Review: ‘Jigsaw’

     It is a generally accepted rule of thumb that franchise horror starts to see diminishing returns with every new entry in the series.  Saw is one of those franchises for me.  This  series has been labelled as one of the gateway films for torture porn, and I don’t really agree with that for the first film.  Saw II and on, though?  Absolutely.  What I disagree with for the later entries is that there is always the final person that we focus on, meaning that we have a pretty good idea of who isn’t going to make it.  We end up disinterested in those people’s stories, and are pretty much waiting it out to see what creative ways they get sliced and diced in.  That is pretty much the definition of torture porn.

     But I digress.

     I gave up on Saw about Saw IV.  The traps were cool, sure, but they all became a little repetitive.  There was always a little something to surprise you in there, and usually it worked, but it wasn’t enough to keep me interested in sitting and watching.  I stopped checking them out in the theaters, waiting for on demand or streaming.  It was kind of a relief when The Final Chapter, was released.

      It was a hot mess

    So when Jigsaw, an unexpected new addition to the franchise, started being advertised, my initial response should have been the eyeroll to end all eyerolls. But, surprisingly, I was intrigued.  It almost felt like a chance to breath a bit of life back into the series.  Sort of a finale do-over.

     And you know what?  It wasn’t half bad.  The traps were ingenious, and the gore level was toned WAAAYYYY down.  Obviously, it was still there, but nowhere near as over the top unnecessary as some of its predecessors (I’m looking at you, acid needle injection in Saw VI).  The characters felt a little more likable, and the dialogue was pretty good.  It felt like a good mix of black humour and survival conversation that people trapped together would have.

     The problem?  Jigsaw doesn’t have any original tricks.  It plays with time, just like the previous ones.  It has a shady cop, just like the previous ones.  If you don’t see someone die in a Saw movie, it’s pretty much a given that they aren’t dead.  I was entertained for an hour and a half, sure, but I was also able to guess every “twist” that came my way.  In that sense, it felt like an entry that the audiences didn’t need to further their enjoyment of the franchise.

     The thing that has kept the Saw franchise going as long as it has is definitely Jigsaw himself, Tobin Bell.  Bell has turned a rarely-seen-on-screen character into an icon.  He is engrained in our minds even though the films spend the bulk of it on the people trying to escape.  His performance here at the end is stellar, as always.  He is the one consistent piece that the audience can always count on.  He’s the reason that people still check it out.

     I read recently that there is a planned sequel to Jigsaw, which will be the ninth.  My hope for it is that it can really return to its roots, and try to surprise its audience again.  Nothing will ever touch the original Saw, but that isn’t really a sequel’s intent.  They try to capture what it was that audiences liked about it, and try to replicate it in a new story.  Even though Jigsaw was predictable, it gives the audience a Saw movie that is true to the formula, and the spirit of the original.  Eight sequels in, is that really so terrible?  If you’re a Saw fan and looking to be entertained, Jigsaw is an entertaining 90 minutes.

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