastefully done on par with the genuinely, underrated original first film. Granted, perhaps it’s because I’ve seen far worse, but the violence on display is more tense than anything else. You fear for the characters’ lives not because you care about them (you really never do) but because they’re thrown through a gauntlet of pain and you find yourself sucking air through your teeth since it looks painful as hell to die through that.
But in reference to the characters…Jesus, these films never really evolved in terms of development since the third one. Jigsaw falls back on bad habits by having a series of unknown film and television actors star in this piece, and barely any of them come across as remotely likable. Only one of them comes close to be interesting for being a sarcastic dick, but that’s not enough to hold your attention. Further, there’s a late game reveal of yet another acolyte of the Jigsaw Killer being heavily involved with the plot, but this character doesn’t hold a candle to bizarre yet magnetic performance Tobin Bell gave in all of his performances. Bell felt like a force of nature partly because he didn’t look very intimidating and partly because the dark, distressing voice was genuinely unnerving particularly when he started voicing that dumb-looking puppet.
But the puppet wasn’t the only thing resurrected for this installment; no, we also get a “greatest hits” segment where someone displays replicas of several of Jigsaw’s most famous traps from over the years. And that’s when it hit me, this is a self-inserted “fan” film. All the main beats from the previous films are hit, but absolutely nothing new was brought to the table. Some of the traps are derivatives of ones from the predecessors, and even the film’s biggest twist is itself a twist that was already done in one of the sequels to Saw. Hell, even the reveal there is yet another disciple of John Kramer was already done…three different times across the seven films. The only thing that wasn’t done in this picture is saying the essential line of “Game Over” and instead replacing it with a lame new catchphrase that doesn’t have the simplicity or force of those two words.
While the directors, the Spierig Brothers, made a competent film; they ultimately made a remake of any odd Saw that took place after the third installment. And worse, none of their additions to the franchise do anything to reignite the spark that was originally there with this franchise. While I did appreciate a lot of the suspense and clever manipulation of perspective, two days after seeing the movie have left me with a sense of disappointment because it’s just okayish. It’s better than the worst this franchise had to offer, but I really do hope someone can revisit this franchise with a fresh new batch of ideas that aren’t strictly limited to even more ludicrous death traps. Gonna give this an enthusiastic…