Jigsaw lacks imaginative torture of horror movie predecessors

John Kramer, the original Jigsaw serial killer from the Saw movie franchise, has been dead for 10 years. The horrible and grisly murders that he was responsible for were supposed to stop. Jigsaw’s memory, however, lives on. He has borne a cult which praises him as others would Akira, or “Death Note’s” Light. Now, fresh bodies are turning up with the old killer’s calling card in Jigsaw, the latest installment of the popular horror film series. Sadly, the trailer sets this failed reboot up to be everything the film never delivers on. There are no pure moments of sadism one might hope for in a film that markets do-it-yourself amputations and playing games with bicycle-riding marionettes. In fact, the viewer would be forgiven for wondering whether the movie was PG-13 or in fact rated R, about halfway through watching it.

The film, directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, feels completely sterilized. Its violence is too clean and precise, with the camera routinely panning away to hide its special off-screen effects. The audience is tasked with doing what nobody who worked on Jigsaw seemed capable of—using its imagination.

Jigsaw’s radical group therapy sessions aside, the crux of the film focuses on detectives Halloran and Solomon, played by Callum Keith Rennie and Shaquan Lewis respectively, piecing together the tatters of the remaining plot. They wind up spending way more than a healthy amount of time at the morgue with two quirky coroners, whose explanations for things are so glossed over and contrived that there must be a barnyard full of horses somewhere who were beaten to death for the sake of continuity.

The added plot twist grates against the entire franchise to establish credibility, and rubs completely the wrong way. There have already been so many retroactive revisions to the storyline by this trope, a bigger surprise would have been just omitting the twist altogether.

Instead, Jigsaw frames its exposition with a gallery of torture that draws on the crude devices of previous—and better—films. It reminds audiences rather of what made the earlier titles so much more fun to watch, and what is missing this time around. Next to none of Jigsaw’s killer machines are used, as it turns out, and the new traps are deranged but unimaginative. Even the few traps used to any real potential rarely prove to be fatal.

One aspect of the movie that does itself any justice is the house of horrors, where the new Jigsaw killer hosts his victims. Although it is less of a booby-trapped mansion than a linear set of rooms, the house’s atmosphere comes closest to capturing the spirit of the franchise. The prisoners are ferried along in dwindling and bloodied numbers, and forced to play Jigsaw’s game by the house rules. Failure to abide results in a grisly CGI death.

But, where earlier traps were given a sense of poetic justice representing the evil within a hapless player, moral retribution is sidelined first by the unimaginative traps themselves, and then the horrible editing.

Following the original Jigsaw’s modus operandi, each prisoner has done reprehensible things with their lives. In order to be set free from the game, they must atone for these past sins, which comes across as annoyingly righteous. The preoccupation with cleansing one’s soul seems far removed when acid serums and human-shape razor blade walls are the only alternatives.

 Jigsaw’s greatest mistake is the degree to which it hinges on past films to catapult itself. The movie does not generate any momentum or direction by doing so. The homages are tactlessly done and are incorporated into scenes that drag the plot’s pacing to a crawl. The past is stitched together over the entire movie, but fails to cover its potholes any better than Swiss cheese.

Backstories are shoehorned in, and are never mentioned again. If the actors ever stop screaming incoherently, they will catch their breaths and then start to bicker. It becomes infuriating how little this group works together or functions on any level, and this is often needlessly so. They rarely seem to take the situation they are in seriously, and never learn from their mistakes—supposedly the main purpose of Jigsaw’s game, anyway.

Actor Tobin Bell reprises the role of John Kramer but fails to redeem it. He appears in a series of confusing flashbacks that only make sense when explained in the last 30 seconds of the film. His scenes lack variety, his monologues any depth and as recognizable as John is, being reduced to a cameo appearance in his own franchise was painful to witness.

 Jigsaw tries to sell this stylistic choice as a changing of the guard, but it is made disappointingly clear that the copycat killer was an outright plagiarizer.

The chance of a sequel next Halloween is a truly dreadful premonition. Already tied in last place with the penultimate entry to the franchise, there is nowhere else for the producers to go except further down, unless the franchise falls so low in public regard that, like a diligent man tunneling through the Earth, its center of gravity inverts at up is suddenly down.

John’s ghost would be rolling in its grave if it had not been so rudely disturbed. This was a crude attempt to milk a franchise of the last dustbowls of capital left in its coffin, and Jigsaw has little more to show for it.