Cinema Dispatch: Jigsaw

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Jigsaw and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate Films

Directed by Peter Spierig and Michael Spierig

I have a… complicated relationship with the Saw films as a few of them are ACTUALLY pretty solid thrillers, but ALL of them suffer from some fundamental problems that dogged this series throughout its seven film run; not to mention accruing brand new problems along the way that only made it harder and harder to take seriously.  I guess that’s not unusual for a series like this as the downfall of horror favorites like Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers are about as stark, but at least with THOSE films I found something to like even in the bad ones as the very loose commitment to continuity allowed for new voices and interesting ideas to permeate the series even when they were in a slump.  Saw is one of the few franchise that took its continuity VERY seriously which is one of the many reasons the films became such a train wreck but is also why I’m genuinely interested to see where this one goes.  Does this new iteration in the franchise right the course and set the stage for a whole new series of much better films, or should they have just let well enough alone?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins as most Saw movies do with someone dying in a horrible way.  Okay, maybe not THAT horrible as he simply gets shot by the cops, but what appears to be just a car chase gone badly soon reveals itself to be the start of a new Jigsaw game which Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) is itching to solve along with his partner Detective Hunt (Clé Bennett) and forensic pathologists back at the station (Matt Passmore and Hannah Emily Anderson).  As the game goes through the usual Saw paces of picking off its victims (Laura Vandervoort, Mandela Van Peebles, Paul Braunstein, and Brittany Allen) the bodies start showing up around town to mock the detectives’ lack of progress and to give them subtle clues that will lead them to solving this mystery.  The biggest mystery though is how exactly these games are going on as John Kramer (Tobin Bell) who was the original Jigsaw killer has been dead for over a decade and as far as we know all his protégées have bit the dust by now.  Okay, maybe not Dr Gordon, but if this movie wants to ignore what happened in THE FINAL CHAPTER, I’m perfectly fine with that.  Who is REALLY behind this latest round of murders and could it somehow be John Kramer coming back from beyond the grave?  What do the latest victims of the Jigsaw Killer have in common, and what will they need to sacrifice in order get out of these deadly traps?  Seriously, how many of those freaking puppets did he make anyway!?

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Seems like a lot of effort to go through; especially when he uses his real voice anyway…

If you want to compare this to the rest of the series, then to me it’s PROBABLY the second or third best (right after Saw 2 and POSSIBLY ahead of the first one) mostly due to very strong technical chops and a higher caliber of acting than is usually required in these, but it still can’t escape the fundamental flaws of the franchise and so it feels less like a rebirth or even much of a continuation as it is a greatest hits for the series; a remastered edition of all the best parts that you remember.  It’s disappointing that in the seven years since THE FINAL CHAPTER came out that no one at Lionsgate saw fit to reexamine what the franchise is and what it’s more pernicious issues were in order to make something that’s not just on par with the other films but something as revolutionary as the first one KIND OF was.  Look, I’m not about to say that the Saw franchise was much of a revelation as far as the horror genre, but it filled the void between the death of the classic franchises like Halloween and Friday the 13th and the eventual rise of Blumhouse as the genre’s standard-bearer.  In the wake of films like The Purge: Election Year, Get Out and IT, this franchise NEEDED to evolve in order to remain relevant but instead it decided to stay the same and simply give everything an HD coat of paint.  I guess that’s not a BAD move as this will certainly make its money back, but if Lionsgate didn’t want to bring its A-game, then what was the point?

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This time… I don’t know, they’ve got buckets on their heads or something?

I’ve mentioned that this film doesn’t fix the underlying issues that have infested the Saw films more or less from the beginning so now is probably a good time to get into that.  The series’ biggest issue is how much it venerates its iconic killer Jigsaw and increasingly frames him and his goals in positive unchallenging light which becomes even more obnoxious as the movies go along.  This primarily manifests itself in two ways; the unyielding commitment to the faux reality presented by the death traps and the increasing lengths it’s willing to go to make the victims as disposable as possible.  In the ENTIRE series of films, not one person is able to circumvent or outsmart the traps that Jigsaw has set in place which becomes monumentally ludicrous as the films go along and frankly might be at its absolute worst in this one with traps being put in place to cover the most PRECISE of circumstances and certain equipment going off without any real trigger from the victims.  I GUESS you can argue that Jigsaw is watching them this whole time (something this isn’t really verified in the film itself) which can explain a FEW things being in place when they need to be, but what it ultimately does is keep Jigsaw in a constant position of power over the rest of the characters who can only act within the boundaries he (and therefore the movie itself) sets up.  Couple this with how the movie frames the victims as justifiably awful (something that WASN’T as prominent in the earlier films by the way) and the film loses sight of what Jigsaw really is.  He’s not an infallible fighter against injustice as the movies consistently frame him as through the impeccability of his work and the despicability of his victims; he’s a fucking serial killer who’s twisted ideology has led to the pointless deaths of dozens of people who you can argue may or may not have deserved SOME form of punishment, but in the end he’s just a bully and these movies are putting forth that attitude as sacrosanct.  It’s not as bad as the sixth film which I think is the worst about how much it hero worships its villain, but if there’s one thing I wish someone would have deconstructed in this semi-reboot of the series, it would be the sadistic obsession the prior films had with this character.

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Meh.  Boris Karloff did it first.

As far as the rest of the film, it’s just another Saw movie albeit one with some much needed polish.  We don’t have Costas Mandylor stinking up the place which is a BIT of disappointment as I’d have liked to get some closure on that aspect of the story (preferably retconning the ending of THE FINAL CHAPTER entirely), but thankfully no one this time around is in his league as far as bad acting.  The main detective in this movie is a bit much and I thought that the assistant forensic pathologist was too aware that they existed to be a red herring and nothing else, but this is one of the few times in the series where the victims of Jigsaw’s machinations had a semblance of character and personality; so much so that I was more willing to forgive the silliness of the traps because the drama was so strong.  Yeah, you still have the problem of there being ONE PERSON who gets super aggressive super quick and the fact that the victims have a bit too much trouble just relaxing for a moment and doing what the freaking tape just told them to do, but at least I can be bothered to REMEMBER who got killed in this which is more than I can say for most of the other films.

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You may just see a dude screaming at a rake?  I see an ACTUAL CHARACTER screaming at a rake!

Now I’m gonna get into some LIGHT spoilers here as it’s worth discussing some aspects that may not be obvious if you’ve watched the trailers but are important enough to my opinion of the movie that I feel the need to bring them up, so if you don’t want to be spoiled at all (though again, these are LIGHT spoilers), skip ahead a bit to get to my spoiler free conclusion.

We good?  Alright.

So it’s probably not THAT much of a shock to find out that Tobin Bell is in this movie; mostly because he’s always been the best thing about this series and also because they put him on the freaking poster.  I won’t say HOW he shows up even though he’s managed to find a way to show up in all of these films since he died at one point in the series, but needless to say that he still knows how to play this role with conviction and gravitas which made the film go up a few points for me whenever he was on screen.  The ending though where they explain exactly what’s going on… I don’t know.  It’s not the weakest twist in the series (THE FINAL CHAPTER is hard to beat), but it might be the most contrived.  The film seems to be aware of how hard it’ll be to shock audiences as this point with a twist so it goes out of its way to misdirection REALLY hard and then try to bring back around with a completely ridiculous explanation.  I guessed what the twist was about halfway through, but I dismissed that theory because they showed a whole bunch of evidence to contradict it… but then just hand waved that evidence at the end to get to that particular twist anyway.  It feels a bit unearned, ESPECIALLY considering just how much had happened off screen (an entire MOVIE’S worth of plot was kept secret from the audience) but the motivation is there even if the logic doesn’t pan out.  Not every movie NEEDS to make complete sense if the characters are compelling enough and the final twist of fate has enough impact, but I don’t think this film QUITE reaches the level of quality to justify its stupidity.

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Turns out it was Dr Evil the whole time!  Hey, they may not be on sharks, but he DID get his frickin’ laser beams!

I guess I shouldn’t be all that disappointed considering it is a sizable improvement over the LAST film and frankly several of the films before that, but the utter… banality with which this seems to have been resurrected feels like a wasted opportunity.  I’d say it’s worth watching if you’re a fan of the series and are simply hoping that it’s a stronger note to end on than the last time they made THE LAST SAW MOVIE, but you’d probably not be missing that much if you waited for a home release.  Hell, the REST of the series is on Netflix so I’m guessing this will be on there at some point anyway.  Why not just watch the better ones in the meantime?

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