Hitting theater screens just in time for Halloween is the eighth film in a horror franchise that was born and bred 13 years ago. “Jigsaw,” the latest installment in the “Saw” series and the first since 2010’s “Saw VII,” follows a much-needed seven-year break for a repetitive string of movies that were dying a slow and agonizing death—much like the titular character’s victims. Notorious, self-righteous serial killer John Kramer (Tobin Bell) is back from the grave—or is he? It may be a copycat, and this certainly wouldn’t be the first time, since Kramer died from complications of cancer in “Saw III!”
The film opens with a standard police chase right out of a B movie in the action genre. Cornered on a rooftop, a small-time criminal reveals (of course) that he’s just a player in a bigger game, and that five people will die if he doesn’t pull a switch. Naturally, the cops shoot the switch from his hand, which sets in motion a diabolical, torturous maze for these five individuals, one that is located somewhere far, far away. Actually, it could be right around the corner, but there is no way for the police to know before they investigate for the next hour.
Jigsaw’s iconic, tricycle-riding puppet makes a welcome return, and our neck-bound friends receive the ground rules that have been given in every single film in the series: follow said rules and try to survive. Oh, and Kramer—or at least, his voice—really wants these people to “confess” their crimes, since he only preys upon folks who have a thing or two to hide. This is a hard sell for most of them (embarrassment amongst strangers?) and they spend more time at each other’s throats than putting their heads together for a solution. But who am I kidding? We all know most of these poor, unfortunate souls are going to die in horrific, sinister ways, so just sit back and enjoy it!
Par for the course, a subplot involves detectives and morticians who attempt to piece together clues from each new, mangled corpse that comes their way. They also find time to point fingers at each other, since no one really believes that Kramer is still alive. There are some futile attempts at exposition for the people outside of Jigsaw’s grasp, which doesn’t work nearly as well as the ones given to those who are fighting for their lives in his latest trap. Word to the wise: if you are familiar with this series, then you already know that anything is possible and nothing is what it seems, so why should this latest film be any different?
Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig (“Predestination,” “Daybreakers”), “Jigsaw” works on a certain level, simply because it has been seven years since a “Saw” film has graced our theater screens—or defiled them, in the case of the last few. It is at the very least a welcome addition to a horror franchise that had been given up for dead, which sort of mirrors Kramer’s character.
While I wouldn’t think of divulging the ‘living-or-dead’ status of the man behind the Jigsaw killer, it should come as no surprise that we are, in fact, treated to scenes of the terrific Tobin Bell, who has appeared in all eight films. Here, the mysterious context of his scenes, coupled with a change of setting (i.e. not a hospital bed), manage to lift the production from the yearly,
formulaic mess that was created in the wake of James Wan’s original masterpiece, 2004’s “Saw.” That film, by the way, is a modern horror classic that should be judged separately from every one of its inferior sequels.
**1/2 (two-and-a-half out of four stars)