*. I took a break from the Saw franchise (as in fact the series itself did) before Jigsaw. I think this helped, though I’d grown fuzzy on the details of the Saw mythology, and had forgotten a lot of key plot points. Was it possible John Kramer was still alive? What about the last inheritor of his grisly mantle? Was s/he still around? Whatever the answers to these questions, the formula was like an old sweater, and I was sure everything was going to play out in a way that would bring it all back.
*. It does. Though billed as a reboot of the franchise, Jigsaw (originally titled Saw: Legacy) plays more like a direct sequel. That is, a direct sequel to Saw: The Final Chapter (a joke we’ve all heard before). As many critics observed, it’s yet another attempt to write an origin story for John Kramer, even though there have already been a couple of these and, as I’ve previously remarked, Kramer isn’t that interesting a guy to get to know in the first place.
*. The formula, however, has proven to be a winner. Much like the Final Destination movies (which, on the whole, I prefer) there’s that old sweater of essential elements that get repeated. The rules for these movies are as strict as those for Jigsaw’s puzzles.
*. So there’s the forbidding invitation — a bogus “choice” that cannot be refused — to play a game. This is followed by more of the same tired traps: chains, collars, needles, and (naturally) saws. More narrative trickery playing with our sense of time, and more red herrings. But by this point we’ve been trained to expect the unexpected, so the herrings scarcely even register. We know exactly who the killer isn’t, and we can be damn sure that Jigsaw is about a hundred steps (or half-a-dozen movies) ahead of everyone else.
*. I’m not sure there’s much that sets Jigsaw apart. Matthew Lucas: “The Saw movies were never a great franchise (although the series did have its highlights), and Jigsaw neither pushes the series in any new direction nor does it do a disservice to what came before. It’s simply another Saw movie.” The victims seem a bit duller on the uptake, no good at solving puzzles and slow to take instructions or hints. And for some reason Jigsaw has developed even more of a spiritual bent. As the movie begins he’s lecturing the bucketheads on atonement, confession, salvation, and how the truth will set them free. As if. Is this meant as mockery? I recall the earlier films being more existential in their morality.
*. There was some hope among critics that directors Michael and Peter Spierig (credited as The Spierig Brothers), who had enjoyed some success with Predestination, would inject some new blood (as opposed to just more blood) into the franchise. This didn’t happen. I think Jesse Hassenger nicely captures all they brought to the table: “They favor blues, grays, and, at one point, the oddly warm lighting of a grain silo over the sludge tones and frantic shot-stuttering of the earlier films (originated by a still-learning James Wan, and passed along to the first film’s art director and editor). It mostly looks slickly professional, as opposed to slick with liquefied grime.”
*. On the DVD commentary the producers give their own take on what sets this film apart but I found it a lot less convincing than Hassenger’s. They do, however, address what has to be the key dilemma in any franchise entry: “one of our goals was to make it a Saw movie and not a Saw movie at the same time.” And later: “we wanted to make a Saw movie but not just Saw 8.” But the differences they point to are mainly cosmetic. There are more exteriors, but still not a lot. The “Hello Zepp” theme is tweaked. The Billy puppet has glowing eyes. They also mention how they wanted to go back to the original Saw with more puzzle-solving and less gore, but I didn’t see this at all.
*. Not the best movie in the franchise, and not the worst. I thought the gore quite well handled, climaxing in a wonderful slice-and-dice shot at the end. The traps are unimaginative though, and the twist predictable. If you’re feeling despair or disgust at the human race and just want to turn your brain off for 90 minutes it will do the trick. It does seem though that it’s become a franchise in a box.