Are you worthy?
Between the years 2004 to 2010, watching a new Saw movie over the Halloween weekend became a ghoulishly sick tradition for some, mainly those who enjoyed seeing helpless victims get picked off, one by one, via elaborate Rube Goldberg-meets-Herschell Gordon Lewis type death traps, the series fashioning a new blood-soaked sub-genre that became known as torture porn. Co-created by Melbourne filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell in a 2003 short, which was later developed into a feature, Saw became a global phenomenon due to its elaborately gruesome tests and games, each subsequent chapter building upon what had transpired in the previous entry, the series eventually earning an accolade by The Guinness Book of World Records for becoming the most successful long-running horror franchise of all time!
It all fell to pieces (quite literally) in 2010’s Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, the seventh and ‘apparent’ last installment in the garishly grim chop shop of horrors. The Jigsaw Killer aka John Kramer (Tobin Bell) — the guy who orchestrated all the unspeakable trials for those whose lives he felt needed redemption — was well and truly put to rest, the series concluding in an off-the-rails finale that left buckets of intestines all over the floor; needless to say, it looked as though the game was well and truly over.
Seven years later, however, we’re back with Jigsaw, Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures clearly aiming to revive and revamp the ol’ formula for another late-October hit. Going into Jigsaw, there were a couple of burning questions on my mind. For starters, according to its marketing, Tobin Bell’s moralistic murderer appeared to be back to his old tricks, coercing criminals into confessing their sins or suffering the consequences, even though he had his throat violently slashed by a circular saw in Saw III (2006) — writers using every trick in the book to keep the series ‘alive’ after Jigsaw’s brain-removing post-mortem. If this isn’t the case and Kramer is still six feet under, does that mean that Jiggy has an admiring copycat, one who’ll re-start the gory games? Either way, I was eager to find out.
Jigsaw opens with a middle-of-the-day car chase, where we follow the cops as they peruse criminal Edgar Munsen (Josiah Black) onto a rooftop. Once there, he’s shot dead after activating a triggering mechanism. We then cut to a remote run-down barn, where five terrified hostages are being held captive, each with a Ned Kelly type bucket over their head and a metal chain around their neck. After hearing a taped recording from Jigsaw, the chains begins to pull each of the shackled bodies towards a wall of spinning buzz saws, the human guinea pigs heading towards an ugly fate. That’s until one of them, Anna (Laura Vandervoort), figures a way out by offering a blood sacrifice, allowing one of the blades to slash her arm. Three of the prisoners follow suit and purposely cut themselves on the saws, while one unfortunate dude, who’s still unconscious, does not.
That same dude or buckethead (as he’s dubbed) ends up on an autopsy table, where he’s dissected by a couple of forensic pathologists, Logan (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson) — the former, a military veteran whose wife was killed two years prior, and the latter, a kinky ‘Jigsaw Killer’ fangirl. Startled, the pair finds an audio file in the victim’s neck, with Kramer stating that there are only ‘four’ left, the recording alluding to a new hideous game that was taking place in an unknown location. As bodies begin to turn up around the city — each having met a uniquely grisly end — those running the investigation, homicide detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and his partner Keith (Clé Bennett), find themselves suspicious of everyone they come into contact with. But, as each piece of the puzzle begins to fit together (voiceprint and DNA evidence), it all points towards John Kramer, the man known as Jigsaw, even though he’d been dead for almost a decade.
Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig — the German-born Aussie siblings responsible for 2014’s excellent Predestination — I was hoping that Saw VIII would do something a bit more ambitious or different. Sadly, this isn’t the case as what we have here is just another run-of-the-mill Saw sequel, one that works as a standalone feature as well as a continuation. Nonetheless, the Spierig brothers still manage to do a lot right, even with the narrative’s overall sense of sameness — Jigsaw written by series newcomers Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg, the guy’s who penned Sorority Row (2009) and Piranha 3D (2010). For one, Jigsaw opens the story’s scope by moving the action into a larger city environment, the brothers ditching the traditional industrial-looking color palette for sleeker visuals by cinematographer Ben Nott, Daybreakers (2009). Likewise, Charlie Clouser’s iconic score isn’t as blatant or in your face this time either.
Trying to please masses and gore hounds alike, Jigsaw balances its gut-churning obstacles with a police procedural sub-plot, these threads weaving in and out of one another, the duel storylines ensuring that this rejig isn’t as sadistic as its predecessors. In spite of this, there’s still a lot of wince-inducing fun to be had by way of hydrochloric acid, a carnival-esque human shredder, some nasty razor wires and a bunch of sharp falling objects — knives, rakes and buzz saws. Even the creepy tricycle-riding marionette, Billy the Puppet, makes a welcome appearance.
Depending on which way you look at it, some of Jigsaw’s upgrades might rub folks the wrong way. For one, a few of its spine-chilling traps rely too heavily on GCI, chiefly the bonkers closing kill, which is arguably the most over-the-top moment in the entire eight-film saga. Seasoned Saw individuals and die-hard aficionados might also find some of its twists, turns and red herrings to be somewhat predictable, simply because they know how the writers think, that obligatory last act reveal probably a bit too foreseeable as well.
In terms of performances, the entire cast does the best with what they’re given. Laura Vandervoort — best known for her role as Elena Michaels in Syfy’s Bitten (2014-16) — shines as Anna, a resourceful young mother who finds herself unwillingly trapped in one of Jigsaw’s perverse games, while Paul Braunstein, The Thing (2011), has a few good moments as loudmouth victim Ryan. Hannah Emily Anderson, What Keeps You Alive (2017), impresses as forensic scientist Eleanor Bonneville, a redheaded Kramer groupie who’s stashed a bunch of his exotic torture doohickeys in her ‘gallery.’ Elsewhere, Callum Keith Rennie, Memento (2000), is saddled with a generic dodgy cop role, while Matt Passmore, Is That a Gun in Your Pocket? (2016), is forgettable as medical examiner Logan, who’s billed as flick’s kinda-sorta protagonist. Last, but certainly not least, Tobin Bell makes the most of his return as John Kramer (though I won’t give away the details), the 75-year old’s skin-crawling delivery reminding viewers what made him so eerily magnetic in the first place.
As a long-time advocate of this guts-splattered series, I was generally pleased with Jigsaw, even if it fails to justify its own existence beyond a financial one. Be that as it may, Jigsaw is back to give till it hurts, this thinking man’s villain ready to torment a whole new generation of victims and fans. Live or die. Make your choice.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie