The Saw franchise kicked off in 2003 with James Wan’s short film Saw, which has also come to be known as Saw 0.5. The first full-length Saw film hit theaters a year later, kicking off a career for James Wan that has led to other horror franchises including the Conjuring universe, the Insidious films, as well as Furious 7 (arguably the best Fast and Furious movie.) James Wan is a brilliant director, and the first Saw film is testament to that. Unfortunately, after the first film, Wan has not returned to direct any of the Saw sequels, serving only as producer on most of them. Unless you’re a hardcore cult fan of the franchise, I think most everyone can agree that the now eight film franchise has progressively fallen downhill. While it might be a step up from Saw 3D, Jigsaw continues the descent.
Jigsaw begins with five people trapped in a farmhouse, where various, cleverly constructed instruments of torture are there to mutilate and kill them one by one. Keeping with the theme of Saw, these five are told they are playing a game, one they can only win if they repent of their sins. Dark pasts, desperate survival, and gory deaths come together in a very bloody climax. At the same time, we are told a story of a police investigation into mysterious, mutilated bodies that keep appearing all over the city. This story follows two detectives and two industrious morticians as they work to solve the murders. All the while, both parties wonder whether or not the deceased John Kramer, AKA Jigsaw, is involved.
Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg are two writers that have worked together for many years. For both of them, however, this is their first time stepping into the Saw franchise – previously their biggest horror work was Piranha 3D. Goldfinger and Stolberg were clearly incredibly cautious about not disturbing the traditions of the franchise, an therefore the story they wrote was entirely unoriginal. The entire Saw part of the film was centered around a concept and practices which we’ve seen seven times over, as they failed to add any variation at all.
Now, if you’ve seen the film, you’re probably wondering what in the world I’m talking about. Half the movie isn’t even like any other Saw movie. This is true; in fact, it’s way too true. Goldfinger and Stolberg recognized they had to have something different in their movie, so instead of spicing up the Saw tradition, they just made two movies: one that is exactly like every other Saw movie, and another that is probably plagiarized from an episode of CSI. Sure, they tie the two stories together in the end, but even that was in the laziest way possible.
What we have here are two separate movies capitalizing on the same gimmick, with neither one being as good as the gimmick. It doesn’t get much worse than that.
I wish I could say the story was as bad as the movie got, but sadly there was much, much worse. For one, as you could have guessed, this is a very scream-y movie. Screams are tricky, particularly when expositional dialogue is supposed to be conveyed through the screams, which is exactly what happened here. The sound mixing has its own issues, but whether they had the resources to remedy this or not, directors Michael and Peter Spierig should have recognized that some key parts of the story weren’t being conveyed. There’s a lot of people at fault here, and the already-terrible plot suffers as a result. Since we’re also talking about the sound of the film, I want to throw out a dishonorable mention to Charlie Clouser’s musical score. I’m not sure what Clouser was going for with this eighth film, but the entirely digitally-produced music in this film sounds like that of an early-2000s PC game. It’s pretty bad.
Perhaps the worst thing about Jigsaw, though, is that it failed to do the absolute easiest thing is could have done to make this movie passable. I know true fans of the franchise may disagree, but after the first or second film, this franchise became centered almost entirely around the gore. Splatter films, gore porn; whichever of the many names used to describe the sub-genre, Saw is the king of it. But in Jigsaw, there’s a shockingly little amount of gore. This is largely due to the fact that about half the movie is spent as a cheap crime mystery and there isn’t really any horror, gore or not, to speak of. And even the bit of gore that there was used CGI instead of practical effects, much to the dismay of movie nerds like me and hardcore fans of the franchise. CG or not, there just wasn’t nearly enough gore in this movie.
I’ve thought long and hard about positives for this movie, but I’ve come up completely short. It’s cheesy, it’s unoriginal, it doesn’t promise the main thing we expect from the franchise/genre; the list goes on. I guess it’s kind of nice to see Tobin Bell again; he seems to be doing well. But that’s about the extent of it. This is just a lousy film.
I give Jigsaw a 2.0/10.