For a film now thirteen years old, Saw could have been released this year. It bears all the trademarks of its time – if it came out today, I’m not sure we’d see Jigsaw deliver his messages via cassette tape – but the filmmaking, script and subverted meaning woven intricately into its story all feel exemplary of the kind of horror we’re consistently spoiled with a decade on. In the age of smart, classy, genuinely scary films we’re seeing now, a small production budget and tight schedule feel par the course for filmmakers in the genre – it’s been proven that genuinely skilled artists can show their prowess when restricted financially. But at its time, Saw broke new ground in demonstrating what can be done with a bit of imagination. It’s no wonder, then, that it spawned seven sequels, Jigsaw being the newest of the bunch.
Think of everything you know about the Saw films, or if you haven’t seen a single one, think of all of your assumptions about the franchise. Jigsaw is all of those things. Interestingly, though, it actually tones down the gore and bloody spectacle you’d perhaps expect from a film with seven predecessors in an industry that seems to only care about being more and more graphic with each iteration, instead opting to bridge the gap between the psychological torture of the first film and the more gruesome scenes present in pretty much every Saw film after that. The decision to include less gratuitous violence works, for the most part – leaving more to the imagination when shooting horror makes for a more engaging and interesting viewing experience. However, for those who make the Saw movies an annual event for the grim, graphic kills – there are enough stomach churning scenes in here to keep you entertained, and the visual effects are the best in the series so far.
That being said, there’s very little on offer to separate Jigsaw from its predecessors. The concept is the same as before, as we see ten years pass from the previous film and another set of copycat killings terrorise an unnamed city and set a group of detectives on the trail. Acting all round is comfortably and familiarly average (apart from an at least somewhat-interesting turn from Hannah Emily Anderson as the charismatic Eleanor Bonneville) and traps are fairly standard – a scene involving a deadly grain-mill is one of the more interesting of the bunch. The plot holds continuity with past films, so while there’s nothing to complain about in terms of consistency in storytelling, it just doesn’t really bring anything new.
Bodies stack up in generically orchestrated kill scenes, and the detective work plods along determinedly, pushing the audience into a familiar guessing game about the identity of the killer. It’s been done before and, assuming audiences vote with their feet and the film does as well as expected, it’ll definitely be done again.
Ultimately, Jigsaw isn’t the worst horror film you’ll see all year, but it certainly isn’t the best either. To surpass expectations, the film would need to be bolder, braver and smarter. Perhaps even less boring – it suffers from a second act slump that sees a frustratingly contrived plot narrative take away from the fun of the gore that should be provided in abundance.
If the Saw franchise was ever a plucky underdog, it stopped being so around three movies in, when its statement blood splattered fun became a Halloween staple everywhere. Jigsaw had the opportunity to restore a sense of smallness to the story, tapering the scale back to a miniature point of focus and examining the human condition in the spectacular manner achieved by Saw and Saw 2. It doesn’t do this, and misses hitting the nerve centre that made audiences jolt into submission the way it could have. Regardless, it’s a fun enough trip back into a world that horror films will surely have missed, and I think it’s safe enough to say that if it doesn’t completely hit the mark this time, there’ll be plenty further opportunities for it to do so in later instalments.
By Maisie McGregor