The 400-Word Review: Jigsaw
By Sean Collier
November 1, 2017
While it had its detractors, the “Saw” franchise was a reliable and consistent October presence throughout the 2000s. Each year from 2004 to 2010, an entry in the series debuted within a week of Halloween; while the box office did wane as the decade neared its end, each easily made its budget back and more.
The series’ detractors criticized the repeated killings as torture porn; while the series’ signature undoubtedly was Rube Goldbergian murder machines, the flicks were easy to churn out (and reliable) because of their procedural elements. A new series of traps faces a new group of corrupted souls, a new round of detectives follow the clues; audiences kept returning to see Jigsaw (aka John Kramer) and his disciples for the same reason viewers get stuck in “CSI” marathons.
Oddly, the backbreaker for the franchise was an over-reliance on plot. By the time of “Saw V” or so, each entry seemed to further retcon and review Kramer’s backstory, adding twists in the name of weaving in new characters. (Even the relatively simple plot of the original film was eventually revealed to be part of a larger con.)
It’s refreshing, then, that Jigsaw, the series’ eighth film overall and return from a long break, requires nearly no memory of the story, beyond knowing who Kramer was and the fact that he (allegedly) perished way back in Saw III. Other than that, here’s the new group of trapped sinners, here are the new cops and here’s 90 minutes of alternating procedural and mutilation. A $20 million weekend — which, by the way, would double the film’s production budget — is inevitable.
Credit for the relative competence of Jigsaw goes to the screenwriting team of Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger, who somehow made Piranha 3D watchable back in 2010. They keep the proceedings brief and direct, reliably alternating between by-the-book procedural sequences and murder-game routines (which are blessedly light on inter-victim squabbling). Directors Peter and Michael Spierig mostly point the camera and time the splatter.
Is it torture porn? That depends on your definition. Undoubtedly, there are gruesome sequences to be found here; if you were previously turned off by the “Saw” series, Jigsaw will not win you back. But the film is a fine enough return and undoubtedly better than its recent predecessors. I’d expect a few more Octobers to be handed over to Jigsaw, whether he’s dead or not.
My Rating: 6/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark