Movie Review: JIGSAW (2017)

I’ve called myself a SAW fan since the moment Tobin Bell pulled himself up off that grody bathroom floor and blew everyone’s minds thirteen years ago, but I’m not blind to the criticism of so-called “torture porn”. I get it. For the most part, the SAW flicks – mainly the sequels – exist to kill off characters in the most gruesome ways the effects guys can dream up, but I promise there’s something more to be found if you dig below the grand guignol shenanigans.

I’ve always admired the giant, pendulous titanium balls hanging from the producers of the SAWfranchise. Without precedent, they dared to kill off their big star, Tobin Bell (aka Jigsaw) after only three films. It’s not like they intended to end the series there… oh no! They still had at least another four films in the tank; but that didn’t stop them from potentially slitting the golden goose’s throat. That move left the writers in a constant challenge to keep the series alive – a Jigsaw-style trap for the writers, if you will.

There’s always been a degree of intelligence involved in making these films. Even when they’d waded five sequels deep, the writers were still pumping out relatively surprising twists and turns at a point where other horror franchises had devolved into bargain basement slasher sludge. That’s not to say SAW’s sequels were ever great. In fact, the frequent huge gaps in logic were too much to forgive. Who the hell is building all these elaborate death machines? Who’s capturing all these people? Who did what with the what now? By the time The Final Chapter rolled into town, the convoluted plots and interweaving timelines were stumbling all over themselves placing the series in the unique position of being clever at the same time as being immensely dumb.

But that’s what makes SAW a good time, and the Spierig brothers – directors of the new entry in the series, JIGSAW – have a lot of explaining to do. And by that I mean they have seven films of plot to unravel and reboot for a new generation of filmgoers. They also need to find a way to bring back Tobin Bell without making us roll our eyes with supernatural explanations or ridiculous stretches of logic.

So how did they do?

Well, pretty, pretty good honestly. This feels like a SAW movie. It definitely sounds like a SAWmovie. Kevin Greutert is back in the editor’s chair, and Charlie Clouser hasn’t skipped a beat in providing a recognizably SAW soundtrack. There are enough nods for diehard fans without the constant nostalgia-wanking found in other rebooted franchises. There are also plenty of tasty treats for the goremongers in the audience.

However, there are a few questionable changes. Aside from the obvious difference in overall look between the last film (which was shot horribly in 3D) and the more modern style of JIGSAW, there’s a pivot in production design. Where the rest of the series went for a uniquely gross, rusty, broken down appearance, this one looks more like a conventional, bland thriller. The previous sequels spent their time aping James Wan, with the MTV-style camera whips, extreme color saturation and inventive transitions. The Spierigs, while very competent directors, take a more workmanlike approach.

But… the fun trap designs are back. The pitch black sense of humor is back. The twisting, convoluted storyline is back. It adds to the mythology without breaking anything that came before. I would have liked to see more consequence from the denouement of The Final Chapter, even though I think that movie was a terrible low point and an insulting ending for the series. Who knows, maybe there’s a plan to link JIGSAW more strongly with the previous entries in a further sequel? I mean, they’ve gotta be considering a sequel; this is SAW we’re talking about.

I guess that will depend on how successful this – part 8 – is at the box office. I have no idea how it’ll play for kids who’ve never seen the original films. Let’s face it, this movie is made for the younger audience, since the people – like me – who went to the cinema over a decade ago are starting to look as crusty as Tobin Bell. Ultimately, this is a fun trip down torture lane for SAW fans, but if you’ve always hated the series, there’ll be little here to trap you.

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