When it comes to gore-heavy franchises, Saw’s original helmer James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell initiated a blood-spattered, extreme horror cinema renaissance that outdid the collected torments of Torquemada, the Marquis de Sade, and William “Bad Aim” Burroughs combined. Love them or loathe them, the Saw series, dubbed “torture porn” by many, has proved its staying power, outlasting rival franchises Final Destination, Paranormal Activity, Eli Roth’s Hostels, and maybe even Insidious. Saw’s thematic and character continuity is what most fans cite as the reason the series holds up so well, but I don’t go to the Saturday night horror show seeking sneaky connections and endless backstories. I like my shockers to be anything but predictable, and Saw is the very definition of predictability and, ultimately, tedium. That horse corpse has been flogged and flayed enough, already.
And yet here comes the series’ twisted moral crusader Jigsaw (Bell) and his gruesomely inventive games one more time (this despite the fact that alter ego John Kramer was DOA way back in 2006’s Saw III). Surprisingly, directing sibs the Spierig brothers (the trippy Undead, Daybreakers) tone down the arterial spurts and skull cracking until the final reel, resulting in a marginally better entry into the franchise. Costas Mandylor’s deranged master of forensics, Hoffman, who took up the crimson slack when the cancer-riddled John Kramer finally shuffled off this mortal coil, is entirely absent here. Instead, detectives Halloran (Rennie) and Hunt (Bennett) team up with a pair of forensic pathologists (Passmore and Anderson) after a corpse with a chunk of flesh in the shape of – what else? – a puzzle piece turns up in the morgue. With Jigsaw’s previous acolyte gone, the detectives begin to suspect that their M.E. allies might be more involved in the increasing body count than simple autopsies. Where’s Jack Klugman’s Quincy, M.E. when you really need him?
As for Jigsaw’s victims this time around, they’re five vacant characters trapped in a buzzsaw-surrounded room. The clock is ticking, as it always is in this franchise, and so we get deaths by farm implements inside of a grain silo, booby-trapped shotguns, and laser-beam dog collars, among others.
Jigsaw, the eighth film, and one that leaves the door for at least one more sequel wide open, is a cut (ha!) above the rest of the series only because the Spierig brothers rein things in. Also of note is cinematographer Ben Nott’s rejection of the previous films’ desaturated palette of vomitous urine yellow and gamy greenish grime in favor of unbleached daylight and overall better camerawork. Which I suppose is a step up from where Wan began, but truthfully Jigsaw is basically a fan-only affair. When it comes to full-bore gore, I’m impatiently awaiting season 3 of Starz standout splatstick slaughterhouse Ash vs. Evil Dead. Now that’s entertainment!
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