I still remember the first time I sat down to watch James Wan’s Saw, because I had to pick my jaw up off the floor of the screening room. I was so blown away by its final twist that despite some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture, I still consider Saw to be a masterpiece of the horror genre. To say I was excited for the return of Jigsaw would be an understatement. As soon as this sequel was announced, I knew I would be there Opening Night… and I was. Unfortunately, Jigsaw wasn’t quite worth the seven-year wait since the last installment, Saw 3D.
This time around, the Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers) take the reins from fellow Aussie director Wan, who is simply credited as an executive producer here, having moved on to greener pastures long ago. The action takes place 10 years after Jigsaw’s supposed death, when a possible copycat killer rears his/her ugly head and begins torturing five people on a remote farm. Yes, that means there’s an inevitable (and completely unnecessary) “and then there were four” message to the cops — how very Agatha Christie — accompanied by a jigsaw-shaped piece of missing flesh, just so you don’t get confused and think there’s another serial killer on the loose in this small anonymous town.
Callum Keith Rennie and Clé Bennet play the cops investigating the grisly case with the help of a pair of medical examiners who may or may not know more than they’re letting on. To quote Scream, “everyone is a suspect” … or simply a red herring.
To be fair, Jigsaw delivers exactly what fans of this franchise want, which is to say, gore. Lots of it. There’s blood, guts and gore galore! Human beings are treated as little more than hamburger meat here. The Rube Goldberg-style devices of death aren’t as inspired as past installments, but they certainly get the job done. Think circular saws, whirring blades, razor-sharp wires, powerful lasers, hydrofluoric acid and… an avalanche of grain, which actually allows for one of the film’s more memorable sequences.
No, the problem is just about everything else, from the C-list cast (I bet you miss Donnie Wahlberg now!) to the D-list script (written by Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger), which bends over backwards to make sense, only to come across as convoluted as ever by the time the credits roll.
“I want to play a game,” you’ll hear the familiar voice of John Kramer say via tape recorder (so many tape recorders!), but the only real game in Jigsaw is the one it plays with time — which has become a frustrating hallmark of the franchise. Of course, the underlying issue with Jigsaw is that it’s hopelessly stuck in the past. This is the eighth chapter in the Saw saga, and it can’t seem to move on from Tobin Bell’s Kramer, the fair-minded, cancer-stricken angel of death who died five films ago.
This franchise had seven years to reinvent itself, and it desperately needed to sever ties with Kramer in order to start fresh. After all, unlike Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees, Kramer isn’t a supernatural entity of evil, but rather, a sick, vulnerable man comprised of flesh and blood. But there’s money to be made, so Kramer is back, and of course, he has another mentee. How was Kramer able to mentor so many aspiring murderers while finding deserving victims, creating elaborate devices with which to kill them, and battling cancer? Only God knows.
Jigsaw’s primary concern has always been balancing the scales of justice. He wants you to confess your sins, and he wants his pound of flesh. But it’s a problem when those sins are only marginally more interesting than the stock characters who committed them. Once again, the franchise forgets to give us someone to root for — all these people are either bland or actively terrible.
Blood and guts go a long way with Saw fans, but in the end, they can only go so far. We’ll never know if the first film would’ve been as successful without its killer twist, but one thing is clear — without one, Jigsaw comes up short. Its sin is being utterly forgettable.
Running time: 92 minutes
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief