Once upon a time, the Saw franchise was cinematically synonymous with Halloween weekend. For seven consecutive years, from 2004 through 2010, a new Saw film thrilled and terrorized horror lovers around the world with its combination of intricate and inventive traps, psychologically complex characters, and massive mythology. Within my own circles, I frequently referred to the property as the Star Wars of horror, not because of a perceived similar pop culture footprint (while popular, Saw does not and will never approximate the success of Star Wars in that arena) but because of the scope of its storytelling. Most would venture out to see the latest Saw film for the traps and the gore. I was interested in the next chapter in the story. There were always surprising reveals and exciting twists that set the franchise apart from others in the genre.
Seven years after the seventh entry in the Saw series, the world gets an eighth chapter, entitled Jigsaw. Since there have been so many years since the most recent installment, there was a significant risk that even the truest fans of the franchise hadn’t had the chance to rewatch the seven original films in preparation for this revival and had forgotten many of the details. After all, there have certainly been a lot of details: a plethora of death traps, a horde of plot twists, and a mass of characters – all woven together through an intricate tapestry of relationships and interactions, often told in nonchronological order. So, forgetting some of the minutia of the story so far would be easily forgivable.
But, despite being reductively labeled as “torture porn” by the less-insightful members of the viewing audience and critical society, Saw has never lacked smarts or awareness. All that is required as one walks into Jigsaw is the memory of who Jigsaw was, his mission statement, and his most recent status. The film functions well as a soft relaunch (not reboot. That’s not the same thing and that’s not what this film is.). Both loyal fans and the unfamiliar can follow this story with ease without seeing or remembering the other films – as long as they pay close attention and keep up with the fast-paced story.
In spite of Jigsaw’s accessibility, the film never forgets or ignores what has come before. Part of the fun of this series is its willingness to include constant callbacks to the previous films, often even weaving them into the narrative. I was afraid that this film would forgo that aspect of the property, but there was no reason to be concerned. Sibling directors Michael and Peter Spierig managed to craft a film that takes the story to new places while also acknowledging its past. It’s what we’ve come to expect from Saw and the Spierigs knew better than to give the audience anything else.
The cast is mostly comprised of television and low-budget film actors, but good ones. Among the more notable names are Callum Keith Rennie (Californication), Laura Vandervoort (Smallville), and Matt Passmore (The Glades). Truly, everybody pulls their weight and the cast presents no issues with the film.
As is often the case with these films, there are plenty of logistical hiccups within the framework of the story – events that simply couldn’t happen as presented under the established rules of this universe. What each viewer has to decide is how much they will allow themselves to be bothered by these sorts of issues. I noticed them. Some of them bothered me more than others. But none of them bothered me so much that I ceased to enjoy the crazy reveals, the wickedly-designed Rube Goldberg-esque murder machines, and the next stage of this grand story about a Punisher-type character (with loads more patience) and the effect he has on the world he inhabits.
Naturally, Jigsaw is not a perfect movie. Critics aren’t going to like it. Well, at least they’re going to say they don’t like it. But I personally found it to be one of the more enjoyable entries in the series, especially as it rockets towards its elaborate conclusion. To put it as simply and as straightforward as I can, Jigsaw gave me what I wanted. The clever traps, the moral ambiguity, the battles of wits, the mystery, the epic story, and the fact that things are never what they seem are why I love seeing these films and why I’ll keep going back to them as long as someone keeps making them. If you think you’re too good to see these movies, you’re wrong, but you still won’t enjoy them. But for fans of the franchise, Jigsaw provides reliable thrills, winces, and plenty of guilt at having more fun than one should while watching people die in the most brutal fashions imaginable.
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