FILM REVIEW: Jigsaw (2017)

The first instalment in the Saw franchise in seven years, Jigsaw was a film that no one ever expected to make. The creative minds behind the series had designated 2010’s Saw 3D as the last long ago. Already longer than most film franchises, there was a genuinely reasonable concern that there was little else that could be added to Saw.

The writers had said that, given all the gore their films are famous for, they didn’t want to make a movie without a message. If there was nothing else they could add, they wouldn’t bother making more. For that reason, they left their baby alone for the better part of a decade.

Jigsaw was the revival of the franchise, telling the mysterious story of a copycat killer whose murders are just too similar to John Kramer’s to be a coincidence. But the mounting evidence only confuses the investigation as it points ever more strongly towards an impossible conclusion: that the killer can only be the original, long dead Jigsaw.

For the most part, Jigsaw is a classic part of the franchise. It has everything you’d expect of a Saw movie: the procedural crime elements, the essence of punishment and retribution and, perhaps most iconically, the gruesomely pure special effects. Like most Saw movies, Jigsaw had all the puzzle pieces and was generally enjoyable. It will definitely tick all the right boxes for fans of the franchise. But, given there was such a long wait for it, there are some elements that make it miss the mark.

I found that some of the primary characters are awful clichés. There is the gruff, sexist cop who takes his commitment to his job to such a darkly violent level that he ends up causing more trouble than he prevents. There is the too-good-to-be-true single father with his troubled past who works tirelessly to help people and is forgiving of anything. There is the punky goth girl who no one realises is hot when she wears glasses around the office, but takes her lab coat off and suddenly turns every head in the bar.

Character archetypes are nothing new, but these are lazy even by the standards of a franchise that introduces and then kills off half a dozen characters every ninety minutes.

I’ve always thought that one of things that made the concept at the foundation of each Saw movie is characters with well written back stories. I’m not going to feel anything about the death of a total stranger and the point of Saw is to make you fear for them and then hate them for making you worry about such a scummy person once you learn why they were chosen. I didn’t feel like that element was particularly effective in this story. For one or two of them, I can see how someone with Jigsaw’s unmerciful sense of retribution would pick them. But not all of them. Some of them are just run-of-the-mill douchebags who made mistakes that could’ve had very different consequences if their luck leaned another way.

It didn’t help that the pacing felt off for most of the movie. The big reveal at the end made me feel like that may have done on purpose to stop smart-arses like me wondering how everything was happening so quickly if the killer really was any of the suspects considered. But even if that was the case, it doesn’t explain away everything.

The most obvious issue is that I’ve listened to enough true crime podcasts that I know that getting pathology reports back takes a hell of a lot longer than that. I know that almost all mainstream procedural crime makes this mistake, but I feel like this knowledge is common enough now that it’s not a mistake creators should be making.

For all that, though, in this film, you do get to explore the impact the Jigsaw, his crimes and his twisted morality can have on people. But that doesn’t make it stand out. Not even from the other films in the series, let alone the rest of the horror genre. The ideas have been done before, in the same franchise.

I feel like Jigsaw needed to be the best Saw film released so far in order to justify the long wait since 2010. It needed to revive the series in a way that capture the dark magic of the first one, which was so twisted and unexpected and chilling. It also needed to compete with some of the brilliantly chilling films and television shows already out at the moment – things like Get Out and Black Mirror.

Jigsaw had a lot to live up to. But it didn’t.

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