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I am so bummed out by Jigsaw, the continuation of my favorite horror franchise, Saw. It’s not that Jigsaw is bad; much of it is actually pretty good: the scares are good, the gore is outstanding, the acting is top notch B-movie stuff, a staple of the franchise. No, what bums me out is that Jigsaw fails miserably in its attempt to tie back into the original franchise which seemed to definitively end with Saw 3D back in 2010. That film, to me, was a misunderstood piece of horror trash that wonderfully, darkly, and humorously commented on the films that came before. Jigsaw upends the premise of Saw 3D, and that hurts me to my franchise fan core.
Jigsaw picks up the story seven years after Saw 3D and ten years after Jigsaw, real name John Kramer (Tobin Bell) died. Someone, however, has started a brand new game, and all the evidence seems to indicate that, despite having been fully autopsied a decade ago, John Kramer is back and is running a new game of death. The target of this new game is Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Coroner Logan Nelson, each of whom becomes a suspect in the supposed return of Jigsaw.
Five people are thought to be missing after a local informant and drug dealer, Edgar Munson (Josiah Black), reveals that a new game has begun before he is shot while setting off a timer that launches inside of a farmhouse miles from where Edgar lays dying. Inside the farmhouse are five tortured souls with buckets on their heads that are attached to chains that will drag the bucketheaded victim toward a wall covered in moving saw blades. That is, unless the victim is willing to spill some of their own blood to get free.
Each of our five contestants has a secret, and Jigsaw aims to see each of them confess their sins or die. Like the original franchise movie, each of the contestants has an opportunity to survive their ordeal but first they must confront and atone for their sins by surviving Jigsaw's remarkable and terrifying Rube Goldberg-inspired death contraptions. This is the fascinating thing about John "Jigsaw" Kramer: he’s never actually killed anyone. Each of his victims have killed themselves by being unwilling or unable to atone for their sins.
Now, that description of Jigsaw never having killed anyone is something of a misnomer. Jigsaw kidnaps people, which is in itself a crime, and then attaches them to deadly devices. No matter if you believe Jigsaw’s intentions are noble, attempting to get those who neglect their gift of life or take the gift of life from others, to appreciate their life or atone for the horrors they’ve inflicted on others, he’s still a killer. That was a key element of Saw 3D, not letting Jigsaw, or the audience, get away with believing Jigsaw is a hero.
The makers of Jigsaw, quite sadly, failed to learn this lesson. Here, John Kramer is a hero. He punishes the wicked when the law fails. He is a full-fledged avenging angel, protecting humanity from the criminal vampires who feed upon them, and boy, is that a crappy twist. I’ve spent years defending the Saw franchise because it tantalized audiences with the question of whether we could find ourselves identifying with or sympathizing with Jigsaw.
Saw 3D acted as a corrective to anyone who thought of Jigsaw as a hero by creating a character, Degan, played by Sean Patrick Flanery, who turned Jigsaw’s acts of violence into a get-rich-quick, self-help philosophy. The film then sets about punishing Degan for his arrogance and greed while reminding the audience not to treat Jigsaw as a genuine hero, or his ‘lessons’ as any sort of genuine philosophy. Saw 3D was a reminder not to deify a vigilante, and it was a terrifically smart coda to a franchise that dared you to side with the killer.
So, what does Jigsaw do? The sequel directed by the Spierig Brothers and written by Piranha 3D scribe Josh Solberg sides firmly with the notion that John Kramer is a folk hero for what he does to the criminals and sloths he attempts to rehabilitate in a most hardcore fashion. Instead of tantalizing the audience with the idea of identifying with Jigsaw and preying upon the deep moral question at the heart of vigilante justice, Jigsaw just completely sides with Kramer and his philosophy, no questions asked.
Without the moral quandary at its core, Jigsaw then becomes something of a strange, criminal procedural wherein every character is a red-herring in the ongoing mystery, and the only thing we can get out of it are Jigsaw’s latest elaborate traps. As much as I may find Jigsaw disappointing, I can say the film is darn entertaining from the blood and guts spatter perspective. The Spierig Brothers may break my heart by ruining Jigsaw’s moral quandaries, but the brothers prove themselves quite adept at horror viscera.
Jigsaw is the kind of horror movie you wind up watching from between your fingers. The blood and guts tension of Jigsaw is as stomach-turning as anything else in the franchise. Unfortunately, the film isn’t as brainy or daring as the previous seven films. Siding with Jigsaw so blatantly, especially during a horribly trite-talking villain monologue, nearly ruins the dirty thrills we as horror fans get from well directed splatter.
And that is why I am so bummed out by Jigsaw.