I’ve missed the ‘Saw’ franchise. From 2004 until 2010, Twisted Pictures faithfully knocked out another ‘Saw,’ always releasing them just in time for Halloween. It’s been seven years since ‘Saw 3D’ hit theatres, and Halloween’s have been empty without them. However, I think it’s important to note that with the exception of the 2004 original, none of the ‘Saw’ films are actually very good. Fun, yes, but not good.
I think we enjoy horror films for the same reason we enjoy folk tales: familiar ingredients served up in a way that’s subtly different every time. A twist of lemon on the chicken, some paprika in the stew. As I see it, the ‘Saw’ franchise is made up of three main ingredients: traps, police investigations, and Tobin Bell. ‘Jigsaw’ delivers on all three fronts, but forgets its twist, positioning it firmly in the middle of the series, quality-wise.
The original ‘Saw’ is a genuinely good film, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s not without its flaws, of course, but its two-actor, one-room, small-budget setup is charming, and its ‘games’ were realistic enough to cause winces without abject horror. ‘Saw II’ on the other hand, is awful. Overblown and bloated but not in the right ways. The latter films, ‘Saw VI’ and ‘Saw 3D’ in particular, are so over-the-top and bizarre that they go all the way around again and become great fun. ‘Jigsaw’ is somewhat middle-of-the-road until the third act, which throws the movie firmly into ridiculous, and thereby bumps it up several notches on the fun-o-meter.
‘Jigsaw,’ like any good ‘Saw’ film, has two separate storylines baying for our attention; one trap-laden and ridiculous, the other pleasingly dour and over-serious. As ever, a group of wrongdoing strangers (five this time) have been kidnapped and must confess their sins or face a grisly death in one of any number of grisly deathtraps. In the other plotline, police are investigating the mutilated bodies turning up around the city, each labeled ‘And then there were 5/4/3/2/etc.’ In the third act, the two plots converge in the aforementioned unintentionally hilarious twist.
‘Jigsaw’ is a bizarre film, a sort of reboot-but-not. Oddly, though, it seems to have positioned itself as the ever-popular gritty reboot, a strange choice for a horror franchise built on absurdity. As it’s been seven whole years since the last film, I expected ‘Jigsaw’ to be a fresh start, free from the convoluted timeline shenanigans of the previous seven movies. ‘Jigsaw’ tries desperately to stand on its own two feet, but ultimately there are too many inter-series references for it to work alone. One character is obsessed with John Kramer, the Jigsaw Killer, and is fascinated with his traps. This plotline doesn’t do much other than let long-time series fans go ‘hey, it’s that thing!’ The twist at the end of the film is lifted almost wholesale from earlier films, in a way that delighted me but which is likely to put off many others.
In a nutshell, ‘Jigsaw’ is best enjoyed with knowledge of the previous seven installments of the series. They’re not strictly necessary, but they do provide the context that makes ‘Jigsaw’ so much fun. It’s probably not worth watching the previous 11 hours of backstory just to see ‘Jigsaw,’ but if you’ve seen them already ‘Jigsaw’ is a fine addition to the oeuvre. I imagine it could be enjoyed on its own silly merits, but if you see it and hate it, don’t blame me. I said it was fun, not good.