by Benjamín Harguindey
Despite what a certain movie subtitled “The Final Chapter” may have had you believe seven years ago, the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) is back with an eighth entry in the Saw franchise, simply named Jigsaw.
Say whatever you will about the original Saw (2004), but it caught the morbid imagination of a whole generation of horror aficionados and together with Hostel (2005) sired a current of so-called “torture porn” which, for good or bad, produced any number of copycat movies. The first movie is something of a modern-day horror classic, or at least as influential as one. But then how else do you define a classic?
Six movies down the row – six movies too many – and we’re finally at Jigsaw. Perhaps you thought the series had locked the door and thrown away the key with Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010), which presented itself as the culmination of the Jigsaw Killer’s torturous magnum opus, in which he abducts hapless sinners and subjects them to elaborate torture chamber “games” where they mutilate themselves and each other for freedom. Think Se7en (1995) meets a snuff game show.
Except, spoiler alert, that Jigsaw himself was killed at the end of Saw III (2006), and with his death the series has lost any discernible endgame. You see, any psycho with borderline personality disorder and too much time in their hands can pick up where Jigsaw left off. You build your maze of rusty buzzsaw horror in some abandoned warehouse, dump a bunch of panicky no-goods who have slipped from the law’s fingers and force them to play a supposedly fair game where mea culpas and dismemberment equal justice served. Uh-huh.
Back when John Kramer (AKA Jigsaw) was alive and pushing a more or less personal agenda, this was interesting enough. But one self-righteous apprentice after another, the whole Jigsaw shtick has become routine and quite pointless. Two good words with which to describe the new movie, which does nothing new to justify such a belated instalment or refresh the series in any meaningful way.
What’s the point of even going into the plot? Five poor bastards awaken in one of those Jigsaw-style mazes of tetanus (a barn this time) and are literally dragged across a series of deadly obstacles while Tobin Bell’s gravely voice chastises them cryptically over a loudspeaker. Parallel to that we see the budding police investigation that’s on the clock to stop this new spree of murders. Is Jigsaw back from the dead? Or is there a copycat killer on the loose? Please.
Every trick the series is famous for is brought back for an encore. As per custom, the lightning is horribly saturated (tinted with an icky yellow hue too), the narrative is deceptively linear, there is an overabundance of flashbacks and there is a big montage at the end that rephrases parts of the movie to make it seem like it was more clever than it really was. There’s nothing new to the formula, except in what may be considered more “simplistic” methods of torture and skewering. Stepping down from the more outlandish contraptions of death such as, I dunno, the shotgun carroussel from Saw VI, might come across as a disappointment to fans; I for one appreciated the simpler life-or-death situations as a tiny bit more realistic and therefore tense. Many of which require an almost psychic kind of foresight to pull off (“How did the killer know so-and-so would step through here and over there?”, etc).
As with its predecessors, Jigsaw has not been screened in advance for critics. What would be the point? Every movie after the first one has been consistently panned with as little as 9% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes; conversely Guinness has placed Saw as “Most Successful Horror Franchise” (they’re that cheap to make). So criticism is beside the point. Brand loyalists will champion the return, suckers with a hankering for Halloween popcorn will break even, and the rest will cheerfully ignore this non-event. Which is what it is.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).