Jigsaw, the 8th film in the Saw franchise and the first in 7 years, has returned to “take back Halloween.” I originally thought this translated into “has returned to take back your wallet,” as the pessimist in me saw this film as a cash grab (I’m looking at you Saw: The Final Chapter). Luckily, as the marketing suggests, Jigsaw is a lot more treat than trick for fans of the famously gruesome franchise. The film was pretty much fan-service for the dedicated fans of the franchise, in the best way possible. It’s not just for the die-hards either, it’s also for newbies or new fans like me, who just watched all seven films this past week on Netflix. But the cherry on top is that Jigsaw isn’t just good for a Saw movie, it’s actually a fun horror film overall.
The film follows the police and the coroners tasked with investigating a series of murders following the Jigsaw killer’s patterns, who as we know has been dead for over a decade. Meanwhile, we follow a game being played in a barn testing five strangers trying to liberate themselves. I was rather impressed by Jigsaw in that it was able to pick up the pieces of the franchise after it got off the rails AND still keep the continuity in check, which isn’t easy to do after seven years.
The eighth installment of the Saw franchise features a mixture of veterans and new faces behind the camera, including Charlie Clouser (Composer) and Kevin Greutert (editor) who have worked on every film in the franchise. This is nice because it puts you right back into the world of Saw, from the tone to the iconic score. Some of the newer team members also made positive contributions, of course, the biggest being The Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers, Predestination) helming the project. Jigsaw is easily the best-directed film in the franchise since Saw 1-3, primarily because of the decisions made by the brothers who seem to understand the franchise really. This film was more of back to basics, highlighting what made the earlier Saw films great: compelling games, inventive traps, victims that actually deserve to be playing…oh, and blood. There is definitely plenty of gore to go around, but it wasn’t excessive or just to be disgusting. Jigsaw didn’t waste time with a million side characters and simplified the story; well, simpler by Saw standards. Not to say that this film is going to turn everything around and make the bad films go away, but it was quite refreshing to see the film resemble the earlier films and tap into what makes the Jigsaw Killer so fascinating.
As I mentioned above, Jigsaw returned to actually having a purpose to test these characters. Though these might be some of the dumbest characters in the franchise, the cast provides some solid performances, primarily Laura Vandervoort who takes on the leadership role amongst the victims. The lead coroner, Logan Nelson, was a fascinating character played wonderfully by Matt Passmore. It was a relief not having to follow the police so much, which was usually the weaker parts of the earlier films. Whether it be flashbacks or even just his voice, it’s always great to see Tobin Bell as John Kramer, who has really championed this role. Horror has been lacking in iconic horror villains the past decade or so, but John Kramer/Jigsaw tops that list. Its been hit-and-miss when it comes to expanding his mythology, which Saws 4-7 did a little too much of, but Jigsaw does it smartly by adding layers that we actually care about. I also enjoyed seeing the impact of his legacy over the decade Kramer has been dead, between the Jigsaw Killer website and obsessive fans, which they integrated into the story smoothly, for the most part. I’m going to include some spoiler thoughts at the end, but without getting into detail, the character of Eleanor was a little too on the nose. But even so, the characters investigating the game are more interesting than the police force in the previous seven films.
Alright, let’s be real: most fans aren’t coming here for characters and story, you’re here for the kills. Jigsaw does not disappoint in this area, as the films feature some of my favorite traps of the franchise. The film keeps it fresh by mixing it up with the traps, having a nice variety of physical and mental tests. I also appreciated the traps being linked more directly to the victim’s backstory. The Saw films that are the best are when you can almost relate to Kramer, seeing his reasoning for testing these characters and almost rooting for him to teach them a lesson. Something interesting though is Jigsaw features probably the “easiest” and the most straightforward game of the franchise, but as I mentioned: these characters are really dumb. It was frustrating at times to see how simple it was for the victim to survive only for them to die because they were stupid, as half the fun of a Saw movie is trying to figure out what you’d do in the situation. Regarding the main game in any Saw movie, this is probably my favorite: interesting location, fantastic trap designs, and resulted in some gruesome death sequences.
My biggest knit-pick of the franchise has always been the aggressive editing by Greutert, so it was nice not to leave this film with a splitting headache as the film is much cleaner. I also chalk this up to the directors, the movie as a whole is much tighter than previous entries of the film. The production level has been elevated in just about every aspect, thanks to advancements in filmmaking since the last Saw film, all aspects but one and it’s the Achilles heel of this film: the lighting is really bad. There is no reason for a movie that takes place in a barn during the day should be this dark, which is unfortunate because other than that, the cinematography by Ben Nott is actually really good.
There have been many surprises this year in film, and I’d add this film to that list. What easily could have been a cash grab, Jigsaw was a love letter to fans of the enigmatic franchise. Instead of leaning on the nostalgia of the previous entries, The Sprierig Brothers chose to tell a fresh story to add to the deep mythology of a franchise that they care about. Jigsaw isn’t breaking new ground as Saw did 14 years ago, it’s not a top-tier horror movie either. In my eyes, Jigsaw is a movie made by fans for the fans. And as a new fan myself, this was a very satisfying film. More on that with a few SPOILER thoughts beyond this point!
I tip-toed around it the best I can, but it’s so hard to review this film properly without talking a few big details. As I mentioned, this film gives you all the things you love about Saw movies, and that always includes a big twist ending. The big question going in was who is running the game if Kramer is dead? It turns out the game we were watching took place ten years before the cops’ investigation, and we were actually watching one of his first games. I think this was incredibly smart and keeps the film grounded by not trying to resurrect Kramer, which the film probably would have done if this were a cash grab. It was fun the way they did it too, using multiple characters as smoke screens. The whole film Nelson was at the bottom of my suspects list, and it worked so well. I’ve never been a fan of Kramer’s followers because they were either uninteresting (Lieutenant Hoffman) or didn’t get Kramer’s philosophy (Amanda), but Logan is easily the most worthy of Kramer’s protegés. If the franchise continues, I wouldn’t mind following this character more. The only thing about the twist that didn’t work was I started piecing it together pretty early versus not figuring it out until the very end, but this didn’t make it any less impactful. Again, I commend the Spierig Brothers for doing their research and pulling this ending off gracefully. Some might say it’s just copying the twist from Saw 2, but Jigsaw takes it to another level. This is a very solid film, but the ending gives it some major bonus points and should put a smile on many fans of this franchise.