Has it really been 7 years since the last Saw movie?
I remember the years when Saw movies were enshrined as Hollywood's annual Samhain ritual offerings coming off a seemingly never-ceasing production line, until Saw 3D. I remember loving the first Saw by James Wan and subsequently enjoying the sequels for what they were, except Saw 3D. I was ready to embrace a new entry of bloated survival thriller/torture porn every year for the rest of eternity, but I was done after Saw 3D. I guess my point is..."F--- Saw 3D!"
It appears both myself and Lionhead Studios were in the agreement (not that they consulted me) that the Saw franchise needed a break after that cinematic disaster, but it'd also be a huge bummer if an otherwise not-that-terrible horror series (a very rare achievement for horror franchises) end on such a crappy note. That and the fact these movies do make money. At any rate, we are looking at an 8th entry in the series here in 2017 and it seems the Saw franchise has not missed a beat.
By "haven't missed a beat", I mean it's the exact same thing as before. Every step in this new movie carries that haunting sense of "been there, done that", which essentially makes this addition unnecessary even for hardcore fans.
The story retains the tried and true formula: a dual plotline at once depicting some elaborate "social experiments" with a bunch of victims while the police are up to their investigations, probably trying to figure out how these sequels are still happening when Jigsaw was killed as early as Saw III. Yeah, somebody at Lionhead surely is still regretting that decision. Most victims die like morons and the cops fail at their jobs, all building up to a "surprise" final reveal to hopefully end the movie on a high note.
If you wish not to be spoiled further, stop reading at this instance, because I will be talking about specifics of Jigsaw. Although, it's probably not worth that amount of faithful anticipation.
The traps no longer make any sense. Perhaps they never did, but throughout the years, they've become so complex and resource-draining that their sheer existence defies every sense of believability. How many warehouses and farmhouses did John somehow own prior to his death anyway? And just how in the name of Heaven, Hell and everything in-between do these damn traps even work?
The first obstacle faced by our victims in Jigsaw was an "offer of blood". By cutting yourself, however little, on the wall of buzzsaws, the trap would stop at once. But how would a metal and mechanical "wall of saws" be able to identify human blood? That's the sort of trap more fitting to a Harry Potter movie.
Indeed, at multiple parts I felt like the orchestrator, Jigsaw or otherwise, would either have to be on-site making impromptu adjustments with a million back-up plans, or have precognitive or psychic powers. Case in point, how would Jigsaw know Carly, the lady who stole another woman's purse and inadvertently caused her death, would even survive the "blood offering" to play the "needle" level, for which she was absolutely crucial? What if there's a game prepared for one individual that ties to others' survival as well, only to have that idiot to fall for an earlier trap? That would be the equivalent of killing a "main quest" NPC in a video game, which is a sure way to make the game uncompletable.
How would he know that Ryan would try to break the rules and fall into the "wire" trap, which seems to be a required step to solve the "silo" trap? The tape even addressed his name, miraculously knowing exactly who was going to do what. Technically, with the final revelation in mind, John Kramer WAS shown to be actually on-site during the initial game, but Logan was nowhere near the current game under investigation which we did not get to see, but apparently produced the same results judging by the corpses.
It doesn't help that the "gamers" this time around have proved difficult to root for. Particularly frustrating was when the lady refused to inject the needle, fully aware that a) which needle was the correct answer and b) all, including herself, would die if she did not promptly act. Talk about a missing piece in survival instinct! It's dumb illogical scenes like this that prevent audiences from having fun with your movies.
At this point, one has to question the standard of John Kramer's selection of candidates for his trademark type of "rehabilitation". So far, I have managed to count as his subjects: his doctor, the orderly tending to him, his insurance agent, his lawyer, his apprentices, his neighbor, the guy responsible for the miscarriage of his baby, the guy responsible for the death of his nephew and multiple cops following his case. Is this guy a magnet for human trash or is it just convenient writing?
Saw movies have always thrived on three things: mythology, shocking image and the end twist.
Even though the end twist in Jigsaw is decidedly among the stronger pieces of the entire puzzle, it brings nothing new to the horizon for the franchise, which feels even more stale after this "rejuvenation". The secret apprentice (Saw II with Amanda, IV with Hoffman, 3D with Gordon); presumed victim being the true mastermind (Saw I, II, IV); the misleading timeline (Saw II, IV). Juggling these separate pieces and fit them into one package surprisingly does not make them fresh. And by the way, "I speak for the dead" doesn't sound remotely as badass or T-shirt worthy as "Game Over".
Tobin Bell returning as John Kramer aka Jigsaw is the best part of the movie, and he absolutely sells it. His appearance brings a certain shock value that makes the timeline twist difficult to predict but for hardcore fans who know this series all too well. Although the elaborate and frankly unnecessarily high-budget traps threaten to break consistency with Jigsaw's earlier motifs that we knew of, the final "shotgun" puzzle was admittedly clever as hell.
I enjoyed the idea that John Kramer at this stage of his slasher (what? that's what he is) career wasn't as philosophically mature as he appeared, putting the doctor who misplaced his diagnosis and inadvertently caused his doom in the game for personal revenge, but backed out on that decision in an awakening of conscience (relatively speaking at least). It showcased John's humanity and his acceptance of his own possibility of error, further shedding light on the moral ambiguity that the franchise is best known for, apart from glorified torture porn, that is.
The biggest problem out of this final revelation is the complete subversion on Logan as a character. There was no real clue that I could recall, other than the scars on his back, that served as any hidden hint for his true identity. The character that we've been getting acquainted with throughout the movie is erased by this twist, and since it was a new character underdeveloped to begin with, no real emotional impact was registered. Longtime fans might be left wondering: What? This again?"
By erasing the context of this as-turned-out important character, the movie built up to an ending that it didn't fully deserve. What made him follow Jigsaw's ideology after John seemingly forgave him for his honest mistake? Is there anything we really know about him? If not, why should we care? You can technically say ANYBODY is the true mastermind and everything he/she did before has been an act.
The final monologue plainly felt weird, did it not? Why did he need to explain all that to Halloran just to kill him off moments thereafter? It's Goldfinger's Grand Slam all over again. Because it's not actually for Halloran, it's for us. Logan be like: Uh oh, I hear the main theme going. Better hurry up and deliver the exposition so they can montage over it.
As you undoubtedly have perceived by this point, I am not all that impressed with Jigsaw. While it doesn't dethrone Saw 3D as the worst of the franchise, at least for me, it's a heavy contender for the second.
More than anything, it left me and many fellow weirdos obsessed with Saw films, of all things under the sun, disappointed that this is what we get after seven years of patient waiting. Perhaps we must remember that the time interval in-between sequels does not necessarily translate into the amount of efforts made into developing such sequels, e.g. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skulls. To its credit, it smartly (or cowardly, depending on your preference) left the timeline as portrayed by earlier films which had got way too tangled by the end of the abysmal "final chapter" in 2010 well alone, instead trying to create its own thing. But is it ultimately worth it that its own thing turns out to be no better than, or all that different from, what came before, and seems to be trudging towards the same bleak end, only faster?
Maybe it's my own expectation getting the better of my judgement. I had hoped the reintroduction of the series would mark either a return to roots, or a different direction altogether. It'd be nice to bring Saw back to a confined and limited environment with psychological and atmospheric horror over gore, but that'd require actual talented direction, acting and script-writing, so I guess it's too much to ask. Another route it could have taken is to embrace the insanity, bring on the filthy and fun, and deliver a not-so-serious but enjoyable ride. Maybe a religious cult based on Jigsaw that considers themselves vigilantes? Yeah, I wouldn't do much better myself. By choosing a middle-of-the-road route that left little impact on the audience or the franchise, Jigsaw, although not as bad as the previous one, left me less excited about the prospect of another Saw movie than ever.
My final score for Jigsaw: 4.5/10