Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Cast: Matt Passmore, Tobin Bell, Callum Keith Rennie, Hannah Emily Anderson
Watch Jigsaw online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
The opening shot of Jigsaw, the latest instalment in the tangled Saw horror franchise, is a familiar one – a dark, blade-spoked contraption. This sets the Saw fan’s mind racing. Does the unlucky victim have to reach in and retrieve a key? Maybe it’ll start spinning like some kind of hellish blender? What if it’s a Gigeresque game of KerPlunk with cascading eyeballs? Or, alternatively, it could be a police spike strip, as a tongue-in-cheek dolly out reveals.
The Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers, Predestination) are as experienced a pair of directors ever to have worked on this franchise and they bring some new ideas with them. Most obvious is the film’s new look. The resulting foot chase takes place primarily in well-lit open spaces. Even the new torture challenges feature clean, crisp production design. This is a stark contrast to the industrial rot of the previous instalments, and it’s an immediate statement of intent.
The newness is only skin-deep, however, as this eighth instalment soon falls into many of the same old pitfalls. And, if anything, it’s all a bit blander this time around. The new aesthetic seems to have dazed series editor – and director of Saw VI and Saw 3D: The “Final” Chapter (author’s emphasis) – Kevin Greutert. His frenetic MTV-style cutting was such a key feature of the series’ visceral power, but the passive editing here is far less distinctive. Another key returning player is composer Charlie Clouserl who’s back with a very familiar score, albeit with a few new instruments in his demonic arsenal (physical media fans, check out the Blu-ray’s surprisingly meaty extra features for more on his industrial workshop).
In front of the camera is a roll call of new casualties. The performances are bare-bones but functional. It’s just a shame that none of these new characters are all that compelling. This is particularly apparent when held up against the titular twisted philosopher, as played by Tobin Bell. The film’s set 10 years on from the previous instalments with Jigsaw long dead, but Bell still makes his presence known (as he did in Saws 4 to 7, despite having perished).
Bodies are turning up around the city with Kramer’s trademark puzzle piece calling card and, as usual, a group of detectives must rush to solve this new game. It’s not one of the series’ greatest mysteries, but it moves along nicely. As is to be expected, a rewatch saps any tension, while also drawing attention to a few details that don’t quite add up. It’s mistakes and inconsistencies that usually expose cinematic serial killers, and it’s mismatched puzzle pieces that leave this film wide open too.
Another Spierig change is the neutering of the series’ more splattery tendencies. This is, in part, due to an increased use of CGI, but the gore also doesn’t seem of much interest to the directorial duo. That doesn’t mean to say that there aren’t a few effectively nasty moments, but this is a purposeful move away from the series’ “torture porn” label. At the same time, there’s no set piece as pure as the reverse bear trap, or the eponymous hacksaw for that matter.
One trap serves as an apt visual metaphor for the new film’s halfway thinking. Two characters are trapped in a grain silo as all manner of sharp objects rain down on them. The setting may be stripped down, but that doesn’t mean Lionsgate isn’t going to throw everything under the sun at the screen. In the end, the underwhelming Jigsaw is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It tries to subvert the formula but gets caught in the same traps, resulting in a quasi-reboot that fails to deliver the Saw films’ most base thrills. This is less precision instrument and more blunt force trauma.
Jigsaw is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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