It was just a matter of time before Saw was dusted off following The Final Chapter, and waiting an entire seven years seems practically restrained in our reboot-saturated present. In the very least, Jigsaw marks a massive technical and aesthetic step-up for the series, with cinematography, editing, and shot selections that – gasp – actually resemble a movie more than, say, a music video.
The Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers, Predestination) do their best to inject life into the franchise, though they’re ultimately held hostage by a frustratingly Saw-by-numbers script, with its recycled plot twists and general desperation to rejuvenate the series.
While the police procedural side-plot is relatively tiresome in of itself, the big shocker here is the baffling tameness of the traps, which shy away from the expected blood-letting, presumably in a misguided attempt to lure in audiences who might’ve been turned off by the gonzo “torture porn.” In fact, the most graphic death in the entire movie is a ridiculous CGI mutilation saved for the final seconds.
The traps themselves are also relatively unimaginative and lack the satirical playfulness of the better Saw movies. The countryside setting is at least a neat change from the grotty industrial warehouses, but only the nerve-wracking silo trap really feels like it bottles the amusing-yet-terrifying vibe of the series’ better set-pieces.
But what truly sinks Jigsaw is how it attempts to move the franchise forward – or rather, extend it with two plot twists which, while not immediately predictable, simply rehash twists the series has done to death. The new apprentice, pathologist Nelson (Matt Passmore), doesn’t seem like an interesting enough character to anchor a new run of movies, likely why he’s nowhere to be seen in Spiral.
Furthermore, retconning him to be Jigsaw’s first-ever apprentice, and incredulously waiting an entire decade to start testing people, is patently ridiculous. His colleague Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson) would’ve been a far more interesting choice.
The other twist, that the central game was actually being played a decade prior, is at least one timeline-shifting rug-pull too many for the franchise, and the addition of Logan’s contemporary copycat killings contorts the narrative into untenably convoluted territory. It is, however, a fitting metaphor for the movie itself; a copycat of better Saws, straining to prove its own worth.
At least Tobin Bell lights up the screen with his brief cameo, though there’s certainly a not-small part of me that wishes they’d just committed to something as silly as Kramer having a twin brother or a clone. The movie generally balances on such a precipice of absurdity – despite its attempts to be taken dead-seriously – that it’s surprisingly easy to believe Kramer had genuinely found a way to cheat death despite being killed five movies ago. Either way, Bell is the best thing here by far, nailing his minor appearance.
Though slicker and better-directed than any prior Saw film, Jigsaw’s tame gore and rehashed plot twists make it mostly fall flat.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
5. Saw IV
For this retrospective, Saw IV was by far the movie I was most interested in revisiting, as it’s the first one I didn’t much care for upon an initial viewing. If the first three films felt like a fairly complete trilogy, four is the first truly “unnecessary” entry for want of a better word, replacing the now-dead John Kramer with a new apprentice of dubious charisma or basic appeal.
Nothing in this film is more compellingly gnarly than the opening autopsy of Kramer, which reveals a wax-covered cassette tape hidden within his stomach, kickstarting another round of games overseen by an unknown collaborator.
There are a few tantalising traps peppered throughout, though most feel a draft or two away from hitting their sick potential – particularly the opening tussle between a blind man and a mute man, and an abused wife brutally untethering herself from her husband. Detective Matthews’ (Donnie Wahlberg) climactic ice-block death is undeniably sweet, though.
One suspects Darren Lynn Bousman had become rather tired of the franchise by this point; this is easily the most pedestrian of his work on his three original films, and marked his last contribution to the series until he returned for Spiral some 14 years later. A few creative scene transitions aside, this is the first Saw film with a rather anonymous sense of style – something Saw V only furthered.
A host of new characters are introduced in this movie – Agents Perez (Athena Karkanis) and Strahm, Kramer’s ex Jill, and of course, Detective Hoffman gets a much beefier role after making a brief cameo in Saw III. Strahm at least brings a competency and urgency to the table that many of his colleagues lack, and the greater focus on Officer Rigg (Lyriq Bent) has potential, yet his role is ultimately only expanded to justify his eventual demise.
Tobin Bell is sorely missed here after being such an active presence and firm dramatic anchor in the last two films – scant voiceover and some crummy flashbacks just don’t do it by comparison. Saw IV also marks the point at which the series began to over-rely on expository flashbacks which, in the grand scheme of things, don’t add much interesting and simply ramp the melodrama up to excruciating levels (namely, Jill and John’s lost child).
But what really compounds all this is that Saw IV is the first film in the series to truly whiff its twist-laden ending; Rigg being tested for his over-eagerness is a laughably weak rationale, and introducing a second apprentice for Kramer in the span of just three movies suggests the series has already lost steam.
Elsewhere, the various other revelations – the film taking place at the same time as Saw III, Jeff’s (Angus Macfadyen) death after mere seconds of screen time, and the fact Kramer helped set all this up before he died – are either dull, silly, or somehow both.
Saw IV marks the point at which the franchise began feeling like every other major horror movie IP, straining itself to chug along until the box office dries up.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
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