Review | "Jigsaw" (2017)

It has been seven years since Jigsaw, aka John Kramer (Tobin Bell), last appeared in theaters (despite having died in 2006's Saw III). The original Saw (2004) kickstarted what became colloquially known as the "torture porn" genre, which has since faded away in favor of more traditional horror. It's clear that with Jigsaw, the series eighth entry, that Lionsgate is looking to revive its once lucrative franchise with a soft reboot that introduces new characters into the world built by the original series.

It also resurrects the series' now iconic villain, Jigsaw, who has seemingly returned from the grave with five new victims trapped in one of his sadistic "games." Each one has a secret sin, and Jigsaw is determined to make them confess in order to free them from his deadly trap. Matt Passmore and Hannah Emily Anderson star as doctors Logan Nelson and Eleanor Bonneville, who are investigating the deaths of Jigsaw's latest victims, along with the unorthodox Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and his partner, Detective Keith Hunt (Clé Bennett). As the group begins to suspect each other, the five strangers caught in the trap are fighting for their lives (and limbs), as all signs begin to point to one chilling conclusion - that John Kramer may not be dead after all.

The Saw movies were never a great franchise (although the series did have its highlights), and Jigsaw neither pushes the series in any new direction nor does it do a disservice to what came before. It's simply another Saw movie. Whether that's a good or a bad thing depends on your relationship with the series and your tolerance for over-the-top scenes of torture and gore. The traps are as outlandish as ever (and in the case of the grain in the silo trap, don't make a lot of sense), but they do harken back to Jigsaw's original intent, to make the victims overcome a life obstacle and atone for their sins, and escape is possible if they're willing to make sacrifices. The traps in the later Saw films after the death of John Kramer tended to be sadistic murder devices over which the victims had no control.

Of course, the film ends with a twist that re-contextualizes everything we've seen, a hallmark of the franchise that returns with a vengeance here. It doesn't really hold up to close scrutiny, but it is a doozy. The biggest issue remains that it just isn't particularly scary. The Saw movies are gross-out movies rather than real horror films, whose main goal is to make the audience cringe rather than feel be truly frightened. As a result, Jigsaw feels strangely incongruous to our times, like some strange remnant from the early 2000s that just doesn't quite fit in with the contemporary cinematic landscape. Jigsaw saw himself as a guardian of morality, and while the film attempts some contemporary relevance, it ends up coming across as an afterthought rather than strong thematic subtext.

I'm just not sure that audiences have the same stomach for such brutal on-screen carnage that they once did. It's not that it's particularly repulsive, it's no more disgusting than anything these films have shown us before, but watching Jigsaw I realized that I felt nothing. Not joy, not disgust, not fright, not boredom, just...nothing.

Maybe that's the most frightening thing about Jigsaw of all. After years of mass shootings and real-life carnage on TV and online, it's going to take a lot more than whirling buzzsaws and acid injections to shock us now. In that regard, perhaps the Saw franchise has outlived its own relevance. In a world grown numb from violent death, Jigsaw just doesn't seem to have place.

GRADE - ★★ (out of four)

JIGSAW | Directed by  Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig | Stars Matt Passmore, Hannah Emily Anderson, Tobin Bell, Callum Keith Rennie, Clé Bennett, Laura Vandervoort, Paul Braunstein, Mandela Van Peebles | Rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and for language | Now playing in theaters everywhere.


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