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Film Review: Jigsaw

The eighth (!) installment of the Saw series offers nothing you haven't seen before

D-

Directed by

  • Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig

Starring

  • Laura Vandervoort
  • Tobin Bell
  • Brittany Allen

Release Year

  • 2017

Rating

  • R
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    It’s now been seven years since Saw 3D allegedly heralded the “final chapter” of the aughts’ most prominent torture porn series. After all, there wasn’t much room left for the series to grow. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) was long since deceased, his copycat help had run its course as a viable series-sustaining option, and audiences had seen all the elaborate Rube Goldbergian death traps they could stomach. And then some. Yet everything old is new again, even if it’s only “old” in the most liberal interpretations of that term, and so here’s Jigsaw, Lionsgate’s attempt to rebrand the series for…a new generation? It’s still the same generation, right?

    Jigsaw might still be dead, but Jigsaw kicks off with yet another grisly death trap, as the Saw films are wont to do. Five people awaken in an industrial room with buckets atop their heads and chains around their necks: Anna (Laura Vandevoort), Ryan (Paul Braunstein), Mitch (Mandela Van Peebles), and Carly (Brittany Allen). If you’re noticing that our math seems off, that’s because the fifth individual never gets as far as removing his helmet, instead forcibly yanked into a wall full of rotating circular saw blades. (Get it?) The four survivors are tasked with negotiating an array of characteristically Jigsaw-esque traps from there, in hopes of “cleansing themselves of their lies,” or whatever arbitrary thing Jigsaw’s accomplices have decided is a sin worthy of cinematic death this time around.

    The 2004 original was in and of itself an exploitation thriller masquerading as a morality play, and most of the subsequent installments dropped any pretense that the films were anything more than humorless Final Destination contemporaries. Jigsaw likewise wastes little time on pretending that its tale of wayward souls (coke dealers, small-time swindlers, and purse thieves this time around) has any kind of emotional heft. Directors Michael and Peter Spierig get right to the nasty stuff when they’re not delivering the Saw house special: tediously lengthy sequences involving detectives and coroners arguing over who might be the real killer. This time around, medical examiner Logan (Matt Passmore, who really missed out on his named destiny as a starting NFL quarterback) and his right-hand woman Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson) butt heads with the upstanding Detective Hunt (Clé Bennett) and the loose cannon Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie). To answer a question this writer had, no, Detective Halloran does not at any point demonstrate evidence that he possesses the shining.

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    Soon the doomed foursome are plunged into a hellish barn full of devices custom-engineered to ensure their suffering and/or death, from a collapsible porch rigged with weighted piano wires to a death spiral capable of relieving a human being of its meat within seconds. There’s also a grain silo dropping saw blades and knives that feels unusually lazy by Jigsaw’s standards, but hey, even the most ingenious serial killers can only work out so many innovative ways to kill a person. We all rest on our laurels sometimes. Meanwhile, Logan and Halloran butt heads over Logan’s checkered military history and Halloran’s brash methods, as each corpse offers escalating evidence that the impossible has happened, and John “Jigsaw” Kramer is somehow still alive and killing anew. It’s a race against the clock to track down the real villain(s), as puppet-based tapes spell doom for all parties involved.

    By now, you likely already know whether or not Jigsaw is for you. The series is nothing if not consistent, but the diminishing returns that led to its near-decade hiatus only continue here. The characterizations are paper-thin, each victim defined only enough to provide the loosest vestiges of purpose to what’s ultimately a gallery of dismemberments. Even those have started to lose their shock appeal in a post-millennium era rife with hyperviolent filmmaking. Heads are cut in half and vivisected by lasers, bodies are minced and dismembered, guns fire in reverse, and the whole of it has an unnerving deadening effect. There’s nothing left to Jigsaw but to wait on the next gory death, and then reset for the next. It’s a cinematic funhouse of viscera to be immediately discarded after viewing.

    That’s when the film isn’t being mired in its endless procedural drama, which has slowly begun to occupy more of the average Saw runtime than the bloodletting. While the Spierigs bring a modicum of flair to the death scenes, no filmmaker alive could possibly enliven the gory death -> exposition -> whodunit fakeout formula on which these movies thrive. Without any nebulous sense of morality to buoy it, or even the overacting stylings of Cary Elwes to its credit, Jigsaw is a disposable bit of Halloween weekend nothingness that offers little more than a handful of violent murders and a 90-minute respite for audiences looking for a Stranger Things break. As the entrance music of professional wrestler Hunter Hearst Helmsley once noted, “It’s all about the game/And how you play it.” Jigsaw may be likewise about the game, but it’s the product of a series well out of ideas about how to play it.

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