I can’t imagine there were too many people in 2017 begging for another entry in the Saw franchise. Several films into most horror franchises are typically marked by a descent into self-parody or, in some cases, launching the series into space (see Hellraiser, Leprechaun). Once a Halloween tradition in the 2000s, the Saw franchise ended with Saw 3D in 2010, the seventh film, and lacklustre effort that barely rose above the quality of a straight-to-video release from the early 1990s. It’s worth mentioning that the franchise’s villain, Jigsaw, died in the third film of the series, living on to haunt audiences only in film flashbacks. Yet here we are with a belated attempt to revive another horror icon.
Jigsaw opens 10 years after the death of serial killer John Kramer, following two different timelines. In the first timeline, police detectives face the distinct possibility of a copycat killer as bodies are turning up across the city that have all the hallmarks of Jigsaw’s modus operandi. The second timeline opens with five people in a barn, chained by the neck and wearing buckets over the head, being dragged towards buzzsaws until they confess their sins. While these five strangers are forced to confess their sins or face gruesome deaths, police detectives will battle their mistrust of one another as they try and to determine whether Jigsaw is somehow still alive or another apprentice has taken up his life’s work.
Clearly hoping to re-ignite the franchise by passing the mantle to a new Jigsaw killer, directors Michael and Peter Spierig should have saved themselves some time and watched Friday the 13th V: A New Beginning, to see how that has worked out in the past. The Saw franchise was already burdened by an on overtly convoluted narrative of protégées and flashbacks. While the original films were able to somehow make the increasingly unlikely plot twists and revelations largely fit with another, Jigsaw never convinces that it is more than a cynical cash-in largely disconnected from its predecessors. None of the characters will remotely resonate with audiences. There’s no Doctor Gordon, Amanda Young, Riggs or Matthews, or Agent Strahm in this film. Not even a Lt. Hoffman. In fact you’ll barely find Tobin Bell. I found myself checking the IMDb page for Jigsaw to remind myself who was talking. Characters won’t trust one another. No suspense will be generated. You won’t care.
Yet no one is watching a Saw film for layered storytelling or satisfying character arcs – you’re here for the elaborate, over-the-top gory death scenes that have been the hallmark of the franchise. Sadly, you’ll be disappointed on this front, too. The series reaches a low point with nothing even closely reaching the heights of memorable. There is certainly some gore and one scene in a silo filling with grain and failing sharp objects manages to generate some tension but its far too little to justify the film’s existence.
The worst sin committed by Jigsaw is that it’s boring. Later entries in other horror franchises – Friday the 13th and Scream – were at least gonzo enough to be amusing on their own terms. Jigsaw is honestly a chore to sit through as it drags to its conclusion. The good news for Saw fans is that Saw 3D may no longer be the worst film in the series.