Jigsaw (2017)

OCTOBER 25, 2017

GENRE: SERIAL KILLER, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PREMIERE SCREENING)

Not for nothing, but when I asked anyone who'd listen (OK, let's be honest: I just complained on Twitter) to make another Saw movie, I thought it was understood that I wanted one that resolved Hoffman's fate, showed how Gordon would carry on the legacy, etc. Indeed, the original title for Jigsaw was "Saw: Legacy", which seemed to point in that general direction, though I knew it would likely be more accessible to new fans given the seven year gap since the last one (in fact, the time between the original Saw and its "Final Chapter" was less than the time in between it and this next installment). A blend of easy to follow continuity payoffs and a standalone story would seem to be the best way to go if they wanted to revive the series while also satisfying the fans who wanted it in the first place, right? Alas, they leaned very heavily toward the "standalone" part of the formula, offering a decent enough entry with regards to "A bunch of people in traps get killed while the cops solve a mystery" sort of stuff, but a crushing disappointment when it comes to how it fits in the overall story.

Note that I will be getting into spoilers later in the review, but for now I'm only going to talk about the basic plot. I'll warn you again when the real spoiler-y stuff comes up.

As we all learned in the trailer, a new game has seemingly started, and it all points to being the work of Jigsaw. But they tell us he's been dead for ten years, and everyone has modern cell phones and such, so we're dealing with a present day story as opposed to one that picks up right where the last one left off, which has always been the series' forte. We're also dealing with an entirely new cast of characters - the first time since the original Saw that every single person on-screen was a stranger to us, as opposed to a returning favorite or ongoing sub-villain like Amanda or Hoffman. Again, I knew it wouldn't be super continuity-heavy, but I was legitimately stunned at how disconnected everything was from the ongoing saga, to the extent that when they actually do mention another character (Jill, to be exact) I felt like cheering. Not keeping up with the later entries or having an iron-clad memory of their revelations is one thing - this movie doesn't require you to have seen any of the films at all, even the original. As long as you understand the basic idea (a guy named John "Jigsaw" Kramer places flawed/bad people in death traps and tasks them with earning back the life they've wasted) you're as caught up as you need to be; even the mention of Jill won't confuse anyone - the entire reference is something like "Jill Tuck - you know, Jigsaw's wife? Her family owns this place."

"This place", by the way, is a farm that is housing the current game. It's part of what is actually one of my favorite things about the movie - it's the most visually distinct entry in the series, as it has a number of exterior scenes (always a rarity in these films; some of them never step outside at all), and rarely lets its characters wander around grimy dungeons. The barn setting also allows for different kinds of weapons/tools for the traps - such as two characters who are trapped in a silo that is rapidly filling up with grain, and then things like hoes and metal rakes are dropped on them for good measure. It's also got one of the more nerve-wracking traps in the series: a sort of razor sharp spiral that our victim is being lowered through in order to get the key to his escape, forcing him to refrain from the slightest bit of shifting or else he'd get sliced apart. All this stuff works well; it's very reminiscent of Saw V (their first trap is so similar looking that I thought it might end up being a point of some sort), but the new setting and less hateful characters make it an easier sell. And they're not as self-serving, either - when one person figures out how to bypass the first trap (with shockingly little harm required), she runs around trying to help the others succeed as well, rather than just leave them to rot as some of her trapped predecessors might have done in the past.

As for the other plot, we are introduced to a cop named Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie), a sort of "breaks the rules to get the job done" kind of guy not unlike Erik Matthews, who gets involved early on and shortly thereafter is alerted to a body that seems to be the first victim of the game that's under way inside the barn. The thing is, the body that has evidence on it suggesting that John Kramer is the killer - but he's dead (right?), so Halloran starts trying to figure out who the real killer is. For reasons that escape me, he instantly zeroes in on Logan, the coroner who inspected the body - I assume the thinking was that Logan lied/faked evidence to pin it on Kramer in order to cover his tracks, but that's never actually suggested aloud. Halloran just instantly suspects the guy and his partner Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson), with her being under suspicion because it turns out she's a fan of Jigsaw's work. It's one of those things that inorganically happens in movies, where they just need to get to that point and they skip over any meaningful logical path to get there. Anyway, the movie more or less unfolds like all the others, cutting back and forth between the cop-driven mystery and the game that's slowly but surely killing off the cast members, building toward the point where they converge and we get a twist.

If you grew weary of the series' increasingly complicated mythology, and/or bailed before the "final" entry, but enjoyed the general idea, then you're the ideal mark for this particular installment. It's basically a greatest hits album in movie form, taking ideas from the other entries (I, II, and V mostly) and offering them up in rapid succession to maximize the audience's potential for enjoyment. But like a greatest hits album, it lacks the soul that makes that band's actual albums so essential - the movie doesn't really offer anything we haven't seen before on a narrative level. Sure, the "There's blood under the fingernails that matches John Kramer" kind of stuff is interesting, as we've never really seen how this world moved on from Jigsaw as an ongoing threat (as Hoffman and co. kept his games running without pause), but who could possibly believe that Kramer really might be alive? Saw IV's opening was seemingly designed to beat us over the head with the idea that he was definitely not faking his death, so barring some sort of supernatural hooey (or worse, a twin brother) we know it's not that simple and that someone is pulling the strings in his name.

This is where the film's insistence on being a coherent entry point for newcomers sort of handicaps it, as the film only has so many suspects and we can't count on any of our old pals to be involved. I was hoping for something along the lines of Curse of Chucky, where it seemed like a soft reboot for a while only to reveal its ties at the top of the third act, allowing the likes of Hoffman or Gordon to enter the picture (given the film's secretive shoot and the fact that we were the first audience to see it as they didn't do public test screenings, anything was possible), but after a while it became clear that they really did not want to risk alienating anyone by requiring them to... uh, be Saw fans. And if you know how these movies work, you can probably figure out what's really going on long before it's spelled out, and even if you don't it likely won't really shock you when they do. In the earlier entries, I was almost never able to get ahead of the characters, but here I just kept waiting for them to get on with what I already suspected (and then confirmed, albeit in a slightly different manner at least). I mean, it's not the film was bad or poorly made or anything, but after seven years, I just feel they could have come up with something better than this. It's just too safe.

And now we're gonna get into spoilers, so back out now if you don't want the twist ruined for you! You've already gotten more than you need to know to decide if you want to check the film or not, so the rest of the review is specifically for those who are just curious, or have already seen the film and want my take on it!

I'm warning you!!!

OK now that it's just us, let's talk about how the twist not only makes zero sense in the context of the film, but also how the big reveal bites off more than it can chew with regards to the series. At a certain point near the end of the farm-set game, with only two players left, a Pigman enters the scene and fiddles with some shit, then takes off the mask/hood to reveal... John Kramer! Alive and well, and giving the audience reason to let out a big cheer. Again, this is not a supernaturally based series, and even they can't be so dumb as to pull some twin brother shit (they almost seem to be trying to get us to think that, with the minor reveal that John has a nephew), so anyone with a good sense of these things would probably understand right away that this game has been set in the past, seemingly even before the one we saw in Saw II (with Tobin Bell having naturally aged nearly ten years since, it's hard to tell based on his appearance where in the timeline it might be, which was usually how we could more or less place the flashback scenes in the overall chronology). But wait, how can Halloran and Logan be finding their bodies in the present day (established beyond a shadow of a doubt) if this game is at least ten years old? Wouldn't the corpses be pretty rotted out by now?

Turns out, the corpses that are being found in the present day are just more or less freshly killed "stunt doubles" for the original victims in the barn. When the bodies are found, they're all mangled up, so the viewer doesn't notice anything is different and goes along with it just fine. But here's the problem: no one is monitoring the game, and therefore no one involved with finding/inspecting these bodies has any idea of what the original victims looked like (as those original bodies are still just collecting maggots and dust in the barn). So it's basically a cheat for no other reason than to trick the audience, whereas the best twists in the other films always made sense for our characters as well. The closest exception would be Saw IV's reveal that it was taking place at the same time as III, but that wasn't something that any character would have a reason to comment on, and best as I can recall there was never an attempt to make us really believe otherwise - it was just a "hiding in plain sight" thing that didn't really have much of a bearing on anything. When the characters are setting complicated plans in motion for no other reason than to trick the folks on the other side of the fourth wall, I can't help but bristle a bit (another example would be The Village, where the characters inexplicably didn't have medicine on hand for their children, despite the fact that they would have no reason to believe medicine wasn't a thing that existed "yet"), and I expect better out of these movies.

Anyway, by now we know that Logan is yet another one of Jigsaw's apprentices, and has been engineering all this stuff in the present to ensnare Halloran the dirty cop (they really blew it by killing off the series' longtime coroner in Saw 3D - if HE turned out to be one of Jigsaw's guys, it have been a fun little ret-con, plus given the film a much-needed tie to the others). Even if you ignore the idea that Jigsaw had yet another person helping him out (he apparently helped to create the first bear trap, if I'm following one climactic scene properly), there's still the question of what exactly he's been doing all this time. We've seen Gordon, Amanda, or Hoffman setting up pretty much every other trap in the series thanks to the various flashbacks along the way, so what exactly Logan brought to the tabel is a mystery, as is why he apparently waited ten years to spring into action and take down this cop that he had a vendetta against. Yes, I know Jigsaw II: Saw IX can answer these things, but that's a bit presumptuous for an attempted revival of a series that only stopped in the first place because of dwindling grosses. If you're going to rewrite history once again, you gotta shine a light NOW on how some of it changed what we already knew, while leaving a few things left open for the next film. This might be part of the problem with having an entirely new creative team (this is the first time in the series that neither Leigh Whannell nor Dunstan/Melton had any involvement with the script), because those guys could plant things in one movie to answer later, knowing how it would work, but that's not an option here. Hell they don't even answer the questions we still had (i.e. is Hoffman alive?), let alone find a way to successfully meld their own reveals with the others.

The word I keep coming back to is "lackluster". It's not a bad movie, really - I just can't see anyone being excited by it, fan or not. Besides the spiral slicer the new traps aren't really all that memorable, the twist is equally obvious and overly complicated (Logan explaining the dummy bodies is possibly the clunkiest exposition this series has ever offered), and I just spent too much of the movie thinking "is this it?". Not the entire time, mind you; I got real excited when the (really kick-ass!) new version of the main theme kicked in (Charlie Clouser joins editor Kevin Greutert as pretty much the only holdovers from the other films, besides the producing team), and it was fun to be back in this world for a while. But once the novelty of "Yay! A new SAW!" wore off, I found myself less and less invested in the film's storyline, ultimately just kind of waiting for it the obvious twist out of the way in optimistic hope that there would be another that was more worthy of the series and more satisfying to the hardcore fans that live for the silly ret-cons. Alas, that better twist never came; the movie ends exactly like Saw V (albeit with a new tagline) and sitting through the whole end credits will only tell you what its MPAA registration number is. As a revival attempt, it's as safe as you might expect - but this is a series that lived by its surprises and ability to trick its fans, so when it fails to do that, what's the point of it even being a Saw?

What say you?

P.S. Despite the ads having a more playful vibe, the film isn't really any more "fun" than the others, and one of the victims' backstory involves rolling over on a newborn in the same bed and suffocating it, which might be the most upsetting thing in the entire series. Just fair warning in case you thought this might be less grim than the others.

2 comments:

  1. Hi BC,
    Long time reader, huge fan! Came across someone using your reviews on their site without crediting you in any way. Don't know if there is anything you can do about that but thought you should know!

    http://blogbaruuat.blogspot.com/2008/03/non-canon-review-night-of-creeps-1986.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah it looks like a weird spam site... just all random copies of other posts (and defunct to boot). It's more weird than anything, hahaha. Thanks though!

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