Jigsaw: Review

Aractus 04, November, 2017


What makes a good slasher film? Well firstly they are divisive by design. Some people love a good horror movie, others don’t. I’m quite partial to the Giallo genre, it elevated slashers into mainstream cinema while US horror movies of every kind were the kiss of death to any director or actor hoping to improve their careers. And this was really due to a very deep stigma held against those that worked on horror movies, as if those involved with them were criminals.

The Saw franchise started off tremendously well, and got even better with its next two instalments. Saw III was the final film with the direct involvement of James Wan and Leigh Whannell, handing the series over to new writers starting with Saw IV, although Darren Lynn Bousman stayed on for one more (he directed Saw II, III, and IV).

The Saw franchise branched its own idea of what a horror movie is, creating its own sub-genre. This means they didn’t need to stay in the ‘Saw Universe’ to make great movies, and indeed this is exactly what we’ve seen from Wan and Whannell’s other films.

So what is the genre I speak of? It takes the classic idea of the horror movie and creates a script where the film’s events unfold in a way that are not substantive to the story. In other words, what you see is not the whole picture of what is really going on, we learn with the main characters. This is what sets up more natural twists for the third act, when we find out that something we assumed was true is not true.

One of my criticisms of the series is its use of increasingly complex unrealistic elaborate traps/”games”. The show is at its best when the traps are simple. Saw III’s Shotgun Collar is simple, but effective. The game Jeff plays is quite elaborate, but until the final trap anyway they are quite simple to actually design and implement.

Retconning also killed much of what made the series special later on. Saw III recons Amanda into the events of Saw I, and possibly the worst part of it is where it is implied she was supposed to make sure Adam could get the padlock key instead of just dumping it on him so it could be sucked down the bath’s drainpipe. The issue with that idea though is it would have allowed Adam to simply immediately leave the bathroom and go to safety, hardly the game that Jigsaw has designed to be played. And besides Jigsaw could have just released him at the end of the game if that was the idea. The retcons get worse further along the series, but one thing they always stayed true to was the idea that Jigsaw chose his victims as people who he believed didn’t appreciate their lives. Until now.

One problem in Jigsaw (2017) is that Jigsaw designed a game to be played by five people who did something wrong in the past disregarding the lives of others, not because they don’t appreciate their own lives.

The next problem with the movie is that it doesn’t make sense. Let’s backtrack a moment, the idea in Saw VII that Jigsaw has admirers is frankly ridiculous. Although he may well believe that he designs his traps to test the will to live, the reality is he designs the multi-player games in such a way that some of his participants are guaranteed to die. For example, in the original movie there are four participants, and a fifth introduced later on. The design is that Dr Gordon kills Adam, or his wife and child will be killed. Jigsaw might think that’s a brilliant game in his twisted mind, but in reality it means he designed a game not everyone can survive. Same thing in Saw II, same thing in Saw III. In Saw III (spoiler alert), the Judge is killed purely because Jigsaw rigged the Shotgun to self-trigger after the key is removed. Undoing the work that Jeff did to save him in the first place. The one thing I will say for this though is that even though the premise was ridiculous, Saw VII did finally solve the question of how the hell does Jigsaw know the background of his victims.

Here’s the reason why Jigsaw 2017 doesn’t make sense. It expects us to understand a narrative that we’re told but never see. This just doesn’t work, and it’s a terrible way to make a movie. Not only that, but the film was also thoroughly predictable, recycling the Saw II twist wholesale, and anyone that knows the series – or at least has seen Saw II – will see it coming from the very beginning as I did. I also correctly identified who Jigsaw’s new previously-unknown follower was pretty early on, and it wasn’t hard. It was just as ridiculous as the prominent sympathiser in VII, only this person was even more two dimensional.

And where the fuck was all the gore? This has to be one of the tamest Saw films yet! It’s so tame that it’s probably legal in Germany!!

On the plus side, it was nice to see Tobin Bell reprise his iconic role, and they got his screen-time pretty much spot-on (less is more).

Overall this was an OK instalment, but it doesn’t improve upon the previous instalment, nor return the series back to its heyday. But it wasn’t scary, and it was just too predictable. It’s probably time for the producers to let the series end and focus on more original stories.

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