Review: 'Jigsaw' Continues the 'Saw' Franchise With Little Freshness or Creativity
It doesn't take much knowledge of the horror genre to realize a final chapter hardly means anything. Just as many franchises that have had a "final chapter" have carried on with gleeful bloodletting as if nothing of finality has ever even occurred. So it's no surprise the Saw series has returned. Seven years after the series' apparent conclusion, the games are rigged back up, the unwilling participants are again in imminent peril, and the mysteries surrounding the Jigsaw killer and his legacy are at it once again. While the return of this franchise could have been used to shake things up, though, those traps and the mystery they bring offer little freshness or a sense of the new to the proceedings. Fans of the series will be happy with the franchise's return, but the Spierig Brothers' Jigsaw and its latest game won't be winning over any new contestants.
The original Jigsaw killer, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), died, as fans will remember, in Saw III (originally released in 2006), but that didn't stop his apprentices from carrying on the good work in his stead. This latest entry takes place 10 years after Kramer's death, but the police force once again find themselves faced with new, mysterious deaths, victims of yet another Jigsaw game being played out. Is it a copycat? Is Kramer still alive? Is there yet another apprentice the initial franchise kept under wraps? Those are the mysteries surrounding Jigsaw, but, fear not, fans of this particular series. There will definitely be blood.
Directed by the Spierig Brothers, Peter & Michael, who initially impressed genre audiences with the films Daybreakers and Predestination, the latest Saw movie takes the motions and setups this series of films have offered countless times before and runs with them wholeheartedly. The events of the film bounce between the investigation and the police trying to figure out just what the hell is going on and a new game being played out: five participants locked inside a barn who go from room to room facing the sins of their past while trying to make it out alive. Anyone who has seen any of the Saw films before will know even the ones who make it won't do so in one piece, and the Spierig Brothers present it all with impressive set design and even more impressive gore work.
There's a definite familiarity in the film's plot that makes the reveals that much more predictable, but the directors along with screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger keep everything moving with the same sense of intensity that has aided this series before. They even throw in a few left turns the audience can't see coming, and that helps Jigsaw to a certain extent. When it all comes down to it, though, the familiarity wins out over ingenuity. By the time the film unleashes its final reveal, it, too, feels played out and familiar. The exposition in Jigsaw doesn't help matters, either, and the film's choice of explanation over simplicity isn't doing the overall effort any favors.
That leaves the traps the players in this latest game have to outsmart and overcome. Once again, Kramer's background as an engineer is on full display, the designs on the traps and the creative ways in which they dismember the participants coming fully to the forefront as the real stars of the show. The Spierig Brothers present these traps in complete color, maybe too much color. Jigsaw is certainly the most brightly lit of the this series' entries, and it subdues the grungy atmosphere the Saw films brought to the table thus far. The lack of this atmosphere is definitely noticeable, and, while the Saw franchise has never been one to work on level of pure scares, the color palette on display in Jigsaw gives the film a new aesthetic entirely.
Still, with the gore-filled traps and brain-bending structure (just try to figure out the film's continuity before it reveals itself to you), Jigsaw works to a certain extent for fans who were clamoring for this series to continue. As Kramer himself puts it, "The game is simple. The best ones are." But the simplicity this series once brought with it has long left the table even if it fully delivers on the bloodthirsty nature and twisty narrative the franchise has long-since developed. Jigsaw may only be a success for already established fans of the Saw franchise, but you can't help but wonder about the numerous ways it could've reinvented itself.