It’s been seven years since the “Saw” franchise issued its final chapter. To put that into perspective Freddy Krueger was on hiatus for only three years after “The Final Nightmare” and Jason came back from his “Final Chapter” after one year. So in terms of finality, the “Saw” franchise did have a pretty nice long break. The question is, did this break give the series ample time to recharge it’s batteries or should it have stayed dead?
It’s been ten years since the death of the infamous killer known as Jigsaw; however, when mutilated bodies start turning up Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Coroner Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) begin to suspect that a new game is underway. But who is the mastermind of this latest game? Is it a copycat killer? One of their own? Or has Jigsaw himself returned from the grave?
Despite being the eighth entry in a long running franchise, “Jigsaw” is actually a pretty good jumping on point for newcomers. There have been a lot of twists and turns over the course of the last seven films, but “Jigsaw” largely ignores a lot of the details revealed in the films past part three. If you wanted to take someone to see their very first “Saw” film (like I did), the only two important things they need to know is who Jigsaw was and that he’s now considered to be dead. The film doesn’t touch on anything related to Doctor Gordon or Detective Hoffman. I don’t think they’ve necessarily been retconned out of the series, but they’re an interesting omission and I’ll be curious to see if future films will want to bring them back.
Despite having a new name, fans of the “Saw” series will recognize that “Jigsaw” shares a lot of familiar story beats. The meat of the film centers on the people stuck in Jigsaw’s trap and that narrative thread is broken up with the investigation that Logan and Halloran are undertaking. And the film is, of course, filled with the crazy twists and revelations that have become synonymous with the series. On one hand it’s a little disappointing that they didn’t take this opportunity to completely break the mold and set out to challenge expectations. However, there’s something comforting about a long running horror franchise sticking to a formula. To a certain extent people return to these films because they know exactly what they’re going to get and there’s sort of an obligation there on the filmmakers part to accommodate that.
Anyways, my favorite part of the “Saw” franchise has always been the cop plot. The part of the story that focuses on the surrounding police investigation. In the past these have been pretty hilarious affairs as the cops wind up being the stupidest people involved in the game. In “Jigsaw” the cops are only marginally brighter, but it helps that they have higher quality actors. Matt Passmore, for example, is a breath of fresh air. I used to watch him on the A&E series “Glades” where he played another cop, but he had buckets of charisma and some of that shines through in his performance here. The guy has range and it’s good to see him explore the horror genre. Callum does an excellent job portraying a skeezy cop without being over the top maniacal. He just plays it straight and plays a good asshole who you believe could be up to some very nefarious things. Even cops who have a smaller role in the film, like Cle Bennett as Detective Keith, give good solid performances. As a whole, this may be the best well-rounded cast to appear in a “Saw” film since part three.
“Jigsaw” is also the cleanest looking film in the series. It’s very bright and well put together. The “Saw” series has always had a grungy look to it, but towards the end it started to make the films feel like they had a cheap quality to them like they were direct to DVD features. “Jigsaw” brightens things up and loses the grungy aesthetic in favor of a more traditional look. Some people might not appreciate the updated look, but I’m thankful for it. That grungy look was a relic of the ’00s and having watched the entire “Saw” series recently, I can tell you that it doesn’t hold up very well.
Probably my only complaint about this one is that it feels slightly toned down from previous “Saw” films. The traps aren’t as vicious as previous ones and most are rather unremarkable. Only one in particular stands out in my mind and that’s probably because it features the most gruesome death in the film. I won’t spoil it here, but you’ll definitely know it when you see it. There’s certainly blood to be had in the film, but I didn’t feel myself squirming in my seat and wincing like I did with previous entries.
Overall, I thought this was an excellent return for the series and one that left me eager to see where things go from here. I feel like they waited just long enough for my interest to be renewed in the “Saw” franchise and the pieces put into play in this film are a good starting point for future entries. For those that are fatigued by the series and are hoping for something completely different, this film isn’t for you. For long time fans eager to return to the series this may do the trick, but you may leave feeling upset that the film doesn’t pick up the pieces left after “The Final Chapter.” And for newcomers, this is an excellent jumping on point if you want to see what the “Saw” series is all about.