It would be safe to assume that when individuals gathered to discuss a return to the franchise, the mention of Saw 8 would have embarrassed all involved. So, instead we have Jigsaw, a title designed to deter audiences from realising just how unnecessarily long this torture-porn fatigue has continued.
The body of a man dubbed ‘Buckethead’ is seen swaying ever so slightly from the neck, teetering off the edge of a tall bridge in a busy park – a grisly image that beckons in the macabre to this familiar tale of a group of secretive miscreants kidnapped and forced to play a gruesome game. As an investigation is launched, the predictable discovery of a puzzle piece etched into the deceased brings worries of the return of the famous Jigsaw killer, John Kramer himself; or a copycat.
Five individuals awake chained to a wall, a wall that pulls them closer to a concerning surface of spinning blades. This gruesome sequence is exactly what fans will have expected from a return to the franchise, a simplistic and unsatisfying torture sequence. After all, this is the direction the series went in. James Wan’s 2004 original, Saw, managed more than any of its predecessors have since handled; it worked surprisingly well in the realm of a detective-thriller in the vein of David Fincher’s Seven. It also worked well as a tense “whodunnit”, as viewers racked their brains as to which of the men under tense conditions was telling the truth, if either was at all. But, most importantly to genre fans, it managed to shock with its twisted creations, that at the time, genuinely felt original. Saw II took the last aspect even further, and as the consequent films did this they excluded a key ingredient that made the original such compelling viewing – a brain.
After this initial sequence, the game is set. Inevitably, those remaining after this introductory ordeal must work together to survive their hosts cantankerous toys. For the most part, these scenes actually provide some shallow fun – a giddy thrill in which fans of splatter movies can watch how newcomers to the franchise, the Spierig Brothers, tackle such heinous material. The characters, generic as they are, remain more watchable than previous instalments have offered, with Ryan (Paul Braunstein) adding some much needed arrogance to the dynamic of usual suspects. The set pieces are not so elaborate this time around, and the kills, excluding one instance, are not as crazy as a select few that come to mind from the series more laughable moments – definitely stripped back. Think John Kramer on a budget but his elders have left him the old farmhouse for the weekend
The sequences involving the group working out how to survive the night are often exciting. It is the investigation, and those characters involved, that feel tedious, re-treading tired ground once again. At this point in the series, most audiences will only wish to see these films for the traps alone, so it may have been a misstep to even include another narrative strand in which officials attempt to make sense of what is going on; with characters this bland, most will fail to care anyway. It would have worked better to seclude the narrative, to know the audience, and keep it sick; there is little else to gain from it. Yet, the directors have been ambitious and decided to try and tie it in with entries of the series that many would rather have forgotten – saving their skin only by drawing a focus to the first film as the story progresses. There is evidence that duo care for the project, and want to make it smarter than the unconvinced expectations of its target demographic. It is also worth expressing that they are attempting to resurrect a bloated, overthrown corpse of a franchise, and miraculously succeed by the skin of their teeth.
Jigsaw is all you can hope for from a Saw film: it is not terrible. It can be bland, formulaic, and wearily repetitious, but it can also be entertaining, squeamish and creative in its twists and turns – the latter of which it proves unexpectedly successful. As a bonus, the film also boasts the most outlandishly inventive trap of them all, providing a firework display for gore-hounds.
For those apathetic to the series’ cheap thrills, there is no new material to convert the pessimists. Still, it has turned out better than the cynics and sceptics will have wanted to believe, and is easily the most satisfying entry since Saw III.