Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Cast: Laura Vandervoot, Tobin Bell, Mandela Van Peebles, Matt Passmore
Runtime: 1 hr 32 mins
Rating: M18 (Violence and Gore)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 2 November 2017
Synopsis: After a series of murders bearing all the markings of the Jigsaw killer, law enforcement find themselves chasing the ghost of a man dead for over a decade and embroiled in a new game that's only just begun. Is John Kramer back from the dead to remind the world to be grateful for the gift of life? Or is this a trap set by a killer with designs of their own?
Seven years after the last, and supposedly final instalment, of the ‘Saw’ series, the German-born Australian brothers Michael and Peter Spierig attempt to breathe new life into the horror franchise with an entry that is intended as a fresh start – although, to be fair, it is only right at the end that you realise just what this means.
To its religious followers however, ‘Jigsaw’ has an even more immediate question to answer. Is John Kramer, the diabolical mastermind behind the elaborate ‘torture’ games, really dead? Or has he somehow managed to cheat death? That is the fundamental mystery at the heart of this movie, which largely unfolds as two parallel narrative threads whose relation to each one is only revealed just before the climactic finale.
On one hand, you have a pair of detectives Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Hart (Cle Bennett), who are on the trail of what appears to be a series of Kramer-inspired killings. They are joined in their investigation by forensic pathologist Logan (Matt Passmore) and his assistant Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson), the latter of whom just happens to be a big fan of Kramer and therefore a possible suspect herself.
On the other, you have five hapless victims who wake up at the same time on a farm to find their heads encased in separate metal buckets and their necks attached to long chains on the opposite wall lined with circular saws. Just as with the previous ‘Saw’ movies, each one of these victims has been chosen because of their past socially deviant and/or ungrateful behaviour, and the point of Jigsaw’s machinations were not so much to kill them than to give each an opportunity to redeem himself or herself and cherish the very gift of life itself. As it turns out, there are multiple rounds within the maze which Jigsaw has constructed for them, and every round is designed to weed out one of them before the last man or woman standing.
Just as with its predecessors, ‘Jigsaw’ relies on some sleight-of-hand to keep you guessing just how Kramer lives on; in fact, loyal ‘Saw’ fans will probably recognise precisely what writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger have up their sleeves which franchise veteran Kevin Greutert (who served as editor of the first five films and personally directed the last two) has nicely stitched together. Without giving anything away, let’s just say that it doesn’t have anything to do with the supernatural (thankfully!) and that it doesn’t mess with the admittedly convoluted series of events laid out over the last six movies. It is however not terribly clever too, which is one of the reasons why ‘Jigsaw’ is ultimately a passable but unremarkable addition.
Another is the absence of any particularly fiendish traps, which as sadistic as it may sound, is the raison d'être of any ‘Saw’ movie. Among the highlights are the buzzsaw wall we described earlier as well as a silo that fills first with grain and then with various sharp implements, though neither approaches anywhere close to the level of inventiveness that we’ve seen especially in the first three movies (remember the ‘reverse bear trap’ in ‘Saw’, or the pit of used syringes in ‘Saw II’, or the rack in ‘Saw III’?). It should also be said that the Spierigs have opted for a much cleaner and less grimy look and feel than any of the previous films, but that same aesthetic choice means it is somewhat less skin-crawlingly disturbing.
Be that as it may, ‘Jigsaw’ is unlikely to appeal to anyone who’s not already a fan. That’s not the fault of the film itself, which deliberately sidesteps the complex mythology of the first seven movies; rather, these films play to very specific pleasures that we cannot imagine anyone who is so inclined has not yet discovered the series. For those who have, as well as those who have stayed committed to it despite the diminishing returns particularly in the last two sequels, this latest entry doesn’t quite boast a twisted enough mystery plotting or enough memorable set-piece death-traps to truly stand out. Yet even though this blade is dulled, ‘Jigsaw’ is not without its fair share of visceral thrills, so those looking for its unique brand of Halloween horror should still find this a satisfying return to a franchise once thought to be all but dead.
(As this modestly successful but unremarkable entry proves, there is life yet in the 'Saw' franchise after a seven-year layoff, even though the traps aren't as clever and the plotting not quite as surprising)
Review by Gabriel Chong