Sunday, October 29, 2017

Movie Review: JIGSAW

Well friends, the wait is over, and JIGSAW, the sequel to and soft reboot of the Saw franchise has finally been released. If you're a regular reader of these august pages, you're aware that we've spent the weeks leading up to this release by re-watching all seven films in the original Saw series, and discussing them in a series of articles. If you're new to the party -- and if you are, welcome, please tell your friends -- you can get caught up by perusing our thoughts on the original film, Saw II and III, Saw IV and V, and finally, Saw VI and VII. Otherwise, read on.

Let me just say this up front: Jigsaw is probably the best revival of the Saw franchise fans of the series could have hoped for. As far as I can tell from a quick interweb search, neither James Wan nor Leigh Whannel, the creators of the franchise, had anything to do with this picture. Instead, this little number was written by the guys who brought us the Piranha 3D movies, and directed by the Spierig Brothers, the directors behind the clever 2009 vampire movie Daybreakers. With such step-parentage, the movie could easily have started from the low standard set by 2010's Saw 3D: The Final Chapter and raised, or lowered, the ante. Gorier kills! More disposable characters! A less interesting villain! And we got Tobin Bell to show up anyway, because everyone has bills to pay!

Thankfully, this is not what happened. There are kills, natch, and they are inventive, but to its credit, Jigsaw gives the original Saw a run for the title of "Least gory Saw movie", though I have to say the original film wins that race. Jigsaw shows admirable restraint in its bloody bits; places where the film could have been a lot gorier, such as one death by injected acid, are handled with a welcome "less is more" approach. In fact, most of the blood in this movie occurs in scenes set in the laboratory of pathologist Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore), where the bodies of Jigsaw victims wind up after they've met their fates. Otherwise, blood is used noticeably, though somewhat sparingly, and big kills happen so quickly that it's hard to see what's going on; you're left to imagine it, and that's enough for me.

This movie is meant for the fans, with plenty of references to the original serial. One of this film's characters turns out to be a bit of a John Kramer geek, having gone so far as to build a collection of devices built by Kramer in his career. The scene where this collection appears is like a whole pile of easter eggs, with the Drowning Box from Saw V, the rigged shotgun from Saw III, and that fan favorite, the Reverse Bear-Trap -- the original, thank you very much, not that diminished second version Jill tried to kill Hoffman with -- making appearances in rapid succession. My only problem with this scene is that the device which killed Detective Allison Kerry in Saw III, which I can't find a photo of that's appropriate for a family website, features prominently in the scene. This was not one of John Kramer's designs, remember, because that device wasn't built to allow escape. The nerd has spoken.

The man himself, John Kramer, does appear in one scene, and thankfully Tobin Bell does reprise the role, though to me it seemed Bell was a little bored with the whole affair. Still, this is another detail that Jigsaw got right: the mystery takes center stage. John Kramer has been dead for ten years. How are the games starting again? The movie handles this mystery very well, even taking things so far as to pose a "Who is buried in John Kramer's tomb?" question. The possibility that Kramer has returned is posed so earnestly, and at one point the reality of it seems so likely, that I began to believe, or fear, that this movie would actually try to retcon one of the central and most thoroughly handled points of the original story. It would possibly have been the most shamelessly brazen retcon in all movie history if that had happened, but thankfully it does not. I will not spoil the reveal, but I will tell you that this is another, and probably the most important, sign that this reboot was handled by people who loved the original. The mystery is resolved exactly how a Saw movie would handle it, but you've gotta pay attention, children.

Because of all the things this movie gets right, I can forgive what it got wrong, but they're still worth pointing out. First, there's no "scream montage", thankfully, but there are scream takes, and they are handled artlessly. You can spot every time the directors told the talent to really let 'er rip, because that's exactly what they do and it makes no sense every time. They're just overdoing it. Also, the beautifully nihilistic filth of original-series Saw game settings is gone. This movie's game starts in a metal room so clean and bright it's downright pristine. It continues into the kind of excessively tidy barn that instantly makes me think of people who have More Money than You, and spend it living in a setting like a piece of Country Art come to life. This game is just as deadly as the others, but those games were set in environments designed to plunge the subjects into despair and break their spirits, because the point of them was to test their will to live. The point of this game is vengeance, punishment for sin, so I guess the fussy neatness of the setting was an attempt at some kind of psychological juxtaposition, but it doesn't really work.

If this is the start of another cycle of films, then I look forward to the next chapter. This is a very promising start. This may not be a "real" Saw movie, but it knows where it came from and attempts to emulate everything that made the early entries in that series great. I can't wait til next Halloween.

Jigsaw is rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and for language.

Robert's Score: 7 / 10

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