Once upon a time, a group of people decided to create a new type of horror movie. Critics referred to it as torture porn and seven movies and almost US$900 million in box office receipts later, the Saw franchise was retired. Meanwhile, the career of director James Wan has skyrocketed.
But you can never keep a good serial killer down, and seven years later, the Jigsaw killer is making a comeback, courtesy of German-born Australian film directors, producers and screenwriters, The Spierig Brothers. Now, twin brothers Peter and Michael have a game of their own to play.
Should they cater to the gorehounds who want to see the crazy traps and Rube Goldberg-inspired contraptions of original Saw series, or should they tailor the latest film to the fans who appreciate the philosophical aspects of the series, originally brought up in the first and sixth film?
The eighth film takes place 10 years after John “Jigsaw” Kramer’s (Tobin Bell) death in the Saw series. Two detectives, Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Keith Hunt (Cle Bennett) are investigating a series of dead bodies that fit the M.O of the late John Kramer. In a nutshell, the Jigsaw killer always puts his victims into traps &/or trapped-filled games that they can escape from, if they are willing to endure the pain and make the necessary sacrifice needed to escape.
These puzzles are tailored around the victim’s weakness and past crimes that they have to conquer and atone for respectively. And since the Saw series is renowned for its gore, plus the fact that his victims are rarely thinking calmly and rationally, they usually fail miserably and audiences get to enjoy the spectacle.
Meanwhile, 5 new victims are subjected to a fiendish game filled with traps, where escape equals shedding some blood and making sacrifices. Opps. The pieces have come together and Jigsaw is still around. Of course, not everything is what it seems. As in the case of these films, there are deathtraps, blood, crooked authority figures, flashbacks & jump cuts. The narrative roller coaster rides will keep audiences guessing until the big reveal (though not as insane & convoluted this time around), and saying more would ruin the film for you, since these elements are the mainstays to keep you on your seat, either entertained and/or confused.
But is this James Wan-free entry worthy as a follower of the series? Yes, it is.
For enthusiasts, it blends both the gore and inventive traps from the later series, though this time, the contraptions aren’t too over-the-top or obnoxious. Simplicity is its own reward, especially when the payoff gives the right amount of visceral satisfaction. If there are planned sequels for this, there’s a foreshadowing moment where the series might take the high-tech sci-fi route.
The narrative and storytelling blends in just fine. What’s great about this entry is that you can watch this fresh without any of the baggage from the past seven films. If you remember the basic premise of the Jigsaw killer from the first film (which still holds up damn well up to this day), that’s more than enough.
The detectives, the victims, and the rest of the characters, such as the two forensic folks, Logan and Eleanor do a decent job for horror movie standards. And yes, Tobin Bell himself makes an appearance (his name & face are on the film’s promo; this ain’t a spoiler), but again, viewers have to guess on the “why” and “how”.
As for the big twist at the end? It may seem like a cheat considering the framework & jumpcut structure of the film, but it doesn’t ruin the film. Still, skeptics who see the series as an absurd unintentional comedy of gore and convoluted story threads will find a lot to pick apart here.
The Spierig Brothers, known for directing underrated horror gems like Daybreakers, did a great job in keeping with the tone of the Saw series established by past directors/producers, while also upping the production values and direction. Plus they had the sense to take the trap segments to brighter pastures, instead of being in dank and dark grey areas while also instilling a number of tense moments in broad daylight. It also went out of its way to distance itself from the past series in a way.
Honestly speaking, Jigsaw isn’t going to convert anyone who isn’t into horror films or even this long-lasting and convoluted series. However, it does entertain by staying true to what it is comfortable being. Rank-wise, I would place Jigsaw just below the original Saw and Saw VI, but above the rest of the other entries.