Directed by: The Spierig Brothers
Written by: Josh Stolberg, Pete Goldfinger
Starring: Brittany Allen, Callum Keith Rennie, Clé Bennett, Hannah Emily Anderson, Laura Vandervoort, Mandela Van Peebles, Matt Passmore, Paul Braunstein, Tobin Bell
Directed by the Spierig Brothers
The original Saw, and its many sequels, were a huge part of my horror education. For seven of my formative years, the franchise became synonymous with Halloween on the big screen. That was until it petered out with its weakest entry: the now awkwardly named Saw 3D: The Final Chapter. Despite being a proper fan of the series, or at least enough of one to remember them all individually, I wasn’t looking forward to Jigsaw at first. I figured maybe the time since hadn’t been good to the torture subgenre, making a new entry irrelevant before the first frame. Then I saw Predestination and realised it wasn’t any old hack coming into take it. A cool trailer drop later, and I was excited to see something new but familiar.
Overall the Spierig brothers do a good job making potentially stale material feel fresh. Their style’s a lot simpler than Wan’s, holding back the random slow-mo or erratic jumps that became series staples. They also give saw a clear, clinical look that’s maybe first nature to them – given their science fiction background – but a first for a series that lurks in the shadows. Some of it even takes place during the day! Their pacing also feels about right, resulting in a well-balanced 90 minutes that never loses momentum, yet gives the characters time to shine. Most importantly, they stay true to the essential Saw feel though because, really, not too much has changed since 2010. Many of the series lynchpins are back, from the signature nastiness of the traps down to the heavy dance reveal music, Billy the puppet cycling in and Tobin Bell’s voice.
There’s also the same dual narrative, following the police hunt and the latest entrapped victims in parallel. Leading the investigation are traumatised war vet, turned examiner, Nelson (Passmore), fresh-faced Keith (Bennett) a hot-headed homicide cop Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie), and a comically enthusiastic forensic examiner (Anderson). Quickly the bodies start to appear, but what’s really eerie is John Kramer’s DNA showing up beneath the victims’ fingernails. I mean he died ten years ago, right? Of course, being a Saw film we assume one of them knows more than they’re letting on. Fortunately the creative team are way ahead, and so all parts are played with the overly suspicious tone Hoffman adopted from part five onwards. In story terms this works, since they all suspect each other. And thankfully for viewers the, at times, exaggerated pulpy performance give the mystery a kick by making them all potential killers.
Among the players we got five people waking up in a disused barn, filled with the sort of equipment a psycho killer could make eager use of. Out of the ones that don’t immediately fail at the new Jigsaw’s games, there’s impulsive Anna (Vandervoort), sleazebag Ryan (Braunstein), petty thief Carly (Allen) and slightly too nice Mitch (Van Peebles). Without giving too much away, all have been handpicked for doing pretty bad things – even if it’s unclear how some of them were found out. As such, Jigsaw hopes to get a full confession from them, as well as lots and lots of blood. A couple of their roles are a bit slim, but the three we get to know best are well cast and have some endearing character moment. To the writers’ credit, as secrets get shared they don’t shy away from them being awful people. Although that’s not to say you don’t sympathise with them – especially since they get put in pretty nasty places. Thus Jigsaw puts you in the classic Saw predicament of wanting to see them escape whilst being curious about what the machines can do.
Unfortunately, more than any other film in the series, the traps here are completely infeasible – with some of them relying on people to be standing in very particular places to trigger them. They’re also far more extravagant, with one in particular seeing the writers lining up their metaphorical jetski, if not quite jumping the shark. And while the scale adds some real spectacle to proceedings, the visceral feel of the old days is long gone: we’ve come a long way from reverse bear traps and needle pits. Yeah, they’re as clever and ironic as always – but they feel way less deadly. Frustratingly, a character even alludes to this onscreen by saying they best traps are always “simple”. If only the writers had listened to their own creations. Nonetheless, the Spierig are dab hands with the gore and able to make the payoffs worthwhile.
As fan service goes, I was a lot more satisfied with the film’s obligatory plot twists and turns. These moments felt expertly crafted, and did a lot to address some of the small niggles that initially seemed to be plot-holes. The third act sees a string of decent reveals, one after the other, and in particular the last pulled the rug out from under my feet. To say any more would go against the reviewer code, but I don’t know that I’ve been surprised like I was by a Saw film since a certain body started walking. The way Jigsaw ties into the original series is also satisfying, and not too far-fetched, with viewers who have followed the labyrinthine lore being rewarded for their patience. That it can still surprise in part eight is a testament to how shrewd the writing team are – particularly because by now the audience are smart and know the things to look out for. On that point, this is the kind of film that maybe shouldn’t be subject to a star rating. You’ll know if it’s for you based on how you liked the first lot, and it likely won’t win any nay-sayers over. But as a long term fan I was more than satisfied with it, and would likely place it somewhere in the middle of my list – behind the first 3 and 6 but far better than 4, 5 and 7. So not quite a gamechanger but also not game over.
To read me rank the first seven Saw films, click here