Starring Tobin Bell, Mandela Van Peebles, Laura Vandervoort, Brittany Allen, Callum Keith Rennie, Matt Passmore, Hannah Emily Anderson, Josiah Black, Shaquan Lewis, Michael Boisvert, James Gomez
Directed by Peter and Michael Spierig
Back in 2004, the Australian filmmaking team of James Wan (The Conjuring, Furious 7) and Leigh Whannell (Cooties) burst bloodily onto the scene with Saw, an effective and clever low-budget shocker that introduced a new iconic villain: Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). Seven sequels later, Saw is the most profitable horror franchise of all time and returns – after a seven-year hiatus – for another round of gruesome games.
Now, another team of Australian filmmakers, the Spierig brothers (Undead, Daybreakers), has been brought on as fresh blood, as well as new screenwriters (Josh Stolberg, who’s mostly done gimmick horror like Piranha 3D, and Pete Goldfinger, who co-wrote the excellent short film Clown).
Seems like Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures really wanted to shake things up by bringing in a different team (with the notable exceptions of longtime editor Kevin Greutert and composer Charlie Clouser) to reinvent the saga of Jigsaw and try to figure out a way to bring the (supposedly) deceased master of scaremonies back to life. They could have gone a couple of ways with this – either ramp up the torture porn beyond the pale or chose a more stylistic route in keeping with the Spierigs’ oeuvres. They did neither. Jigsaw looks like it could have been directed by anyone, and the traps are totally underwhelming.
The film starts off with a police standoff in the daytime, feeling more by-the-numbers action than grab-you horror. We soon learn that bodies are turning up around the city, each having met a uniquely gruesome finish – we see the mangled corpses in all their gory glory, but it’s more clinical than chilling, rather like an episode of “CSI.” As the investigation proceeds, evidence points to one suspect: John Kramer, the moralistic, game-playing serial killer known as Jigsaw. But Kramer has been dead for ten years… hasn’t he?
Jigsaw puts all the pieces together, but the result is just serviceable. The story is slick, and the actors are all up to par. But I wanted to see something daring, especially when it comes to the signature of the series: the traps. Saw II, written by Whannell and Darren Lynn Bousman, set the standard for cringe-inducing body-count kills. The screenwriting team of Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton carried on with brutal inventions of their own in Saw IV through 7: The Final Chapter). But Jigsaw’s screenwriters don’t have the guts to push beyond the boundaries: They either went back to the old well and used traps we’ve seen or chose to rely on CGI (lasers… and not nearly as good as the ones in Resident Evil).
At the end of the day Jigsaw isn’t terrible. But it’s not the horrific homecoming Kramer deserves.